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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Linebacker

July 22nd, 2014 No comments

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Joplo Bartu

There are a lot of questions surrounding the Atlanta Falcons linebacker position, with a number of unproven players being asked to contribute larger roles in 2014.

For the Falcons, things took a turn for the worse when linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, the unit’s leader and best player, was injured in June with a torn Achilles. Weatherspoon’s loss has forced the team to look in the others’ directions to compensate.

Much of the void left by Weatherspoon is expected to be filled by middle linebacker Paul Worrilow. Among the three projected starters, Worrilow is the most solidified in his role. As a second-year player, he will have to take on a much larger mantle, becoming the unit’s top playmaker and leader on defense.

While Worrilow possesses the necessary traits for leadership, it remains to be seen if he can perform up to them. Worrilow came out strong last summer as an undrafted free agent to make the team, and this summer will need a similar emergence to lead the team.

Strong-side outside linebacker Kroy Biermann is expected to return from his own Achilles injury to flank Worrilow on the edge. After using Biermann as a bit of a “joker” player in his first season under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan in 2012, the team moved him fully to linebacker last summer. But Biermann was injured too early in the season to know if that transition was successful. Thus, he’ll have to prove himself again this summer.

Beside Worrilow at the other inside position that is expected to replace Weatherspoon is Joplo Bartu. Bartu, a 2013 undrafted free agent like Worrilow, also quickly impressed the coaching staff last summer with his range and athleticism. He quickly carved out a role in the sub-packages due to his coverage potential, and relative to his undrafted status as a rookie, played well in 2013. But there have been recent concerns over whether the coaching staff is ready to place the same amount of trust in him this year.

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Atlanta Falcons 2014 Rookie Scouting Report: Yawin Smallwood

May 28th, 2014 Comments off

Michael Ivins-US Presswire

Yawin Smallwood

A breakdown of Atlanta Falcons 2014 NFL Draft seventh-round pick, former Connecticut linebacker Yawin Smallwood.

BIO

Height: 6’2″
Weight: 246
College: Connecticut
40 Time: 5.01 (Combine)
Bench Press: 18 (Combine)

Yawin Alexander Smallwood was born on Christmas Day, 1991 and attended Doherty Memorial High in Worcester, Massachusetts. His first name, pronounced “Yah-win,” is a mash-up of his mother (Yasa) and father’s (Winston) first names.

He redshirted his first year at UConn, but as a redshirt freshman he started all 12 games at middle linebacker, a role he would not relinquish for the remainder of his career. His first year in the starting lineup, he was second on the team with 94 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He also had an interception and three pass breakups, a forced fumble and a pair of recoveries, one of which he scored on a 64-yard touchdown. As a sophomore, he started 12 games again and earned first team All-Big East honors. He led Huskies with 120 tackles, 15 for loss, four sacks, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one recovery. As a junior and team captain, he started 12 games with a team-leading 118 tackles, 9.5 for loss, four sacks, one interception returned 59 yards for a touchdown, nine pass breakups and two forced fumbles. As a junior, he earned All-AAC first team honors and was a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker. He declared early for the draft following his final game due to his feeling that he was ready to make transition to NFL.

Was limited in his off-season workouts due to a strained hamstring he suffered while running his 40 at the Combine. Did not participate in his collegiate pro day a few weeks later.

2013 GAMES WATCHED

Date
Opponent
TFL
Stop
Sack
Press
Hit
FF
Missed Tkl
Key Blkd
Pen
Pen. Type
Sep-14Maryland040000210N/A
Sep-21Michigan12.51201200N/A
Nov-16SMU01.50100000N/A
Nov-23Temple021301110N/A
Nov-30Rutgers12.50210110N/A
Date
Opponent
Tgt
Rec.
Yds
YAC
TD
UC
YPT
INT
PD
Sep-14Maryland2000000.0002
Sep-21Michigan0000000.0001
Nov-16SMU32130004.3300
Nov-23Temple324119016.6710
Nov-30Rutgers2110500503
UC - Uncatchable pass

SKILLS
The grading system is based on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.

Speed (3.0) - Struggles to cover ground in space with only adequate straight-line burst. Lack of closing speed will lead him to miss a couple of tackles and will struggle running with the quicker backs, tight ends and receivers at the next level. Doesn’t make very many plays outside the hashmarks unless he can flow freely to the ball due to lack of range. While his Combine 40 time is probably not a completely accurate reflection of his speed, I would estimate that fully healthy, his 40 time would probably be at best in the 4.85-4.9 range, which is still significantly slower than the NFL average for a linebacker: 4.75 seconds.

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Falcons Sign Five Draft Picks

May 19th, 2014 Comments off

On Saturday, the Atlanta Falcons announced the signings of five of their nine 2014 draft picks. The five that signed were all selected on the third and final day of the draft earlier this month, including cornerback Ricardo Allen and linebackers Prince Shembo, Yawin Smallwood, Marquis Spruill and Tyler Starr. All agreed to undisclosed four-year contracts.

Allen was a fifth-round selection of the team out of Purdue. Shembo was selected in the fourth round out of Notre Dame. Both Smallwood and Starr were selected at the end of the seventh round from Connecticut and South Dakota respectively, while the team traded into the fifth round to select Syracuse’s Spruill.

All five players are expected to compete for reserve roles with the team this summer. Their signings leave the Falcons first four selections unsigned: offensive tackle Jake Matthews, defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman, safety Dezmen Southward and running back Devonta Freeman.

Categories: News Tags: , , , , , ,

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 67 “Coming to Terms With Prince Shembo”

May 18th, 2014 Comments off

I am joined by Jeanna Thomas of The Falcoholic to give a more positive spin on the Atlanta Falcons 2014 draft class plus some of the early developments in the team’s rookie mini-camp. The conversation then dives deep into a discussion of Falcons fourth-round selection, linebacker Prince Shembo, and his alleged off-field incident during his time at Notre Dame. We do our best to figure out how they can reconcile our issues over the incident.

Episode 67 – Coming to Terms With Prince Shembo [Download]

Duration: 41 minutes

Jeanna writes for The Falcoholic and can be found on twitter: @jeannathomas. You can read Jeanna’s article referred to in the episode by clicking here.

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

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 66 “Tear Down Your Hopes and Dreams”

May 13th, 2014 Comments off

Allen and I are joined by The Falcoholic contributor, Murf Baldwin, to discuss our thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons 2014 draft class. Murf gives a less than glowing assessment of the Falcons picks, including whether or not Ra’Shede Hageman and Dezmen Southward offered good value in the second and third rounds. We wonder whether or not the Falcons pass rush has been significantly improved and break down whether Devonta Freeman and their late-round picks add anything to the roster that wasn’t already there. Allen and I finish with a brief discussion of our hopes for the NBA playoffs, our usual around the league segment, as well as Allen’s explanation on why he could not make a triumphant return to Radio City Music Hall to witness the draft.

Episode 66 – Tear Down Your Hopes and Dreams [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Allen covers the Falcons for Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Murf writes for The Falcoholic, Roll Bama Roll and can be found on twitter: @MurfBaldwin.

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 2014 NFL Draft – May 12, 2014

May 12th, 2014 1 comment
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons 2014 Top Selection: Jake Matthews

Normally I write my weekly takeaways column on Sunday afternoon or evening with the intention of it being posted first thing Monday morning around 8:00 a.m. This week, that was no the case.

That’s partly to blame for the fact that it was Mother Day’s weekend, and instead of doing all the things I normally would have done on a Sunday afternoon/evening to get this weekly column posted, I decided to spend time with my mother, who had driven four hors from Virginia to North Carolina to witness my sister-in-law’s graduation from grad school. In the interest of being a good son, my mother took precedent over this column.

Secondly, I had not watched all of the Atlanta Falcons 2014 draft picks play yet. And the column after the draft is the one devoted to my thoughts on whether I believe the Falcons’ draft was a good one or not.

Because unlike most people, I try to be informed before giving my opinions. If you want to know my take on any of the Falcons undrafted free agents, I don’t have one because I haven’t seen any of them play. Until I do, which will be in the first preseason game, my opinion on them will remain largely non-existent.

I was born in 1983, so I spent a significant portion existing in a world without the internet. That was a world where people couldn’t post their opinions, thoughts or insights with the click of a button on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or in Yahoo! News comments.

Back in those times, the only people that were given a platform to express opinions were people that had earned that right to be called experts in their give fields. There was a filter, and it was one that you had to work hard to break through.

The idea that Courtney Love could be involved in finding a missing plane in that time was laughable at best. Instead of social media, people expressed their opinions to companions and family members in their respective living rooms, kitchen dinner tables or bars.

But that age doesn’t exist anymore, and now people are free to give their opinions with no filter. Today, everything is thrown at the wall, and it’s only a matter of what sticks.

Why am I telling you this? Because one of the things I find fascinating is how everybody, including those least informed, will give their opinions on the draft. Besides watching a YouTube highlight clip and reading a bunch of online scouting reports, most people aren’t informed about most of these players with their own eyes.

It often leads to people have overly optimistic expectations about a particular draft prospect, or overly pessimistic ones. There is no longer a middle ground. And people should know that most things fall into that middle area.

I’m saying all this because I believe it will take time to see how these draft prospects develop. Patience is really the key, and while it won’t stop me from having an opinion today, I’m at least aware of the fact that what my opinion today is relatively meaningless in the big picture. That big picture will be determined by where the Falcons 2014 draft picks are three to five years from now.

What will this column will entail from this point is my best guess on where those players will be at that point. While that guess is an educated one based off informed analysis from watching these guys play a handful of collegiate games, it is still a guess nonetheless.

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Falcons Finish With Yawin Smallwood and Tyler Starr in Seventh Round of 2014 NFL Draft

May 10th, 2014 Comments off
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Yawin Smallwood

The Atlanta Falcons finished off their 2014 NFL Draft class by selecting a pair of linebackers in Connecticut’s Yawin Smallwood and South Dakota Tyler Starr at the tail-end of the seventh round. Both were compensatory picks, as Smallwood was taken with the 253rd overall selection and Starr went two picks later, the penultimate selection in the entire draft.

Smallwood declared as a junior this past year after spending three years as a starting middle linebacker at UConn. He was highly productive leading the team in tackles all three years, combining for 332 career tackles. He also added 27 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Smallwood added a pair of interceptions, 13 pass breakups, five forced fumbles and two touchdown returns (one interception and one fumble).

At the Combine, Smallwood measured in at 6’2″ and 246 pounds with a 36.5-inch vertical jump and lifting 225 pounds 18 times on the bench press. He was clocked at 5.01 seconds in the 40-yard dash, but strained his hamstring during the run. He was unable to run at his pro day in March because of the injury.

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Starr

Starr was a three-year starter at South Dakota and finishied his career as the school’s all-time in sacks (27) and forced fumbles (13). As a redshirt freshman, he sat out the season due to academics before earning the starting defensive end spot as a sophomore. That season, he had a career-high 14 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles. He was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award given the best defensive player in the FCS the following year and placed ninth in voting this past season with 71 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 9 sacks. For his career, Starr had 41 tackles for loss, one interception, seven pass breakups, and one blocked kick.

At the Combine, Starr led linebackers with a 6.64-second three-cone time, while posting a 4.95-second 40-yard dash, 24 bench reps, and 32-inch vertical jump. Starr measured in at 6’4″ and 250 pounds.

Smallwood is more of a thumper in the middle than Falcons fifth-round pick Marquis Spruill and will add depth behind Paul Worrilow and Akeem Dent at middle linebacker. Starr adds more depth at outside linebacker and will likely compete as a reserve at strong-side linebacker behind Kroy Biermann and Joplo Bartu.

Categories: Draft Central, News Tags: , ,

Falcons set to meet with UConn linebacker Smallwood

April 2nd, 2014 Comments off

Ross Jones of FOX Sports reports that the Atlanta Falcons are set to meet with Connecticut linebacker Yawin Smallwood this week for an on-campus workout.

Smallwood was a three-year starter at middle linebacker for the Huskies, earning All-conference honors twice during his career. Smallwood declared for the draft following his junior season, coming off a year where he recorded 118 tackles, 9.5 for loss, four sacks, eight pass breakups and an an interception returned 59 yards for a touchdown.

Smallwood ran a disappointing 5.01-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine in February, thanks to tweaking his hamstring early in the run. But showed good explosition with a 1.60-second 10-yard split before the injury occurred. He also recorded 18 bench reps of 225 pounds and a 36.5-inch vertical jump at the Combine, measuring in at 6’2″ and 246 pounds. He is considered a middle-round prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft.