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What is the draft strategy for the Atlanta Falcons in 2016?

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The Keanu Neal selection is prompting that question, but where the Falcons go from here will shed much more light on it.

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At this point, we've all sort of decided what we think of the Keanu Neal selection, at least until he actually gets on the field and shows us something. The Falcons loved Neal's athleticism, physicality, and potential to be an asset in coverage, while most NFL analysts considered Neal a second day selection. That battle will rage on for months and there'll be plenty of time to dig in and lob grenades from your position, but let's consider the larger strategy animating the selection.

Neal is an ideal scheme fit for Quinn, and depending on the prism you're looking through, that could qualify him as the best player available. If there's a player on your particular draft board that you believe is the slam dunk choice, you take him, like the Panthers did with Vernon Butler (who profiles as a defensive tackle for a team that already has Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei, and Paul Soliai), like the Raiders did with Karl Joseph (who due to injuries was not necessarily a first round pick, and certainly not a top 15 one), or the Cowboys did with Ezekiel Elliott (who is a running back). This was an odd first round in a class that many consider to be fairly weak, and while the Falcons certainly look like they made the biggest reach of the round, it's pretty obvious why they made it.

That philosophy isn't going to suddenly go away. The Falcons aren't going to take Myles Jack if he rolls back around in the second round, I would wager, because they've taken a look at the risks his injury history presents and passed on him once. I do believe they'll go for a linebacker, but they're likely to go for the best linebacker for their scheme, which likely means a big, fast, physical nightmare of a player, if such a player exists. In the third round, they may try to acquire a big, fast, physical pass rusher, if that guy's there. And so on.

Quinn is trying to build a defense that's similar to and effective like the one he had in Seattle, a defense loaded up with versatile, hard-hitting players who are plus athletes. Sometimes those guys come to you in free agency (maybe Derrick Shelby!) or the draft (maybe Jalen Collins!), and sometimes you roll the dice on a guy you like better than everyone else (like Kam Chancellor!) and get a tremendous piece. Because he knows what he wants, Quinn is not going to be afraid to buck the conventional wisdom outside of Flowery Branch, and I believe we're likely to see at least one or two more picks that most will consider reaches. There will be thinkpieces and lousy grades and angry fans in the wake of that, but for a guy whose mandate is to win, all that matters is that he lands the players he feels he can win with, and if he has a different idea than much of the league, so be it.

Dan Quinn is going to get the defense he wants, come hell or high water, and his fortunes in Atlanta will soar or sink based on just how well he builds the unit. I'm neither optimistic nor pessimistic at the moment, having not seen the entire draft class, but after too many years that ended in disappointing fashion, I'm just hoping this philosophy works out better than the last one.