The Atlanta Falcons were a mess in 2013, and there probably wasn’t a bigger shock than that last season.
After contending for a Super Bowl the year prior, Atlanta simply took a huge step backward in 2013 and coupled with the loss of Julio Jones, things were in a shambles.
2014 brought a chance to upgrade the roster, get healthy, and find someone who can protect Matt Ryan from all those hits he took.
Atlanta went out in free agency and completely revamped their defensive line by adding Tyson Jackson (Chiefs) and Paul Soliai (Dolphins) as well as making a ‘big’ move on the offensive line in adding Chiefs OG Jon Asomoah.
The Falcons knew they had to get tougher up front if they were going to create offense and turnovers the way they did in 2012 when they were among the league leaders in both categories, so with their top two draft picks, they added Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews, who will immediately step into a starting role at right tackle, as well as defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman, who will enter the rotation with the rest of the new faces as a rook.
Of the nine picks the Falcons made on draft weekend, five were spent on defensive front four players. They attacked an area of weakness from a year ago, and they attacked it hard.
In addition to Hageman, the Falcons drafted linebackers Prince Shembo (Notre Dame), Marquis Spruill (Syracuse), Yawin Smallwood (UConn), and East-West Shrine Game star Tyler Starr (South Dakota).
While these players will simply compete for special teams playing time early in their careers, some have the potential to develop into starters especially with the current state of Atlanta’s roster. There are openings all over the place and young players competing for spots in the defensive front, but I want to talk about the strategy here.
Last year, the Falcons ranked among the worst teams in the league, allowing nearly 380 yards of offense per game, as well as 28 points per game (6th worst). They had the 2nd worst rush defense in the league, only backing up the Chicago Bears whose run D was historically terrible. They also gave up 31 touchdown passes and only had 10 interceptions on the season due to their lack of ability to apply pressure up front, which was amplified by having just 32 sacks all of last season, 2nd worst in the NFL.
The stats are clear, and the draft strategy clearly stated what the Falcons planned to do to try and fix their defensive woes this season. And not just the draft, but free agency, where they spent a good chunk of change on players who can come in and give them some real toughness up front.
I love the strategy by Atlanta, and I’m eager to see the fruits of it. Hopefully the investments they made in Jackson and Soliai in free agency as well as the 2nd round selection of Ra’Shede Hageman will pay dividends for them sooner rather than later.
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