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The 2017 Atlanta Falcons draft class has arrived. The NFL draft brought plenty of surprises, twists & turns, & Philadelphia made for a great venue from fan participation, as well as stirring up NFL chatter across all fan bases. Let’s focus on what this year’s draft class brought to Atlanta.
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Takkarist McKinley – DE – UCLA
Takk McKinley brought excitement and energy from the moment he stepped on stage Thursday. Carrying a picture of his late grandmother with him on his way to greet commissioner Roger Goodell, he fulfilled his promise to her of playing on the grandest stage of them all – The National Football League. It was a dream realized for a young man who has overcome much in his life to get to this point. You can’t help but root for the kid. There is a reason why the “non-stop motor” description is attached to him.
He looked like he was ready to lineup that night and chase down the opposing quarterback. He said as much during his draft night interview with former Falcon Deion Sanders. The Falcons sought out a running mate for Vic Beasley in the first round and have likely found the perfect compliment.
Head coach Dan Quinn’s reaction from the war room when informing McKinley that he was an Atlanta Falcon was all you needed to see to understand “the want” from the Falcons’ brass. A victorious fist pump from Quinn sealed the deal for Falcons fans.
While there is not always truth in draft night rumors, Dallas supposedly wanted McKinley as well. Via trade (Falcons gave up thirty-first pick, as well as a third and seventh rounder), the Falcons leapfrogged three teams that could have used pass rush assistance (Cowboys, Packers, Steelers) to ensure they landed “their guy.” Mission complete! I can’t wait to see number 98 rush from the outside.
Duke Riley – LB – LSU
As he let Falcon fans know on draft night, Duke Riley is a “dirty bird.” Riley will be reacquainted with Deion Jones, his former LSU teammate. This was a slick pick on day two of the draft, and one that blocked a fellow NFC South team (Saints) from acquiring a higher caliber linebacker help which they so desperately need.
Saints fans have become a bit salty due to recent Falcon draft picks from their backyard bayou going to Atlanta in Jalen Collins, Jones, & now Riley. Riley is bringing speed and swagger, in addition to having the familiarity with Jones which will only enhance the play of both linebackers heading into the 2017 season. Riley is solid in coverage, and the Falcons could use what Riley brings to the second level of their defense.
The icing on the cake with this pick was that general manager Thomas Dimitroff was able to nab a couple of fifth round picks by moving down from pick sixty-three to seventy-five, adding selections one hundred forty-nine & one hundred fifty-six.
Sean Harlow – OG – Oregon St
With former starting right guard Chris Chester retirement, the Falcons went into the draft in the hopes of finding a possible replacement. Enter Sean Harlow. Harlow brings a reputation as a solid run blocker, gritty and tough. He has the ability to be mobile and seems like a great fit for the Falcons zone blocking scheme.
New Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian should know Harlow well since he actually recruited him out of high school while head coach at USC. Harlow will battle Wes Schweitzer for starting right guard, with Ben Garland also in the mix. It should be a fun camp competition to monitor later this summer.
Should Harlow not receive the starting nod, he will provide offensive line depth also having played some center previously.
Damontae Kazee – CB – San Diego St
Kazee may not fall into the mold that Quinn has preached in the past when seeking out tall cornerbacks, but his ball hawking skills and athleticism are apparent. Kazee should see time as a slot corner, as well as backup safety. No immediate playing time awaits, but Kazee’s knack for the ball (15 interceptions his last two seasons in college) could allow him to see the field sooner, rather than later.
Brian Hill – RB – Wyoming
You have to love a player who comes in with confidence. Hill stated he feels like he’s the best RB in the 2017 draft class. He’ll begin the year as RB#3 on the depth chart, but should become a solid special teams contributor who pays immediate dividends for the Falcons.
While this move makes me wonder the future at running back with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman already in place, a quality running back on the depth chart is always welcome.
Eric Saubert – TE – Drake
Saubert should fit in nicely as a developmental third tight end to begin 2017. You may see an Austin Hooper like season where snaps increase as the year goes on, as well as his emergence as a red-zone threat. Blocking is one area that needs to be improved upon for Saubert to see an eventual increase on playing time.
The transformation and improved depth of the Falcons continues in year three under Coach Quinn. The immediate needs were lessened already having a solid roster in place, but early reviews are positive heading into rookie minicamp.
One last note: keep an eye on the UDFAs (undrafted free agents) that the Falcons have brought in. One specific player of note is offensive tackle Andreas Knappe. Knappe is receiving high praise amongst experts and football insiders. He could become a solid swing tackle for Atlanta.
As recent history has shown us, Brian Poole was a great find as a UDFA signing out of Florida. Taylor Gabriel also played his way from UDFA to having just signed a one-year, $2.81 million tender offer with the Falcons. Finding diamonds in the rough are key for any successful NFL franchise.
I give the Falcons 2017 draft class, a solid B+, fringing on an A. If I’m wrong, you can “fine me later,” right Takk?