At the midpoint of the season, I was hesitant to choose Jake Matthews as the Atlanta Falcons’ top rookie. Matthews had been coming off several poor performances thanks to a bad ankle at that point and he won mostly be default considering none of the Falcons other rookies had really stood out.
Fortunately, Matthews played much better in the second half of the season when his ankle injury looked to heal some to more than deserve this honor. According to premium website Pro Football Focus, Matthews’ overall grade was a -5.6 over the final eight games. That was thanks largely to -8.4 grade as a run blocker. Both of those figures were sharp improvement over the first half of the season where Matthews had an overall grade of -31.2 and run-blocking grade of -11.8 thanks to that four-game stretch where he was sporting a bad ankle.
During that time, Matthews really struggled against power rushers due to his inability to anchor on the sore ankle. Chicago Bears defensive end Jared Allen overwhelmed him in the second half of that game with bull rush after bull rush because Matthews was unable to stand up to it. During that four-game stretch, Matthews also struggled against Jason Pierre-Paul, Ziggy Ansah and Terrell Suggs, three of the league’s premier edge-rushers. Matthews saw a decline in the quality of his competition in the second half of 2014, which was another factor for his improvement.
The second half of the season saw other rookie players emerge to have some impact. Defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman consistently was able to pop for a few snaps most weeks in the second half of the season. Undrafted center James Stone, whose first introduction into the lineup in Week 7 made him look like a massive liability, grew into a mostly competent starting center by year’s end. Running back Devonta Freeman had his fair share of big plays with some increased touches down the stretch. Dezmen Southward got his first career interception against the Cleveland Browns in Week 12.