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Matthews to Play Right Tackle in 2014, Left Tackle Beyond

May 9th, 2014 Comments off

The Atlanta Falcons made Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews their top selection in the 2014 NFL Draft last night, making a significant splash to upgrade their offensive line. Matthews brings a certain pedigree to the unit that has been certainly missing over the years, being the son of NFL great Bruce Matthews, and hailing from a football family that includes three active members in the NFL and more to come.

But with the selection of Matthews comes the question of where he will play immediately. The Falcons took him with the sixth overall pick, and given the track record under Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith, first-round picks are expected to play and start immediately. So where will Matthews wind up? We got our answer late last night from Jay Adams of Atlanta Falcons.com:

This decision makes perfect sense. Matthews began his career at Texas A&M as a right tackle, starting his first 33 games there over the course of three years. The reason for that was largely due to the fact that across from him was Luke Joeckel, a three-time all-conference player, that ultimately was selected second overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. Once Joeckel was in the pros, Matthews made a seamless transition to the left side and started 13 games there as a senior.

A similar transition will probably be made for Matthews in Atlanta, eventually. But he’ll be penciled in right away to play right tackle over the likes of Lamar Holmes, Mike Johnson, Gabe Carimi or Ryan Schraeder.

Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Matthews

While it could be argued that Matthews could potentially represent an upgrade at left tackle over Sam Baker given the latter’s erratic play over the past six seasons, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to move Baker. Baker has played his entire career at left tackle dating back to his beginnings at USC a decade ago. When the Falcons moved him to right guard briefly in 2011, it was to disastrous results. While Baker could possibly kick over to the right tackle position, he’s a very unknown commodity there. And the Falcons don’t want to run the risk of him losing a battle to Holmes or someone else, and now have a $41 million anchor on the bench.

Frankly if for nothing else but to protect their investment, the Falcons won’t mess with Baker at left tackle in 2014. The hope will be that Baker will play at a level comparable to his performance in 2012, where he was a decent to good starter for most of the year. If that is the case and Matthews has a good rookie season at right tackle, then that would represent the best combination they could have at the tackle spots.

If Baker has a solid 2014, then he should be relatively safe for 2015. Per Over the Cap.com, Baker is set to count $7.3 million against the Falcons 2015 salary cap. If he is released, he will assume a dead money hit of $9.2 million, meaning the Falcons will take an extra $1.9 million hit on their cap if Baker is gone. If Baker is bad in 2014, then I believe the Falcons will eat that dead money and release him in order to plug Matthews in at left tackle. In that event, the Falcons would likely designate Baker a post-June 1 release, and potentially lower the amount of dead money they would have to eat in 2015. However if Baker is decent to good this season, he should be kept for 2015 with Matthews projected to take over in 2016.

2016 is really the first year in which the Falcons can cut Baker and not take a major cap penalty, as his release that offseason before June 2 could net them about $1.65 million in cap savings. So essentially Baker is playing for his job beyond this year.

That should give Matthews at least a year or two to acclimate himself to the NFL as a right tackle. Such a transition from right to left tackle is relatively common in the NFL. It’s expected that Joeckel will make that transition this year in Jacksonville. The Falcons did it in the past with Bob Whitfield manning the right tackle position for three seasons before taking over for long-time Falcon great Mike Kenn at left tackle. Jammal Brown, Michael Roos, Jordan Gross and Joe Staley are all recent examples of players that began at right tackle and made the eventual switch to the left side. If Matthews follows a similar career path as some of those players, the Falcons will extremely happy with this pick.

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Falcons Select Jake Matthews at Top of 2014 NFL Draft

May 8th, 2014 Comments off
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Matthews stands with Commissioner Roger Goodell at the 2014 NFL Draft

The Atlanta Falcons selected Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews with their first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. He was selected with the sixth overall pick and will be an immediate upgrade to the team’s offensive line and pass protection.

Matthews has strong NFL bloodlines, as his father Bruce is a Hall of Famer tackle that played 19 years with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans. His cousins, Clay III and Casey currently play linebacker for the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively. His older brother Kevin is currently a free agent center and played for the Titans from 2010-12. His uncle, Clay Matthews Jr., played linebacker for three years with the Falcons from 1994-96 after a long career with the Cleveland Browns.

Matthews was a four-year starter at A&M, playing right tackle before kicking over to the left side as a senior to replace Luke Joeckel, who was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the second overall pick last season. Matthews started his last 46 games at A&M, 13 at left tackle and 33 at right tackle. He earned All-SEC honors both as a senior and junior and All-American honors as a senior. He was also named a team captain his final year in College Station.

At the Combine, Matthews measured 6’5″ 308 pounds with a 5.07-second 40-yard dash, 24 bench reps of 225 pounds, 30.5-inch vertical jump, and a 7.34-second three-cone drill.

Matthews was one of several prospects that visited the Falcons during a busy week in April.

 

Categories: Draft Central, News Tags: ,

Takeaways from Last Week – May 5, 2014

May 5th, 2014 Comments off
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Clowney, Clowney, Clowney, Clowney

Only a few more days until the 2014 NFL Draft and the wait is agonizing.

The draft was moved back two weeks this year due to the fact that Radio City Music Hall, the draft’s permanent home since 2006, was hosting an Easter celebration the weekend that the draft normally happens. That show was subsequently cancelled.

But I heard a year ago on Rich Eisen’s podcast that a May draft has always been the goal of the NFL because it will better mesh with sweeps weeks to bolster ratings and subsequently advertising dollars.

Will the draft move back to late April next year? Who knows? The fact that the league is mulling over expanding the draft to four days from three indicates that fan feedback isn’t what is driving their decision making. Almost no one likes the extra two weeks of waiting and the idea of a four-day format just sounds exhausting.

The three-day format is already long enough. While the opening night is exciting, any fervor is dramatically reduced by the time the third day rolls around and you’re about a round or two into the draft.

Adding another day would be akin to pulling teeth by the time the seventh round rolls around on either Saturday or Sunday.

But again, feedback isn’t driving the bus. Fans and media personalities can moan and decry a four-day May draft, but it’s not going to stop them from watching. It’s certainly not going to stop me.

I can’t remember the last time I did not watch the entirety of the draft from start to finish. I just can’t get enough of it.

This year will probably be the first time in many years where I won’t thanks to my sister-in-law graduating from grad school this Saturday. That will consume much of my afternoon. But if I had a choice about supporting her or just mindlessly watching as players I’ve never heard of get drafted in the fifth round on Saturday, I’d choose the latter.

Ultimately, until fans are willing to turn off their television sets when it comes to the draft, there is going to be no incentive for the league itself to not keeping going down this path. Eventually, the draft could be in June and last a full seven days, one per round, and it would still likely be the highest-rated television event for that week.

But I can’t wait for Thursday and Friday night this week as the 2014 NFL Draft will finally be upon us. I’ve gotten fatigue in writing about what the Falcons will do week after week, and most of it involving the decision to trade up for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

Will the best defensive prospect in years wind up a Falcon? That has been the big question of the offseason, and it seems that everything they’ve done so far will be easily eclipsed if the answer is yes.

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Categories: Features Tags: , , , ,

Falcons Line Up Draft Visits This Week

April 21st, 2014 Comments off

As reported yesterday, the Atlanta Falcons are set to have a busy week where they will have a large number of 2014 draft prospects in and out of team facilities to conduct visits.

Previous reports indicated that outside linebackers Anthony Barr (UCLA) and Khalil Mack (Buffalo), defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina) and Dee Ford (Auburn), wide receiver Jarvis Landry (LSU), offensive tackles Jake Matthews (Texas A&M) and Greg Robinson (Auburn) and running back Terrance West (Towson) are scheduled to visit the team.

One more name can be added to that list, as Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert tweeted this morning that he will making a visit to Atlanta later in the week.

https://twitter.com/JGil_4/statuses/458086613050851328

Some of the dates are known for when several of the prospects will visit the team. Ford will be the first to arrive today and stay through tomorrow. He will be joined by his Auburn teammate Robinson and Barr on Tuesday. On Wednesday Clowney, Mack and West will work out for the team. Exact dates for Matthews and Landry’s visits are not known yet. It’s very likely that Gilbert’s visit won’t be until the end of the week.

There is other news involving these prospects, as Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that a notable contingent of the Falcons’ top brass were in the Baltimore area on Sunday to conduct a private workout of West at Towson University. Per Wilson, head coach Mike Smith, general manager Thomas Dimitroff, assistant GM Scott Pioli, and player personnel director Lionel Vital were all on hand to see West.

Takeaways from Last Week – April 21, 2014

April 21st, 2014 2 comments
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Khalil Mack could be a trade target for Falcons

As indicated last week, looming questions surround the Atlanta Falcons and their potential to make a trade in this year’s draft. Most of those questions center around the team’s rumored desire to move up at the top of the first round. But there is also a good possibility that the Falcons decide to maneuver later in the draft.

The Falcons currently hold the sixth and 37th overall picks in the first two rounds of the draft. Frankly, I would be very surprised if we’re looking back on the first two days of the draft come May 10 and see that they retained both of those picks. It seems probable that the Falcons could move out of one or both spots.

First, let’s once again discuss the Falcons draft-day trade scenarios with the former pick in the first round.

The Falcons need a pass-rusher to try improve the league’s worst third-down defense and marginally better pass rush. It would be ludicrous to think the team does not believe that the most pressing need is adding someone that can line up at either outside linebacker or defensive end and put heat on the quarterback.

Much of the speculation centers on the team’s possible desire to move up for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. And I think those rumors have legs. Clowney is clearly the best pass-rusher in this class and from a historical standpoint, matches up with anybody that has come out over the past decade or more. That is an intriguing option for the Falcons, and one that will require careful consideration when we get to the opening night of the draft on May 8.

But the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to believe that trading up for Clowney is unlikely. It’s a definite possibility, but in the end I think it’s going to come down to price tag. If the Falcons can jump up from the sixth overall selection into the top 3 picks of the draft without giving up an arm and a leg, then it’s worthwhile. Last week, I outlined a trade that had the Falcons giving up this year’s first, second and fourth-round picks, along with possibly a second-round pick next year to move up to get Clowney. Whether that meets the definition of an “arm and leg” is up for interpretation, but it’s certainly at least an arm.

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Falcons Pro Day Round-Up 4/20

April 20th, 2014 Comments off

This past week was a big one for the Falcons as they conducted their local pro day where draft prospects from Georgia high schools and colleges got a chance to showcase their stuff in front of the team on Tuesday, April 15.

We originally reported a number of players that were expected to show up, but in the days since there have been more reports about the prospects that were available. Georgia State sent three prospects, the previously reported defensive linemen along with offensive lineman Ulrick John. Clemson cornerback Darius Robinson was another player that himself tweeted he was there. Shane DePasquale of NFL Draft Diamonds reports that Southern Illinois linebacker Bryan Presume was among the prospects.

A pair of Valdosta State wide receivers in Regginald Lewis and Seantavius Jones were reportedly there to work out.

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reports that other players were there including:

  • Running Back Ryan Boykin, Ohio
  • Outside linebacker Clifton Crews, South Alabama
  • Wide receiver Ryan Culbreath, Furman
  • Safety Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt
  • Safety Kimario McFadden, South Carolina State
  • Tight End Evan Wilson, Illinois
  • Safety Greg Worthy, Furman

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What if Falcons Focused on Offense in 2014 Draft?

April 17th, 2014 1 comment

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Robinson (73) and Tre Mason could form the cornerstones of the Falcons 2014 draft class

What if the Atlanta Falcons decided to devote the bulk of their early-round 2014 NFL Draft picks to improving and solidifying the offense rather than the defense?

I should have prefaced that question by stating this is more of a thought exercise than any sort of formal proposal.

But one reason why the Falcons might decide to focus on offense because relative to the defense, it seems a lot closer to being elite.

The Falcons defense needs help at all three levels. While the pass rush is the most glaring issue on that side of the ball, the team also needs to shore up depth at several positions including linebacker and safety. And it’s not as if one pass-rusher is going fix the area, as any top-level pass rush has multiple playmakers that can consistently get pressure on the quarterback.

On offense the Falcons already made a big improvement to their offensive line by signing guard Jon Asamoah in free agency. They also added speedster Devin Hester to help at wide receiver and on special teams. But they could use more help.

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Falcons Pro Day Round-Up 4/12

April 12th, 2014 Comments off

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews

This past week was a busy one for the Atlanta Falcons as they attended some of the last few pro days of the year as well as conducted private workouts with several 2014 NFL Draft prospects.

Let’s get to the pro days first…

All 32 NFL teams attended LSU’s pro day this past Wednesday. Most of the eyes were drawn to Baton Rouge to see quarterback Zach Mettenberger throw. Mettenberger tore his ACL at the end of this past season and managed to throw. According to reports, he looked rusty considering he’s only five months removed from a major knee surgery.

Other notable workouts were wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who tried to improve on the disappointing 4.77-second 40-yard dash he ran at the Combine. Landry did manage to improve, clocking a 40 time in the 4.58 to 4.63-second range. Defensive tackle Ego Ferguson slimmed down from his Combine weight of 315 pounds to 302. He managed to run a 40 in the 5.08 to 5.13-second range, but was otherwise unimpressive in other measurement drills. But per NFL.com’s Gil Brandt, he did look good in positional drills.

The Falcons were also reportedly at Bloomsburg’s pro day on Thursday. The biggest draw was defensive end Larry Webster, Jr., who’s father played 11 seasons in the NFL, including years in Baltimore when Falcons head coach Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan were assistants there.

Webster sat on his Combine numbers, but did work out a defensive end, defensive tackle, and tight end positional drills. Per Webster, he would prefer to stay as a defensive end at the next level. At the Combine, the 6’6″, 252-pound Webster ran a 4.52-second 40 and had a 36.5-inch vertical, which were on par with South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.

The Falcons were at Morgan State’s pro day on Monday, according to the Baltimore Sun’s Aaron Wilson. There they got the chance to see cornerback Joe Rankin, who had a 40 time in the 4.4 to 4.5-second range and did 15 bench reps of 225 pounds.
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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 63 “That Sort of Weed-Eating Upside”

April 8th, 2014 1 comment

I am joined by Tom Melton to go in-depth on the Atlanta Falcons’ options in the 2014 NFL Draft. Tom talks up his affinity for players like safety Dion Bailey and defensive tackles Dominique Easley and Aaron Donald. We also talk in-depth about whether trading up for Jadeveon Clowney is a good move and whether or not the Falcons can motivate him to play well. We discuss whether the crop of prospects on the offensive line and pass rusher is really that deep and whether the Falcons can afford to pass on one group in the early rounds. During that conversation we discuss Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr, Jake Matthews, and Greg Robinson’s fits with the team. Taylor Lewan, Jeremiah Attaochu and Demarcus Lawrence are other prospects discussed during the show. We close with talking about the Falcons backup running backs including Jason Snelling’s retirement, Antone Smith’s new role with the team, and whether Jacquizz Rodgers fits. Warning: This episode features some borderline PG-13/explicit content.

Episode 63: That Sort of Weed-Eating Upside [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 4 minutes

Tom Melton can be found on twitter: @TMeltonScouting, and also writes for Draft Falcons. You can find the draft guide he contributed to at: The Draft Narrative.com.

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Takeaways from Last Week – March 24, 2014

March 24th, 2014 Comments off
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Hester is an Intriguing Addition in Atlanta

If I’m being honest, I like the idea of Devin Hester in an Atlanta Falcons uniform moreso than the reality.

The idea of Hester donning the black and red is giving the Falcons a legitimate playmaker on special teams, something it has lacked since the heyday of Allen Rossum nearly a decade ago. Yes, Eric Weems was my guy but his abilities as a returner was analogous to a chain-moving wide receiver as opposed to an explosive playmaker.

Hester is not quite as explosive on kickoffs as he is on punts. But anything he can contribute in the former area will be an upgrade over what the Falcons have featured the past few years. Between Weems and Jacquizz Rodgers, the Falcons have just two kickoff returns of 40 or more yards the past three seasons. Hester has nine such big-play returns in that span.

But it’s really the punts where Hester is going to impact. Partially because there’s the potential that a new rule change could further marginalize kickoffs, but also because the Falcons have had a dearth of playmaking ability on punt returns.

Weems had a single punt return of 40 or more yards in both 2010 and 2011. Those represent the only two such big punt returns since Rossum left the team after 2006. That year also coincides with the start of Hester’s NFL career with the Chicago Bears, and he’s had 19 such 40-plus yard punt returns over the past eight seasons. He’s had 11 over the past four years.

The only real issue is that the Falcons are catching Hester on the downward slope of his career. He was able to see his production rebound last year in 2013 by concentrating fully on his duties as a returner as opposed to also moonlighting as a wide receiver. But he’s a far cry from the player that he was just a few years back when he had a combined five punt return touchdowns over the 2010-11 seasons.

But as I’ve illustrated, he still represents a clear upgrade over what the Falcons have featured in recent years.

The other aspect of the idea of Hester that I like is his potential impact on offense. He’s probably not going to be a major element of the Falcons passing attack, but I do think he does represent a potential upgrade over Harry Douglas as the team’s third option.

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