The Falcons went into the 2016 draft class with some major needs, and they managed to fill most of them with a total of six selections. As is my custom, I ran down each pick, gave them a grade (which you should disregard except as a means for praising me and/or mocking me years down the line), and thought a little bit about how this class is likely to end up.
#17: Keanu Neal, Safety, Florida
In the classical sense of the word, this was an obvious reach. Keanu Neal was going to go in the first round, but probably not for at least a couple of picks and perhaps not until the Steelers at #25, so the Falcons might've been able to swap down and get additional value if they really wanted him. They did really want him, though, and they felt they weren't going to get value on a move down.
While his draft slot is controversial, his skill is evident. Neal brings physicality, athleticism, and aggression to safety, and he'll play a key role in Dan Quinn's defense as an enforcer. Once (or if) his coverage improves and he cleans up his tendency to miss tackles, he should be one of the team's better defender. I'll take that, even if it was early.
#52: Deion Jones, Linebacker, LSU
I don't know that Jones is going to be ready to start day one, but he's almost certainly going to regardless. He's just 21 years old and doesn't have a ton of starting experience at the collegiate level, but like Neal, he's tremendously athletic, very willing to be physical, and figures to have value on special teams. Long-term, he figures to slot in on the weak side and give the team the kind of speed they've lacked for a while now, and I'm very bullish on his chances of becoming a great player.
#81: Austin Hooper, Tight End, Stanford
Hooper's a good athlete, has soft hands, and is already a solid blocker. That should get him on the field in his first year, albeit behind Jacob Tamme, but he's going to be the long-term starter for the Falcons unless he falls flat on his face. You have to like his well-rounded skill set and ability to win in the middle of the field, and once he gains Matt Ryan's trust there should be a healthy number of targets for him. That'll probably be 2017, though.
#1: De'Vondre Campbell, Linebacker, Minnesota
This is the selection that could change our perception of the draft, depending on what happens with him over the next three years. Campbell has worked with Chuck Smith to develop as a pass rusher and may actually be able to offer the Falcons something in that role, but he's also a very good athlete (you're sensing a theme) and has the size to be effective, regardless of whether he's playing middle linebacker (which I'd expect, at least at first) or outside. The questions here have to do with his instincts and ability to quickly diagnose plays happening in front of him, and the coaching staff is going to have to work hard with him to correct those deficiencies or he could become an active liability who is never in the right place at the right time.
The toolkit is intriguing, at the very least, and in my humble opinion he's got more upside than the average Falcons fourth round pick. I'm hopeful he'll realize it.
#195: Wes Schweitzer, Guard, San Jose State
It took me a little while to get up to speed on Schweitzer, who simply wasn't on my radar, and this isn't going to be the most knowledgeable take on him. Fair warning.
From what I've seen and read to this point, Schweitzer moves well and fared well in his last season, but definitely needs to get stronger and work on his technique if he's going to push to start on the Falcons. The team is weak enough at guard, especially in 2017 and beyond, that he may well get a crack at it, but at worst he should be a decent reserve. As is the case with every pick in this class minus Hooper, you can quibble about where he was selected and who else was available, but he's a good fit for this offense.
#238: Devin Fuller, Wide Receiver/Returner, UCLA
Very fast, has experience as a returner and did well there, and can give cornerbacks fits with his quick feet. Unfortunately, he has a ton to work on as a receiver and doesn't break a lot of long gainers with that speed, so he's likely to be an asset primarily on special teams, at least for the first couple of years of his career. I would've preferred another player here, honestly, but I get where the team is going.
The Falcons added genuine talent to safety, tight end, and linebacker, and Fuller and Schweitzer are interesting reserves. In a relatively weak class, they got players I felt were strong fits for Atlanta and offered real upside more or less across the board, even if that's always dangerous because they may not achieve it. Unless Campbell and/or Jones are better than I think they are as pass rushers, though, the team left that perennial need largely untouched, and they've certainly put a lot of trust in the coaching staff to fix issues like Neal's missed tackles and Campbell's lack of quality instincts.
I think this is a better team than it was a week ago, for certain, but I don't expect anyone but Neal to be a massive upgrade in 2016, which means the class may not have quite the first-year impact we were hoping for. Over the long haul, though, I think this will prove to be a pivotal group for Quinn and a big part of the next quality Falcons team, whenever that may come.
Overall Grade: B