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Catching Up With The Falcons' Rookie Class


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Catching Up With the Falcons' Rookie Class

By Jeanna Thomas @jeannathomas on Dec 16 2014, 12:00p

Several Falcons rookies spoke with us in the locker room this week about their development and how they've adjusted to the pro game.

The 2014 season is winding down, and the rookies have nearly a full pro season under their belts. I caught up with a few members of Atlanta's 2014 draft class to get their perspectives on their development this season.

Most of the rookies feel like they've adjusted pretty well to the speed of the game. Ra'Shede Hageman is just trying to make the most out of the snaps he gets, especially on special teams, where he's blocked three field goal or PAT attempts this season. "Me, just being a first year player, I don't get as many reps as I want to," Hageman said. "So I take full advantage of them especially when I'm out there blocking field goals.

Prince Shembo was drafted as an outside linebacker after playing the position throughout his career at Notre Dame, so he was not only adjusting to the speed of the pro game, but also looking at the game from an entirely different vantage point. "See, the speed of the game is a little different, because it's like I'm looking at it from a different perspective than what I was looking at in college," Shembo said. "So before I was looking from the side, so it was real simple, but now I'm looking at it from the middle, so it's like it's a complete different view. So I remember in camp, the speed of the game, I was like, "What the..." but that's because I didn't know what I was looking at."

Shembo had played inside linebacker before, but not since he was a freshman in high school. That's made for a big adjustment for the rookie, and he has managed the transition nicely. It is a big difference for Shembo, though. "In high school it's go, see ball, get ball," Shembo said. "It doesn't matter what you're doing. You have this hole, but a ball over there, go. But it's going to come with time."

Rookie safety Dezmen Southward has gotten some game experience because of injuries, and he's certainly developing. Southward relies on his work ethic to help him along. "I think I've adjusted a lot, just I think most of it comes from practicing hard and watching film and understanding what's going on from the vets," Southward said. "I think obviously it's still a work in progress. I think I've played decent, but nowhere near where I want to be. That's why you come in and work every day and work as hard as you can. So I plan to keep doing that and see where I go."

Running back Devonta Freeman feels like he's adjusted to the speed of the pro game very well. Freeman has remarkable instincts and vision, something that can't be taught, which gave him an advantage in the transition to the NFL. "Yeah, it's a little different," Freeman said about the speed of the game. "I feel like I've adapted to the speed very well, but last year around this time we were still practicing for the championship and stuff, so my season was still going, and plus...in college, practice is tougher than the NFL practice, but it's because it's more of a business here."

It's true that the NFL does place limits on padded practices that don't exist in the same way at the college level. Freeman said it has been beneficial for him. "I feel healthier now than I did in college last year because of all the banging," Freeman said. "There's not much banging."

As far as the speed of the game and Freeman's adjustment to it, though, he believes it's gone well. "But just the speed and the knowledge of the game - the knowledge part, I definitely feel like I'm coming along very well with it," Freeman said.

While the lack of padded practices is refreshing for Freeman, players whose programs had a bowl game at the end of the 2013 season and who then had to prepare for the NFL Draft really haven't had a break. "I mean, maybe next year I might feel healthier," Shembo said, "but you've got to remember, we've been going since college, so it's actually been a little bit different for us."

Southward echoed Shembo's perspective, though he did say that easing up on contact in practice allows players to be fresher for game day. "For me, I've pretty much been going two years straight and I haven't had a break, so my body is pretty banged up right now, but you definitely can tell a difference," Southward said. "You get a chance to get ready for the game, just getting a chance to get your legs back throughout the week instead of banging them up all the time."

As far as his development, Southward is pleased with how this season has gone for him, but he recognizes the need to keep working hard. "You can't be satisfied with saying, 'Oh, I've come along faster than people thought that I would have,'" Southward said. "I still have light years to go, and I understand that, and I have to take the things that are good with a grain of salt and understand I have to continue to work."

Shembo said that his understanding of the pro game and how he needs to prepare for each opponent is getting better every week, but he wants to keep learning. "I'm still learning. I'm going to be learning every day," Shembo said. "So some things are starting to look real familiar than before, and I've got to keep on studying."

Freeman said that his understanding of the game has improved, particularly in terms of keeping up in the huddle. "I feel like everybody's clicking now. It's late in the season, of course. The more you keep guys around, the more I play, the more I get under Matt Ryan, something like that, I understand what he's saying," Freeman says. "He speaks so fast in the huddle, he doesn't have time to say, "Hey, Devonta, you've got to check down, you've got that mike there." So I feel like I had to take a little extra time out and learn myself and try to help myself prepare, but I feel like we're all clicking together though."

Freeman also likes the chemistry on the team at this point in the season. "I feel like everybody's improving on our team, man," Freeman said. "I'm starting to feel like they get it now - like everybody gets it, everybody's buying into what Coach Smith is trying to get us to buy into."

http://www.thefalcoholic.com/2014/12/16/7390249/catching-up-with-the-falcons-rookie-class

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Freeman also likes the chemistry on the team at this point in the season. "I feel like everybody's improving on our team, man," Freeman said. "I'm starting to feel like they get it now - like everybody gets it, everybody's buying into what Coach Smith is trying to get us to buy into."


http://www.thefalcoh...ns-rookie-class



interesting.

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Matthews - been inconsistent and has struggled at times. We can say it was injury but whatever the case his rookie season has been kind of a letdown but like most rookie OTs they struggle and I'm positive he will turn it around and have a very good career. I don't see All pro but I see a bright future and consistent T / boderline pro bowler

Hageman - very little playing time. Shown some flashes but still plays high at times and needs a lot of development . Should see more playing time next year

Southward - was a reach when drafted and hasn't seen the field outside a couple of series. Still up in the air but this pick looks like a mistake given Falcons been depleated in secondary and he still hasn't had chance to play. Coaches might feel he is far from ready

Freeman - has shown some flashes and runs hard and hits holes solid. Like what I'm seeing as of late but not sure he can handle the full load . Falcons should have drafted Tre Mason a better rated prospect and has shown he can handle the work load

Shembo -??? He looks more a rotational player/ depth then full time starter but needs some development .

Rest of draft is up in air

Not a very productive rookie draft class

I don't think Southward is a mistake, I think he'll be a lot better under a different staff. Actually, I think the same for our entire defense.

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I don't think Southward is a mistake, I think he'll be a lot better under a different staff. Actually, I think the same for our entire defense.

I don't think Southward is a mistake either. Very athletic, but a little raw at the FS position. He should develop into a reliable starter within another season or two.

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Falcons Rookie Update: Snaps and Performances

By FalconsM5 @FalconsM5 on Dec 23 2014, 8:00a

That would be a whole lot to figure out after 15 games, but some of these guys are pretty good.

Jake Matthews

The hopeful future franchise left tackle started off the season looking pretty strong, starting for the oft-injured Sam Baker, before dealing with an injury that kept him out for one game. He then "tweaked" that same ankle yet again, but the Falcons continued to play him. The Falcons are never terribly open about their injuries, but Matthews visibly struggled week after week.

Matthews has steadily improved, and has now only given up one sack in the last five games. ONE sack. This has been a tough stretch against Cleveland, Arizona, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and New Orleans, but Matthews has given up ONE sack.

That statistic would be pretty inspiring if he just played the Atlanta Falcons for five games, but he matched up with real defenses.

It is not a surprise that the Falcons have improved along with Jake's ankle. Matt Ryan can be one of the best if he is kept clean, and Matthews has been doing exactly that. His pass blocking is already some of the best the Falcons have seen in quite some time, and on nearly 900 snaps, has shown he can be a great tackle when healthy.

Give him a few years and this man could be a perennial Pro Bowler.

Ra'Shede Hageman

Does anyone remember when the Falcons drafted Hageman? And he was going to give the Falcons pass rush off the edge as a 3-4 defensive end? Instead, the Falcons decided the only 3-4 they were going to run was rushing three defensive tackles on third and long.

But I am getting away from Hageman. His early season has not been full of great things, or even good things. This was to be expected, and his effort was a big reason Hageman was available in the 2nd round. He has some fantastic measurables, but has admitted himself he needs to make some improvements with his effort.

Hageman has made some flashes. A bit of a problem is the Falcons for (unknown reasons) also signed Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai. Hageman has been tasked to earn snaps over well paid free agents, a near impossibility under Mike Smith. If Mike Smith coached the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson would still be the impressive preseason backup to underperforming Matt Flynn.

With only 200 snaps, Hageman has easily outperformed other similarly drafted defensive rookies on a snap-by-snap basis, such as DeMarcus Lawrence and Dominique Easley. All three could use more snaps, but Hageman gets the most stops, hits, and hurries per snap.

Hageman, who finally earned his first regular season sack, has shown a knack for blocking field goals and extra points in between blasting through offensive linemen. It will take more snaps to find out what Hageman can provide, but he has flashed elite athleticism and an ability to manhandle opposing players when he wants to. Why he does not play more over Jackson and Soliai, Mike Smith I cannot say.

Dezmen Southward

A very surprising pick at the top of the third round, Southward, a known project, has not been able to unseat impressive free agent signing Dwight Lowery. And for good reason. Lowery has been fantastic. How has Southward looked on only 227 snaps at safety?

Not great but not nearly Thomas DeCoud. Free safety has a pretty big learning curve, and Southward was not a master at his craft in college. He was drafted for his crazy athleticism and speed, not his quick adaption to the NFL.

Southward has gotten a few shots at safety and has not been an embarrassment, but it will likely be another season before we can expect a whole lot from him. He has gotten very limited opportunity to make any plays.

Devonta Freeman

Are we noticing a trend with rookies under Mike Smith? Freeman, who is competing with the bones of Steven Jackson and the shortest running back in the league, has only received 201 snaps. Despite a better YPC, Freeman has under a third of the carries as Jackson and just a few more carries than Atlanta's third down back, Jacquizz Rodgers.

Freeman, in shamefully few snaps, has shown great burst, a quality that has been lacking from Atlanta outside of Antone Smith. Freeman has held his own in pass protection and is likely slotted to lead a running back committee next year. He is a versatile player who can play special teams, block, run the ball and split out as a wide receiver.

Prince Shembo

Stop me if you have heard this one: Shembo has looked like a quality player but has only 321 snaps. I was very impressed with him early in the season while he slowly earned more snaps. Shembo played 58 snaps and 59 snaps in weeks 4 and 5, before inexplicably dropping to 1 and 3 snaps in the following weeks. He has failed to play more than 23 snaps since week 5, but I stopped making sense of Mike Nolan's ideas for the entire year.

Joplo Bartu had somehow earned those snaps, before seceding playing time to more nickel and dime formations. Shembo was thought to provide some inside pass rush opportunities, but has instead looked like a quality run stuffer who has 18 stops through his limited snaps.

It is hard to say that Shembo has been played to his strengths, but he has looked like a good player that should be starting this year, if not next.

Ricardo Allen

This could have worked out better, but Allen did make the roster after Robert Alford was placed on injured reserve. So, not terrible for a fifth round pick? 0 snaps.

Marquis Spruill

I feel like I've bonded with Spruill, because I have seen his ACL. Fingers crossed he comes back strong in 2015. 0 snaps.

Yawin Smallwood

One of the best names of the NFL draft, Smallwood failed to make either the active roster or the practice squad. Not a great sign based on the team's total lack of inside linebacker depth. The undersized Smallwood (snicker) has signed on to the Titans practice squad. 0 snaps.

Tyler Starr

Lacking the necessary strength to play in the NFL, to start off with, Starr appears unlikely to have an impact or even play at all on one of the league's weakest pass rushing teams. Like most 7th round selections, Starr needs some work, and is far from a safe bet from so much as making the team's active roster in 2015. 0 snaps.

James Stone

Stone is an undrafted free agent who was unceremoniously thrust into the starting position... and has done better than Falcons former top draft selection Peter Konz. He has a crazy 610 snaps, playing every single offensive snap since week eight. Stone has been Atlanta's weakest offensive lineman, but has looked good enough to be quality depth along the inside offensive line.

In Conclusion...

This is still way too early in the process to come to a conclusion on the draft class, but some guys have looked better than others. Seriously, Jake Matthews has nearly half of the 1849 drafted rookie snaps. And I'm pretty sure he was hobbled for about 400 of those.

I like what I have seen, but I have not seen nearly enough. How do you like the rookies so far? What am I totally wrong about? Who should be getting way more snaps?

http://www.thefalcoholic.com/2014/12/23/7438431/falcons-rookie-update-snaps-and-performances

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I just dont get people that say this draft class isnt good. Are you kidding me?

If it werent for Matthews...Ryan likely dont survive the season.

Hageman is a monster...a healthy monster.

Freeman is just a beast....with a multitude of skills.

Southward is **** sure better than Decant.

Then there is Stone.

All have contributed. Wtf else do people want?

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I just dont get people that say this draft class isnt good. Are you kidding me?

If it werent for Matthews...Ryan likely dont survive the season.

Hageman is a monster...a healthy monster.

Freeman is just a beast....with a multitude of skills.

Southward is **** sure better than Decant.

Then there is Stone.

All have contributed. Wtf else do people want?

You forgot Shembo

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Need to see more out of Freeman, but I do really like his speed and elusiveness. Once he gets into the open field he is going to be hard to catch. As our o-line has improved the better Freeman has looked.

Well sadly and very frustratingly the only time he was used earlier in the season was when we were spelling some starting Oline and situations like that. They made his job that much harder. I mean I get why, just love seeing him play. Kids got a good head on his shoulders too. Seems like a genuinely nice person.

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Well sadly and very frustratingly the only time he was used earlier in the season was when we were spelling some starting Oline and situations like that. They made his job that much harder. I mean I get why, just love seeing him play. Kids got a good head on his shoulders too. Seems like a genuinely nice person.

He looked really good in the Saints game week 1. I actually thought he was one of the MVP's of that game. He didn't have a lot of yardage, but one of his catches set up a crucial score. Then he has the breakout game against the Giants. Caught several passes and had one his better rushing performances. I think next season he could be huge, hopefully with a much better o-line to work with.

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The past two drafts have been pretty decent.

I would rank the last two drafts as far more than "decent". The 2013 draft:

2013 Falcon Draft Class

First Round: CB Desmond Trufant

Second Round: CB Robert Alford

Fourth Round: DE Malliciah Goodman

Fourth Round Compensatory: TE Levine Toilolo

Fifth Round: DE Stansly Maponga

Seventh Round Compensatory: S Kemal Ishmael

Seventh Round Compensatory: S Zeke Motta

Seventh Round Compensatory: QB Sean Renfree

Undrafted free agents:

Paul Worrilow,

Ryan Schraeder

Joplo Bartu

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I would rank the last two drafts as far more than "decent". The 2013 draft:

2013 Falcon Draft Class

First Round: CB Desmond Trufant

Second Round: CB Robert Alford

Fourth Round: DE Malliciah Goodman

Fourth Round Compensatory: TE Levine Toilolo

Fifth Round: DE Stansly Maponga

Seventh Round Compensatory: S Kemal Ishmael

Seventh Round Compensatory: S Zeke Motta

Seventh Round Compensatory: QB Sean Renfree

Undrafted free agents:

Paul Worrilow,

Ryan Schraeder

Joplo Bartu

From that group alone we have 6 starters, 3 regular contributors, a backup QB and Zeke Motta.

Thats ridiculous actually.

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From that group alone (2013 Draft) we have 6 starters, 3 regular contributors, a backup QB and Zeke Motta.

Thats ridiculous actually.

From the 2014 Draft: Atlanta has 2 starters (Matthews and Stone), 4 regular contributors (Hageman, Southward, Freeman, and Shembo), 2 more on the roster (Starr and Allen), and 1 on IR (Spruill). Therefore just from the 2013 and 2014 drafts, Atlanta got 8 starters, 7 regular contributors, 3 more on the roster, and 2 on IR.

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