Posted: 11:30 am Thursday, May 8th, 2014
By Jeff Schultz
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked 44 times last season and hit another 42 times but somehow finished the regular season without having a psychotic break.
Maybe Jake Matthews will help.
The Falcons took Matthews, the 6-foot-5, 308-pound Texas A&M tackle, with the sixth overall pick. He is the son of Hall of Fame guard Bruce Matthews and one of seven members of the Matthews family to play in the NFL. Two others: Former Cleveland Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews Jr. and Green Bay pass rusher Clay Matthews III.
The Falcons went into the first round desperate to improve their offensive line or the pass rush. But when South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney went first overall to the Houston Texans and Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack went fifth to the Oakland Raiders, it was clear the Falcons would go for a tackle.
The only question was whether they would pick Matthews or Michigan’s Taylor Lewan. But Matthews is considered the most NFL-ready of the tackles and Lewan has some red flags in the character department.
The top six picks were Clowney, Auburn tackle Greg Robinson (St. Louis), Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles (surprisingly to Jacksonville), Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins (Buffalo, which traded with Cleveland), Mack (Buffalo) and Matthews (Falcons).
I’ll have a full column on the Falcons and Matthews later on MyAJC.com.
UPDATE: Here’s a link to the full column.
It’s draft morning. Let the guessing … continue.
Like most, I’m in mock-draft burnout. The buildup to the draft was overkill even before the NFL pushed it back two weeks. Consequently, we’ve had to sift through more disinformation campaigns than ever, most of which I’ve avoided passing along.
But here’s one potential nugget I feel compelled to pass along:
I was told earlier in the week that the Falcons (currently sixth overall) and St. Louis (second overall) have a contingency trade in place should Houston pass on Jadeveon Clowney and take Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack instead. But the scenario was met with a soft denial by somebody who should know, which assumes the somebody-who-should-know wasn’t lying to me.
This is why I generally don’t report draft rumors, because even if somebody tells you something, there’s usually an agenda attached to it.
That said, a Falcons-Rams trade makes sense for a few reasons. As much as the Falcons are enamored of Clowney, they’re not going to give a ton of draft picks to move up five spots. I don’t believe Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff would hesitate at dealing next year’s first-round pick but gutting this year’s draft is another story. Should Clowney fall to two, a deal with the Rams wouldn’t be nearly as expensive. Also, Dimitroff and Rams general manager Les Snead are good friends (Snead used to work for the Falcons).
I can also could see a scenario where the Falcons would trade up to No. 2 or 3 to draft Mack or Auburn tackle Greg Robinson.
The Falcons would love to trade up with Houston for the first pick, but the Texans’ demands have been too steep to this point.
I’ve written before that the Falcons can’t go wrong whether they draft a pass rusher (Clowney, Mack) or a tackle (Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan). But Clowney is a special player and it’s more difficult to get an elite pass rusher who can disrupt an opponent’s game plan.
From back in January: Here’s a blog on Clowney.
Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith recognized the needs on both lines going into free agency the team signed guard Jon Asamoah and defensive tackles Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson. It was a nice start but more work is necessary. Here’s a column from March on that subject
Dimitroff has drafted 17 offensive and defensive linemen since 2008. None has made the Pro Bowl. He needs a star with the first pick. Here’s a link to Sunday’s column on the team’s draft misses up front.
I’m not going list every mock draft out there. You’re free to Google. But here’s a peek at a few:
• NFL Network’s Mike Mayock has the first six picks as Clowney (Houston), Robinson (St. Louis), Mack (Jacksonville), Matthews (Cleveland), wide receiver Sammy Watkins (Oakland) and Lewan (Falcons). One amusing prediction by Mayock has Dallas taking quarterback Johnny Manziel at 16th because, “I don’t think Jerry can help himself.”
A word about the tackles: Robinson is believed to have the greatest upside. Matthews and Lewan might be more NFL ready.
Many like Lewan’s talent and toughness. But there are red flags regarding his character. He may be charged May 19 in Ann Arbor with one count of aggravated assault and two counts of assault and battery stemming from an early morning fight with Ohio State fans in December (after the Michigan-Ohio State game). Lewan denies committing any crime, saying he was trying to break up the fight. He also has denied any wrongdoing since his name surfaced in an investigation of an alleged 2009 sexual assault involving former Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons. There have been allegations Lewan tried to intimidate the alleged victim into not filing charges, which he denies.
• National Football Post has the first six picks as Robinson (Houston), Clowney (St. Louis), Watkins (Jacksonville), Matthews (Cleveland), Mack (Oakland) and Lewan (Falcons).
• ESPN talking heads Mel Kiper and Todd McShay both have Clowney-Robinson-Watkins as the first three picks. But Kiper has the Falcons drafting Lewan and McShay has them getting Matthews.
• Sports Illustrated’s Peter King says in his latest blog that he expects the Falcons to stay at No. 6 and draft a tackle. But in his final two days ago, he had the top three picks as Mack-Robinson-Watkins and the Falcons trading up with Cleveland at No. 4 to take Clowney. (I doubt this scenario because I don’t think Clowney is still on the board after the second pick.)
Finally, I believe S.I.’s Don Banks is dead on with this analysis on Houston’s difficult situation at the top. There are elements in it that I alluded to in a blog two weeks ago, which you can find here.
For a team that owns this draft … it doesn’t seem like the Texans are loving life right now. Houston wants to trade out of the No. 1 slot, but the league sources I’ve talked to say it’s probably not happening. That means it’s either South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney or Buffalo’s Khalil Mack from this vantage point. … Barring a deal down, getting to a consensus in Houston is what the final hours before the picking starts will be all about. My money is on Mack at the moment, with no trade happening. That said, if the Texans are willing to discount their top draft slot to get whatever they can squeeze out of the pick, perhaps they’ll coax No. 6 Atlanta into moving up for Clowney at a relatively bargain-basement price. The problem with that scenario is the Falcons might be higher on Mack than they are on Clowney, and Mack is probably the target if Houston moves down in the top 10. In any case, there’s obviously no guarantee Mack would still be there at No. 6 for the Texans if they swung a deal with Atlanta, which is why the idea of Houston selecting Clowney and then dealing him to the Falcons at No. 6 if Mack is still on the board is not all that implausible.
OK, that’s all for now. I’ll bring you any worthy updates today and tonight until the draft begins at 8 p.m.
Sound off time . . .
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About the Author
Sports blogger and columnist Jeff Schultz has been with the Atlanta-Journal-Constitution since 1989. He has been honored several times by the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE), National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (NSSA) and several other organizations.