Early draft grades are a dangerous thing. For instance, Atlanta's 2007 draft class was considered a huge success. The team was flush with additional draft picks thanks to the Matt Schaub trade, and had a balanced draft addressing multiple positions of need. Things fell apart quickly after it turned out those players were really bad. 2008 received some poor grades, but was one of the best in franchise history.
With that said, lets dish out some draft grades! I will look more at the type of player the team drafted, if they moved up or down, where they fit on the depth chart, their injury history, their off-field concerns, and their expected fit in the scheme. It is about four years too early to know if any player will be a bust, but we can figure out if Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff were able to get great value on day one of the draft.
Despite the team's offensive collapse last year, they have a huge need for defensive players. If an Atlanta area therapist received $200 an hour for every embarrassing defensive breakdown last year, they would have been able to retire by the bye week. Obviously the team needed help at safety, linebacker, and across the defensive line.
Let's go! Keanu Neal, of course, is a safety that was previously targeted by former Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. I have to assume that Quinn has more than enough familiarity with Neal and his abilities to be very confident with taking him.
The value at this pick is my biggest question. The Falcons passed on Myles Jack, Shaq Lawson, Darron Lee, and Reggie Ragland, and perhaps took Neal a few slots earlier than necessary. HOWEVER, the Oakland Raiders took Karl Joseph just three spots before the Falcons took Neal. It would be hard to trade down, assuming there were teams willing to trade up, and hoping that Neal would still be available.
Neal will step in day one, and should be the enforcer in the middle of a defense that has lacked an impact player since William Moore was healthy and Curtis Lofton was still a Falcon. It has been a long time since Atlanta had that.
I will give this selection a flat B. The value is not bad, considering the Joseph pick. Neal should start game one, and should not have a big learning curve in Quinn's defense. He has very good size and speed, but is not quite elite enough to justify the 17th overall selection. His on-field performance needs to justify this pick, and it needs to be stellar to deserve better than a B.