by Adam Fournier, Ourlads’ Intern
The Atlanta Falcons were one of the best teams in the NFC from 2010 to 2012 but have been a huge disappointment over the last two seasons. In the 2012/13 season, the Falcons came within a few yards of their first Super Bowl appearance since the 98-99 season. However since that loss in the NFC Championship game to the 49ers, the Falcons have registered only ten wins in the last two seasons combined. Atlanta will need their young players drafted in the past 5 years to step up if they are to return to where they want to be.
The biggest splash Atlanta made in the past five years of the NFL Draft was their decision to trade up for Alabama star receiver Julio Jones. In one of the biggest draft day trades in the past five seasons, the Falcons traded five picks, including their 2011 and 2012 1st round picks, to draft Jones. At the time, this decision was highly questioned; but Jones has made any doubters swallow their words. Since coming into the NFL, Jones has developed as one of the best receivers in the NFL making the Pro Bowl in 2012 and 2014. Jones missed the majority of 2013 with an injury but bounced back with a huge 2014 season. The Falcons will be relying highly on Jones to be Matt Ryan’s main target for the 2015 season.
Although no longer on the team, Sean Weatherspoon, Corey Peters, and Akeem Dent were all solid contributors on defense for the Falcons during their tenures with the Falcons. Weatherspoon appeared to be a force at linebacker but injuries halted his final two seasons with Atlanta. The Falcons were not shy when addressing their biggest need going into the 2013 draft. The Falcons drafted cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford in the first two rounds of the draft. The pair has stepped up as one of the best young cornerback tandems in the NFL with Trufant starting every game since coming into the league. The Falcons will be relying on them to be their cornerback pairing for the 2015 season and many years to come.
The Falcons have also had their fair share of prospects that simply did not turn out. The most unfortunate of all of them was offensive lineman Mike Johnson. Johnson was poised to breakout in 2013 as a starter on the offensive line but had his season ended with an injury in training camp. He then suffered a broken foot, which ended his 2014 season. Johnson was not re-signed following the 2014 season and decided to announce his retirement in July of 2015. Another player that will not have the expected impact is Prince Shembo. Shembo was a contributor on defense during his rookie season but was released after an arrest in May of 2015.
The Falcons will be looking to three players from their 2014 draft class to play major roles in 2015 following their solid rookie campaigns. Jake Matthews, Ra’Shede Hageman, and Devonta Freeman are all expected to start for Atlanta in 2015. Matthews, another member of the famous Matthews family, was a highly touted prospect and did not disappoint starting 15 games at left tackle and making the All-Rookie Team. Hageman is projected to start at defensive tackle after struggling a bit during his rookie season. He will need to step up big this year to live up to his 37th overall pick. Freeman has impressed as the team’s primary running back after a solid rookie season.