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Undrafted players are making a big difference for the 2016 Falcons

Hitting on draft picks is important, but finding undrafted “gems” may be as much so.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons have done a pretty good job of hitting on their first round picks. Guys like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Desmond Trufant, Vic Beasley and Jake Matthews have worked out well for the team and are all valuable starters. However, teams only have so many first round picks, and creating a roster full of contributors means hitting on mid-round and late picks.

If you don’t hit on those picks, you’re forced to rely on free-agency - which can get prohibitively expensive - or you find yourself looking for “gems” in the pool of undrafted players that come out every year. Fortunately for the Falcons, they’ve found quite a few and these players are contributing to the team’s success in 2016.

Ryan Schraeder

After signing a 5 year deal worth $33 million, it’s easy to forget that Schraeder was an undrafted free agent out of Valdosta State in 2013. The team saw a raw player with tons of potential, and fortunately they were dead-on. Over the last two years, Ryan Schraeder has turned into one of the top right tackles in the NFL. He’s a stout pass blocker who can also get out and block in the running game. It’s hard enough to find good tackles in this league, but when you find one as an undrafted player, you’ve done something special.

Taylor Gabriel

Amazingly, Gabriel wasn’t even a free agent priority for the Browns. He was a walk-on that blew the team away and made their roster a few years ago. The fact that they walked away from him this year speaks more to their incompetence and less about what Gabriel could offer. Since he’s been here, he’s been an electrifying weapon that teams now have to plan for along with Julio Jones.

Patrick DiMarco

The starting full back out of South Carolina is a key piece on special teams, and is a big part of the success of the running game. DiMarco was good enough to make the Pro-Bowl last year and is having another strong season. Fullback isn’t a premium position anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find Pro Bowl quality players either. DiMarco has been another great undrafted player that’s contributing at a high level for the team.

Brian Poole

Even though he’s not listed as a starter, Brian Poole is playing “starter” reps as the primary nickel corner. When you consider that he’s a rookie who was undrafted out of Florida, his performance this year has been nothing short of amazing. He’s grabbed hold of the nickel job from day one and has looked like a seasoned veteran out there. Cornerback is a tough enough position to find in the draft, and is a “premium” position as well. Poole has been a fantastic find.


The players above are just the tip of the iceberg. Dan Quinn believes strongly in developing players up and down the roster, and there’s a good chance this list will grow in the coming years. Guys like C.J. Goodwin are already contributing on special teams, while Robinson Therezie has quietly been a quality backup for starter Ricardo Allen. The team is also bullish about the potential for players like Sharrod Neasman, Deji Olatoye and Joshua Perkins. Guys like D.J. Tialavea and J.D. McKissic are names to keep on this list as well.

Building championship teams is extremely difficult, but the Falcons appear to be hitting on some crucial positions with undrafted guys. The more of these guys they can find and develop, the better the depth and quality of this roster. It’s encouraging to see so many of them already contributing, and there’s hope that we’ll see even more down the road.