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How the 2016 Falcons rookie class could transform the franchise

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We’re already seeing the promise, but it’s worth considering what’s ahead.

Atlanta Falcons v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

I don’t need to tell you the wheels could come off the Dan Quinn era; you’ve seen the wheels come off countless times before, promise flying every which way. It’s way too early to pass judgement on the team’s most recent draft class, but there’s are reasons the Falcons are above .500 and Thomas Dimitroff just got himself a shiny new contract extension, and the rookies are a genuinely major reason.

Let’s look back at the 2016 draft class and see where they are today.

Keanu Neal, 1st round: 8 games, 65 combined tackles, four forced fumbles

Deion Jones, 2nd round: 9 games, 64 combined tackles, two interceptions, one touchdown

Austin Hooper, 3rd round: 10 games, 15 receptions, 249 yards, two touchdowns

De’Vondre Campbell, 4th round: 6 games, 32 combined tackles, one forced fumble

Wes Schweitzer, 6th round: N/A

Devin Fuller, 7th round: On injured reserve

Brian Poole, UDFA: 10 games, 36 tackles, 6 pass deflections

Just looking at these stats doesn’t do much to tell you how good this class has been, but instead consider the number of games played. Out of a six man class and a crop of undrafted free agents, you have five players who have played a majority of the team’s games thus far, and with the exception of Austin Hooper, most of those players have been starting. Hooper, of course, is starting now that Jacob Tamme is injured.

It’s also worth considering just how unusually good these rookies have been. Keanu Neal already looks like one of the league’s better young safeties, even if he’s made some major mistakes along the way. Deion Jones has added speed and playmaking ability to a linebacking corps that has been missing both for years. Hooper is a strong receiving threat, albeit one who needs work on his routes and hands. Campbell has been hurt and at times ineffective, but he just turned in a strong game against the Eagles and has tons of potential. Poole has been decent-to-good as the team’s nickel cornerback, mixing in some holding calls and bad stretches with genuinely terrific coverage. That doesn’t even include Schweitzer, who will be groomed as a potential starting guard, and Fuller, who will be gunning for the team’s returner gigs and a role at receiver in 2017.

There is the potential that the Falcons will have snagged six starters this year, and if the first four rounds picks live up to their considerable potential, we’re talking about a much-needed infusion of youth and athleticism for this team, and the potential that they’ll blossom just as this team is ready to arrive as a consistent contender. Things are rarely so neat and linear in the NFL, as we all know, but the Falcons managed to address some of their most major needs with players who look like they’ll deliver. After the last several years, I don’t take that for granted.

Before all is said and done, we might look at this as one of the most impactful draft classes in recent Falcons history. If Dan Quinn is going to succeed, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, it’s going to need to be that impactful.