Atlanta Falcons address needs, aim for upside on day two of 2014 NFL Draft

On day two of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons entered with defined “need” areas to address. With the first round selection of Jake Matthews, Thomas Dimitroff and company had filled the greatest disaster area from the 2013 edition of the roster, but for a team with double-digit losses, there were many holes to choose from. In that vein, the Falcons locked up two potentially high-impact players in Minnesota defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman (with the 37th overall pick) and Wisconsin safety Dezmen Southward (with the 68th overall pick) on Friday night.

The Hageman selection is an incredibly interesting one on multiple fronts for the Falcons, but most importantly, he is a high-end talent. He profiles (in an ideal world) as an explosive defensive prospect, but in what appears to be a 3-4 system for next season, the smart money would seem to be on Hageman as a defensive end in that scheme. ESPN refers to him as the “most talented defensive tackle in this class” from a physicality point of view, but with some question marks about his motor and age (he’s already 24), his draft ceiling slipped a bit. 

Ideally, the second round selection would have been a more “pure” pass rushing prospect (as we’ve discussed on multiple occasions in this space), but Hageman also presents some big-time upside. Interior pass rush is often an underrated component of any NFL roster, and the former Gopher could certainly present that from day one.

In the case of Southward, his arrival is a bit more surprising. ESPN ranks the former Wisconsin Badger as the eighth-best safety in this class (which doesn’t sound terrible), but when you consider that multiple outlets had him outside of the top 125 prospects this year, it is a bit troubling. Southward is a big-time athlete at 6-feet and 211 pounds, but he is considered to be incredibly raw at this stage, and is probably a bit of a project.

“Project” is definitely not the word that any Falcons fan desired to hear with a selection of a safety over the weekend, but in this instance, Dimitroff is pretty clearly drafting upside over readiness. The Falcons have some much-maligned talent on the back end for this season, but unless Southward is far ahead of where anyone believes him to be at this stage, he will likely begin the year as a bench player.

In total, day two represents an interesting day for the Falcons as a whole, but because both picks fit relative needs for the club, it is very tough to argue. In a perfect world, I would have preferred to see a pass rusher like Georgia Tech’s Jeremiah Attaochu or Missouri’s Kony Ealy in the second round with a more established player like Florida State’s Terrence Brooks or a ball-hawk like Wisconsin’s Chris Borland in the third. However, the “perfect” draft from an outsider’s perspective is a very rare thing, and Dimitroff has earned the benefit of the doubt.

It will be months before we can glean anything from the trio of players that the Atlanta Falcons have selected in the first two rounds, but at this moment, things are looking up in Flowery Branch.

Tags: Atlanta Falcons Dezmen Southward Minnesota Golden Gophers Ra'Shede Hageman Wisconsin Badgers

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