Falcons owner Arthur Blank and first round draft pick Jake Matthews pose for a photo after the offensive lineman was selected as the sixth-overall pick of the NFL draft. (Reuters)
FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons have big plans for first-round pick Jake Matthews.
“We’ve got a really good football player, who’s going to be able to protect our quarterback, but he’s also going to be able to win the line of scrimmage in the running game,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.
Matthews played right tackle for three seasons at Texas A&M before moving to left tackle last season.
“Again, we couldn’t be more excited to have him aligned at the right tackle spot,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “We are not projecting Sam (Baker), he is our left tackle.”
The Falcons introduced Matthews as a potential pillar of the organization.
“When you pick the sixth overall pick, from an organizational standpoint, your goal is to pick a pillar for the organization,” Dimitroff said. “That’s your goal. We feel very strongly that our acquisition was a pillar pick.”
Matthews, who’s likely to sign a contract similar to the four-year, $18.6 million deal that Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah signed with last season, was elated to be selected by the Falcons.
“Throughout this whole process, whether it was doing workouts or visiting, Atlanta always felt like the right place,” Matthews said. “Secretly and honestly, I was really hoping that I would end up here. I’m so glad that it worked out this way.”
Matthews said he doesn’t feel any extra pressure from being called a potential pillar of the team.
“I feel real confident that I can do that,” Matthews said.
He has been in contact with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan via text.
“I think this pick was a steal, to be picked this high and go to a great team,” Matthews said. “This is a team that can compete for the Super Bowl next year.”
Safety help: After selecting Minnesota defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman in the second round (37th overall), the Falcons picked Wisconsin safety Dezmen Southward in the third round (68th overall).
Southward, a 6-foot, 211-pounder, was medically excluded from the scouting combine because of wrist and spine injuries.
The Falcons released starting free safety Thomas DeCoud over the offseason.
Fourth first-rounder: Falcons owner Arthur Blank noted that Matthews was the fourth first-round pick of the family.
Cleveland selected his uncle Clay Matthews in (12th overall) in 1978. Houston selected his dad Bruce Matthews (ninth) in 1983. Green Bay selected his cousin Clay Matthews III (26th) in 2009.
Father to son: Bruce Matthews, who played 19 years in the NFL for the Houston and Tennessee Oilers, is proud of his son.
“He’s my favorite player in the draft,” said Bruce Matthews, who coached in the NFL from 2009-13. “I think the Falcons did themselves a real positive in picking Jake up. I’m not coaching right now, but if I (were), I’d be very excited to have him as a player on my offensive front.”
Jet lag: The Falcons interviewed the top prospects for the draft three times.
“I hope you know that those were all upstanding hours that we used on your jet,” Dimitroff said to Blank. “They were all in the spirit of work.”
Trying to trade: The Falcons tried to trade for a late first-round pick, but their intended targets went too high.
They had an eye on Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, but realized early that too many teams wanted him, and it would cost too much to move up high enough. He was selected by Pittsburgh with the 15th pick.
The Falcons’ attention then shifted to Auburn defensive end Dee Ford, who didn’t slip into their range. Ford was selected by Kansas City with the 23rd pick.
“We worked hard at it, and you have to have a dance partner,” Dimitroff said. “In the end, we didn’t (trade) at the spots that we were interested in.”
Smith said, “Thomas was working very hard. And as he said, it takes two to dance, and I felt like junior/senior prom, waiting on somebody (to dance with). We weren’t getting the three-letter answer, we were getting the two-letter answer.”