Evaluating the Falcons Draft Class
The Atlanta Falcons walked out of the 2017 NFL Draft with an impressive crop of players to add to the Brotherhood. Here is a pick-by-pick analysis of their selections.
Well, the NFL Draft has come and gone and we can now turn our attention to speculation for the Falcons.
The draft provided the team with six new additions, which seemed unlikely after the day one trade up. But thanks to a trade down from pick 63, Dimitroff and company garnered two more fifth rounders to work with.
From a pure pick standpoint, the front office deserves recognition for its ability to acquire more picks within the first five rounds (six) than they initially had (five). However, the praise does not stop there for the Falcons’ 2017 draft class.
DE Takk McKinley, Round 1 Pick 26
The Falcons went out and “got their guy” by jumping up five spots in the first round to select McKinley. Had they not made the leap, the Dallas Cowboys picking at 28 would have taken the UCLA edge rusher.
In McKinley, the Falcons acquired a fiery edge setter with a great first step and a relentless motor. He also makes a living in the backfield in run support as evidenced by his 18.0 TFLs his senior season.
Those two traits alone make Takk a perfect fit to be the LEO of the future in Dan Quinn’s defense. However, expect Brooks Reed to remain the starting LEO while McKinley works through his shoulder injury and refines his technique.
LB Duke Riley, Round 3 Pick 75
The upset special of the Falcons draft haul came via the LSU linebacker. After the Falcons traded out of the second round, the team opted to pass on guard in favor of adding more speed to their defense.
Riley is cut from the same cloth as Deion Jones, who the Falcons plucked from the LSU program in 2016. Much like Jones, Duke only starred in college for one season as the starting middle linebacker, but he made the most of his time there.
In addition to speed, Riley will bring a swagger to the team that’s needed following the devastating Super Bowl loss. Also, his instincts are an improvement over De’Vondre Campbell’s which will allow Dre to slide over to SAM linebacker. Consider the LB group locked down for the foreseeable future.
OG Sean Harlow, Round 4 Pick 136
Aside from Forrest Lamp, the Falcons showed very little interest in any of the other top guard prospects. When Atlanta chose to pass on Lamp in round one, it should’ve came as little surprise that they’d forgo addressing the position until later on.
Sean Harlow was a guy on Atlanta’s radar, so fans should take solace in the fact that the team got their guy once again. While Harlow was a four year starter at tackle, he fits best at guard due to his short arms.
The former Oregon State Beaver brings a nastiness to his game along with rich NFL bloodlines. His father Pat Harlow was a former first round pick as a tackle out of USC.
If Harlow were to win the starting right guard spot, he would offer similar talents of predecessor Chris Chester. The fourth round pick figures to be a force in the run game while he grows as a pass protector.
DB Damontae Kazee, Round 5 Pick 149
With the Falcons first of three fifth round picks, the franchise landed the steal of their 2017 class. The only reason Kazee fell to the fifth round is his small stature. Sound familiar to a certain Falcon already on the roster? (see Jarrett, Grady)
What Kazee lacks in size, he makes up for with his incredible ball skills and tenacity in run support. Quinn’s emphasis on the ball showed through with this selection as the former Aztec recorded 15 interceptions over the last two years.
The Falcons plan to feature their newest ballhawk as a safety and nickel back to start his career. In a crowded secondary, this pick has more ramifications for the future than the present, but Kazee should have a prominent role on special teams in 2017.
RB Brian Hill, Round 5 Pick 156
If the Riley pick was the biggest surprise, drafting a running back as polished as Hill is a close second. We should know by now, though, that the Falcons do not conform to popular opinion under Dan Quinn.
The Falcons can be thinking a number of different things with the selection of the Wyoming running back. Hill could be the insurance policy in the event Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman depart in free agency; or he’s the improvement the team was looking to add at the RB3 spot.
Either way, Hill offers a multi-faceted skill set and a ready made NFL body (6’1 220 lbs). One of his best traits is his ability to break tackles, so that may lead to early playing time in short yardage situations.
TE Eric Saubert, Round 5 Pick 174
Last but not least, the Falcons used their original fifth round selection on a tight end. Many thought Atlanta would address the position due to an increased emphasis of the tight end under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
In Saubert, the Falcons added a move tight end who already runs routes like that of a wide receiver. He presents a large catch radius, too, with his 6 foot 5 inch, 250-plus pound frame.
Coupled with Austin Hooper, Atlanta now possesses two athletic tight ends that will threaten the seams of defenses. Throw in Levine Toilolo as the blocking specialist and the Falcons are set at tight end for the next three years.
The Falcons entered the draft with very few objectives outside of acquiring a secondary pass rusher. They checked that box in round one as they aggressively pursued defensive end Takk McKinley. With their second pick, the defense’s front seven received another injection of talent and speed in Duke Riley.
As for the remainder of the draft, the Falcons landed a potential starter on day three in Sean Harlow and solidified their depth at DB, RB, and TE with their round five picks.
It’s no wonder Thomas Dimitroff was pleased with the fruits of his labor. Falcons fans should be as well.