Takkarist McKinley is a Blessing

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 03: Takkarist McKinley (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 03: Takkarist McKinley (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Takkarist McKinley, the fiery defender is enjoying a successful rookie campaign, and has injected some much-needed attitude into an Atlanta Falcons franchise desperate for it

From the moment his name was called at the 2017 NFL Draft, it was clear that the Atlanta Falcons had selected a different kind of player.

Not different in an on-field context—he possesses those standout traits as well—but with the immense energy and passion that McKinley immediately introduced into an NFL franchise known more for its inconspicuous identity. The Mike Smith regime was marked by sort of a sleepy malaise, due in some part to the Falcons’ commitment to simply charting a steady course in the wake of the Mike Vick scandal and Bobby Petrino yellow-bellied cut-and-run.

The franchise needed stability. In Smith’s final season it became listless; a team devoid of emotion and desire.

Did the Atlanta Falcons finally tally back-to-back winning seasons during Smith’s tenure? Sure did.

Did Smith & Co. guide them to the NFC Championship Game and one half of well-played football away from a Super Bowl berth? Absolutely.

Did the Smith era secure quarterback Matt Ryan in the 2008 NFL Draft, ending the Island of Misfit Toys approach to the position that led to actual, real life chants for Joey Harrington? You bet.

The Atlanta Falcons are forever indebted to Mike Smith, but it was apparent to anyone with working eyeballs that changes were necessary. Not just coaching, personnel, or front office changes. Attitude changes.

Enter Dan Quinn, and enter Takk McKinley.

As he glided down the stairs to the draft stage in Philadelphia, framed photo of his late-grandmother Myrtle Collins clutched firmly in his left arm, Takkarist McKinley let the world know what he was there for.

Who he was there for.

It was Myrtle Collins, the woman who raised him, and the woman to whom he promised to escape the seeming quicksand of Richmond, California, attend a Division-1 school, and make it to the NFL. His immense presence was palpable—to those watching, it was visceral.

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As he led into his profanity-peppered post-draft interview with Deion Sanders, Takkarist McKinley let the world know that Atlanta had its swagger back.

Fine me later.

He never was, of course, as the NFL brass seemed to recognize—rightly—the emotional enormity of the moment for a young man who had just achieved his dream for himself, and for Myrtle Collins.

There’s an argument to be made that Takk McKinley would not have been on the Falcons’ draft board during the Mike Smith era. With a coaching staff stubbornly dedicated to The Falcons Way, sometimes at the expense of the winning way, a guy as animated and impassioned as McKinley may have been deemed a bit outside the newly-established norms of a franchise attempting to recover its reputation and redefine itself.

You’ve seen some of the prudish online hot-takes.

His language!

He named his puppy Codeine!

He needs to stay off Twitter!

These are sentiments from a time where the Atlanta Falcons had as much personality as a manila folder and as much toughness and grit as a sponge cake.

And toughness and grit? McKinley has brought that to the Atlanta defensive line in spades. Nearing the end of his rookie campaign, Takk has tallied six sacks to go along with two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. His speed off the edge has added a new dimension to an Atlanta pass-rush that relied primarily on linebacker Vic Beasley. He has demonstrated an innate dynamism for getting after the  quarterback—another Draft Day proclamation—,and considering he entered 2017 fresh off of shoulder surgery, declaring his first season anything short of a success would be absurd.

He’s just so much fun to watch play. Knowing how much fun he’s having doing it is just a bonus.

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He’s showcased his fire, his emotion, his athleticism, and his celebratory direct deposit dancing ability. He’s injected attitude to a franchise desperate for it, and added red-eyed intensity to a defensive line in need of angry play-makers. He kept his promise to Myrtle Collins—his inspiration, motivation and catalyst to be great, on and off the field.

Takk McKinley is a man of his word.

Takk McKinley is a blessing.