Dan Quinn has helped turn one of the worst defenses in the league into a top-10 unit since his arrival with the Atlanta Falcons, in part thanks to the draft.
The Atlanta Falcons have had a clear point of emphasis in the past three drafts: fixing one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Atlanta has used their top two picks in the past three years on defensive players.
And it has definitely worked.
When Quinn arrived in Atlanta, the Falcons were coming off back-to-back losing seasons. Mike Smith‘s defense ranked 27th in scoring defense, 31st in sacks, and last in yards allowed.
In three years under Dan Quinn, Atlanta has improved greatly on that side of the ball. The Falcons ranked eighth in scoring defense, T-13th in sacks, and ninth in yards allowed in 2017.
Several key defensive pieces have been acquired in the past three drafts thanks to Quinn’s defensive mentality. This includes five starters from the 2017 Falcons and a few other key pieces.
In year one under Quinn, the Falcons selected current defensive starters Vic Beasley (8th overall) and Grady Jarrett (137th overall). These two have led the remolding of the defensive line and have improved the pass rush.
Beasley led the league in sacks in 2016, while Jarrett is one of the best young defensive tackles in the league. The two have combined for 32.5 sacks in their three seasons.
Jalen Collins was also selected in the 2015 draft. He looked poised to become a physical corner to line up alongside Desmond Trufant, but trouble with PEDs led to multiple suspensions and ultimately his release in 2017.
The 2016 draft was the turning point for the Atlanta defense. Pro Bowlers Keanu Neal (17th overall) and Deion Jones (52nd overall) were taken with Atlanta’s first two picks. The duo helped the Falcons win their second NFC title in franchise history and are arguably the best two players on Atlanta’s defense.
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Neal has brought physicality and heavy hitting to the defense, forcing eight fumbles in his first two seasons. Neal also ranked 13th in the NFL with 116 tackles in 2017.
The speed of Jones is unlike any other middle linebacker in the league. His 244 tackles and six interceptions in his first two years show this, as Jones has the ability to become one of the best linebackers in the NFL.
Also, De’Vondre Campbell was taken in the fourth round and has proved to be a solid starter at outside linebacker. Campbell started all 16 games in 2017 and looked improved from his rookie season.
In last year’s draft the Falcons selected defensive end Takk McKinley. McKinley immediately made his loud personality felt on draft night when he gave an emotional speech about his grandma. His energy was also felt on the football field, as the rookie was second on the team in sacks (6).
Kazee didn’t see much playing time in 2017, but should see an increase in snaps in 2018. He has the versatility to play either free safety or nickel corner. If someone in the secondary goes down with an injury, Kazee will be the next man up.
Looking at the past three years, there has been a clear focus on improving the defense. Quinn and company could once again use their top picks on defensive players, as there are holes at defensive tackle, defensive end and nickel corner.
More than likely, Atlanta will continue this trend and draft a defensive lineman in the first round. And looking at Quinn’s draft history in Atlanta, there’s reason to believe he’ll develop into a solid player.
The improvement under Quinn has been impressive. Quinn took over a defense that was allowing 26.1 points per game in 2014. Last year, the Falcons allowed just 19.7 points per game, the first time Atlanta ranked in the top ten in scoring defense since 2012.
There’s reason to believe the defense will only improve as these young players mature with more snaps. The ceiling is very high for the 2018 Atlanta defense. They have the potential to be a top five unit in the league.