Kiper grades: B-minus fair for Falcons

May, 11, 2014
May 11
1:00
PM ET
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. distributed his draft gradesInsider for all 32 NFL teams on Sunday.

In terms of evaluating the Falcons, Kiper gave general manager Thomas Dimitroff and crew a B-minus in the end. He praised the picks of offensive tackle Jake Matthews and safety Dez Southward but was a little less enthused about defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman because of his inconsistent play at Minnesota.

I would give the Falcons the same grade. Drafting Matthews is worth a passing grade alone because he brings stability to the offensive line for years to come. He will be the left tackle sooner than later and will be able to compete with some of the elite and speedy pass-rushers he'll face in the NFC South because he's so technically sound.

But unlike Kiper, I'm a little more suspect of Southward as an immediate contributor for a team in need of a starting free safety. Sure, he might have some potential. And he can tackle, which is something Thomas DeCoud didn't do before being released. But the Falcons need a playmaker next to strong safety William Moore, and I'm not sure Southward is the answer -- although he deserves every chance to prove us wrong.

The Falcons targeted Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward. In fact, he was one of the two players the Falcons were trying to trade back into the first round to corral along with Auburn pass-rusher Dee Ford. Ward ended up being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers with the 30th overall pick in the first round. Getting Matthews then Ward, in my opinion, would have been an A-plus for the Falcons in terms of not only securing impact players but filling pressing needs.

I do agree with Kiper when he talked about the Falcons missing out on a pass-rusher. Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence wanted to play in Atlanta and had the type of swagger the Falcons needed. But the Cowboys traded up to move ahead of the Falcons and snatched Lawrence in the second round.

However, I wouldn't say that the Falcons totally missed out on pass-rush help by any means. I'm extremely curious to see how Hageman performs up front, and his ability to bat down balls could be just as effective as getting sacks. I'm also curious to see how linebacker Prince Shembo is used. Folks familiar with him at Notre Dame say he's much better with his hand in the dirt, so I see him possibly contributing to the pass rush in a positive way. I also think seventh-round pick Yawin Smallwood, the linebacker from Connecticut, is an unheralded player the Falcons can use as a pass-rusher. Smallwood's stock dropped because of a slow 40 time (5.01), but he's motivated to prove the doubters wrong.

Getting another linebacker in Marquis Spruill was key for a team who has had issues at linebacker last year due to injury. He's also one of the guys I could see being a key blocker for Devin Hester in the return game.

In terms of adding running back Devonta Freeman from Florida State, I think that could pay huge dividends in the future. And you have to love the kid's desire. But for a team needing to win now, you wonder if the Falcons should have targeted a faster back alongside Steven Jackson. (I know, Antone Smith, right?)

For those clamoring for a tight end, I never thought that was a big priority in the first place. The position won't be featured like it was when Tony Gonzalez was in the lineup, although Levine Toilolo will have his red zone opportunities.

Another capable body along the offensive line wouldn't have hurt, but the Falcons obviously were focused on defense after the Matthews pick. We'll see if guys like Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes truly get stronger and better.

 

Vaughn McClure

ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter

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