For an NFL team to improve year upon year, they need immediate success from their rookie class. The spotlight is on the newest Atlanta Falcons members.
The Falcons had many needs this offseason, but only six draft picks. They understand the importance of hitting on a high percentage of these selections, particularly the higher picks.
Training camp is of critical importance for every player on the roster, especially the young rookies making the transition from the college game to the pros.
Atlanta’s first-round selection, Keanu Neal, is even expected to be a starter from Week 1 at strong safety. That places a lot of weight onto Neal’s shoulders early in his career. Neal will be one of the must-watch players throughout camp.
Dan Quinn has got the type of player his defense needs. Neal is a violent, physical safety who can help immediately against the run. One hit from Neal is one too many, as receivers across the league will soon discover. But is he ready for the intricacies of the safety position at the NFL level? He’s going to be thrown in at the deep end, and training camp will tell us a lot about where he’s currently at.
Deion Jones, the Falcons’ second-round pick, enters camp with tremendous opportunity. Jones can push Paul Worrilow all the way for a starting job. It’s anyone’s to win at this stage.
The same can be said of tight end Austin Hooper, selected in the third round. Hooper needs to get up to speed as he was forced to miss much of the Falcons’ offseason program. Can he jump above Jacob Tamme on the depth chart before the start of the regular season?
It’s always important to try and temper expectations for rookies, but at the same time it’s important for the early-rounders to at least show flashes of potential. Training camp is where it all begins.
Rookie watch will be in full flow when camp gets underway.