Atlanta Falcons: Grading the 2018 draft class
The Atlanta Falcons 2021 draft is in the rear-view mirror and we are barreling towards the start of actual football activities. Now that we are past the big event tons of writers and analysts are putting out their draft grades for each team. While it is an excellent exercise to look at the value of the prospects and how each pick improves the team, it also is based purely on speculation.
We will not know whether the Atlanta Falcons class is worth an A+ or not for several years. Once these rookies get some time in the NFL we can evaluate the class in hindsight and truly know how good this draft was.
With the recent news that the Atlanta Falcons are unsurprisingly picking up Calvin Ridley’s fifth-year option, it is a good time to do just that with the 2018 class and give a final grade based on NFL performance.
The Atlanta Falcons made six selections in 2018, five of them are still with the franchise.
Round 1, Pick 26: Calvin Ridley
Ridley has lit up the league since being drafted in 2018. He was viewed as a luxury pick at the time but has proven his worth since. Over his three years with the Falcons he has averaged 109 targets, 1,020 yards, and 8.6 touchdowns a year.
While it is easy to point out that he faces easier coverage with Julio Jones on the field he proved his WR1 status during the seven games Julio missed in 2020. Averaging seven receptions, 109 yards per game with three touchdowns.
Ridley was snubbed in the pro bowl voting in 2020 but expect to see him making the list very soon.
Round 2, Pick 58: Isaiah Oliver
Oliver has carved out a significant role for the Atlanta Falcons since being drafted. Unfortunately, he has not lived up to the draft pick spent on him. There is hope for the future, however.
Oliver was deployed mostly as an outside corner under Dan Quinn and company and struggled through most of the first three years of his career. However late in 2020 he was moved to the slot and showed signs of improvement when not forced to match up on the outside with opponent top receivers.
Whether he sticks as a slot corner or not his upside looking back would not warrant a second-round pick. At best he looks to be an average corner going forward.
Round 3, Pick 90: Deadrin Senat
Senat’s career so far has been a head-scratcher for Falcons’ fans. He has seen extremely limited action over the past three years but has shown flashes of being a solid player.
While there is a chance, he will get an opportunity under the new regime and carve out a significant role it’s equally as likely he will struggle to make the game-day roster again and may even be cut from the 53 altogether.
Regardless of what the upside may be or the reason behind the lack of playing time, a third-round pick on the roster bubble who has only started two games is not a good thing.
Round 4, Pick 126: Ito Smith
Smith had a ton of potential to be a rotational back for the Atlanta Falcons. He showed flashes as a rookie of being a short-yardage and red-zone weapon, racking up four touchdowns. He also accumulated almost 500 yards in his first season.
He has struggled against injuries since entering the league and after his four-score season as a rookie has only added one each of the following two years. Unable to carve out a role and with his injuries Ito was waived from the roster this offseason.
Projecting injuries is tough when evaluating talent, however running backs of Ito’s stature have a history of struggling in the NFL.
Regardless of the reason a player not being able to finish their rookie contract is a bad pick.
Round 6, Pick 194: Russell Gage
Gage was an interesting pick on day three in 2018. He had extremely limited experience at receiver having spent most of his time at LSU at corner.
Taking a chance on his upside and letting him develop as a receiver was a good decision by DQ and Thomas Dimitroff.
Gage has been a solid number three receiver for the Atlanta Falcons, having a breakout year in 2020. With Julio Jones going down with an injury for seven games Gage was thrust into a more prominent role.
He had an impressive stat line with 72 receptions for 786 yards, he also added four touchdowns.
When you get starter-level contributions from a sixth-round pick that is nothing if not a win.
Round 6, Pick 200: Foyesade Oluokun
The Linebacker affectionately known as Foye turned out to be a steal for the Atlanta Falcons. His ability was evident early, however coming out of Yale it was obvious he would need some time to grow to NFL competition.
He was touted as a highly intelligent player coming out and had early expectations of being able to grow with time.
Foye took a big jump in year three starting in 14 games. He has shown a knack for the big play, he had two interceptions, four forced fumbles, and three sacks in 2020. He also has a special connection with kicker Younghoe Koo collecting multiple onside kicks over his career.
Looking back at the draft and what he has done in the league so far and with his potential going forward Oluokun easily went several rounds too late in 2018.
Overall Draft Grade: B
They nailed three picks in this draft and while it’s hard to look too poorly on a draft class that provided three starters with Ridley, Gage, and Oloukon. The fact that all three picks made in rounds two, three, and four are either off the team or on the bubble, is not good – though we came to expect that from former GM Thomas Dimitroff.
It is hard to not think of what could have been. A few more hits on day two could have made this one of the strongest classes and bumped the grade up significantly. It also would have gone a long way into helping the Atlanta Falcons from having three straight losing seasons.