Best Pick: Keanu Neal
Worst Pick: Wes Schweitzer
2016 Starters: 2 (Neal, Jones)
For the second year in a row, the Falcons put together a draft class that "made sense." I know some fans will be obsessed with not getting guys like Shaq Lawson or Myles Jack, but there definitely appears to be a reason behind every pick - and none of them felt like true reaches. Neal will contribute from day 1 and could be the enforcer of this defense. Jones will likely compete for the starting weakside linebacker spot and figures to be a big improvement in coverage. Though he probably doesn't start immediately, Austin Hooper has big potential and should be a redzone threat at minimum. The most intriguing pick is fourth rounder De'Vondre Campbell, whose athletic traits are fantastic, but who is still very raw as a football player.The Schweitzer pick in the sixth round was another "who?" moment for the team, but I'm willing to see how he plays out. Finally, Devin Fuller could compete for the roster as a kick return specialist and make Devin Hester the odd-man out, but that will be a tall task.
In total, this draft feels like it executed on a focused vision: one that Dan Quinn has clearly set. His large development-focused coaching staff now has a lot of work to do, as none of these players are fully-baked. But if his staff can coach these guys up to their potential, this class has the potential to be a great one.
Best Pick: Campbell. Almost every pick feels the same, as if the FO said, "Who's the fastest smart guy at a position of need?" Campbell is the most fascinating. All over the field on an overachieving defense. The book is that his speed compensates for slow reaction time, but he's got more bachelor's degrees (two) than I do, so I'm not gonna question his intellect. Two of his college years were in JUCO, so he could still be raw.
Worst Pick: I guess Schweitzer, since his name stumped analysts. But he could be a very sneaky pick. SJSU had a couple relatively excellent offensive lines during his years at left tackle, twice ranking No. 32 or better in Bill Connelly's pass blocking metric. No middling non-power school should be expected to rank anywhere near that. That line was bad in 2015, albeit while replacing its longtime center and under a rookie position coach. (The coach who ran those good SJSU lines is ... Dan Quinn's assistant OL coach.)
2016 Starters: One. Neal is a lock, whether we like his round in or not. Jones' one year as a starter came under a bad, first-year defensive coordinator and a linebackers coach who also coaches special teams, so I have to guess he's still raw.
Grade: I like that we added blatant speed with every pick and that nobody has glaring flaws relative to draft position, even though almost everybody looks like a project. ATL also picked more players than we were expecting, an extremely rare bonus for the Falcons. But could we have traded back for more players and still gotten Neal and Jones? Cleveland adding tons of good players in a really deep draft was hard to watch. C+?
Best Pick: I'm tempted to say Campbell because I like his upside or Jones because I think he's just a tremendous player, but I'll go with Neal, who is exactly the kind of roving hit-delivering cyborg the Falcons want at strong safety under Quinn. I think he starts and plays well pretty much immediately.
Worst Pick: Devin Fuller. He could become the team's returner and should offer real special teams value, but I simply thought there were better options on the board at this point for the Falcons, who could still stand to add players to the edge, depth at tackle, and perhaps a receiver with more upside as a receiver. Hopefully Fuller will prove me wrong.
2016 Starters: Two. Neal is the Week 1 starter, while Deion Jones should be a full-time starter by the end of the first month, if not sooner.
Grade: I gave it already, but here it is again. Solid B for getting high-upside players who fit in the scheme in what many consider a relatively weak draft class. If Campbell pans out the way I think he might, bump it up accordingly.
Best Pick: Keanu Neal. In Dan Quinn's defense, the strong safety is easily one of the most important positions. They need to be able to play the run like a linebacker, but also have the coverage skills to take on receivers, tight ends, and running backs in coverage. Neal can do both. We know about his abilities as a punishing tackler and his coverage skill got undersold during the draft process. He'll be an impact starter from day one.
Worst Pick: I didn't hate any of their picks, but I guess I'll go Wes Schweitzer simply because I had no clue who he was. I ended up watching 4 games of De'Vondre Campbell at Minnesota after they called his name and grew to like him more with each game. He has the raw speed and explosiveness to eventually become a starter at either middle or weakside linebacker and already has fairly polished coverage skills.
2016 Starters: Three. Neal will start week one while I think Deion Jones and Hooper will ingrain themselves as starters before the end of the season.
Grade: I'll give this draft a B-. I'm a fan of all the players that they picked, I just wish they had upgraded the pass rush at some point in the draft. However, Dan Quinn & Co. got players they were confident in and they fit the athletic profile that the team is looking for.
Best Pick: De'Vondre Campbell - The more the writers' group and I have discussed this pick, the more I like it. This kid could be a diamond in the rough. His tape and scouting report said his football instinct was bad on tape, which could mean one of a couple things: One, he's just an athletic bozo who's not good at football, or two, he's just not gotten enough reps. The kid's an Academic All Big-Ten recipient, so you know he's got a good head on his shoulders. He's got the speed and size teams covet, now we just need to get him some reps.
Worst Pick: None, they all made some sense - No kidding here, I think all the picks were good and made sense. We had severe linebacker problems last year (and 2013, ‘14), so we drafted two guys who should contribute immediately. We lost fan favorite William Moore and replaced him with an even more vicious hitter in Keanu Neal. The staple of Dan Quinn's defense is a safety that can come into the box and hit your biggest guy right in the teeth. Neal does that in spades (seriously, watch his highlights). I like Jacob Tamme, but he's a possession TE. We needed a stretch TE, and we got one in Austin Hooper. Our guard situation isn't as dire, but we drafted a late round guy who played for one of our assistant coaches, so he knows what to do. Last thing we needed in my mind was a flamethrower wide receiver, which we picked up in Devin Fuller. How can you call any of those the worst? They were all good to me.
2016 Starters: Five. You heard me. Five. - Here's the part where you ask to have some of what I'm having. How could we have five new starters? Easy. Neal's starting (duh), Jones and Campbell WILL start, assuming they both have their football chops about them. I don't know whether they'll both play outside or if Worrilow will be demoted outright, but color me surprised if those two aren't starting immediately. Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are both under 240 pounds and they never come off the field. I don't want to hear your size concerns as to why they won't start. Austin Hooper may not replace Tamme, but he may still start in 2 TE sets. If Toilolo's blocking isn't great, you can bank on this happening sooner rather than later. Lastly, Devin Fuller will be our primary kick returner (this counts as starting to me). I think Hester's time with us is up. He's been a fun guy to watch, but it's time to move on. There's your five starters.
Best Pick: Austin Hooper - Jacob Tamme was a solid passing option when it came to moving the chains, but it was a bit of a different story when it came to scoring touchdowns. Adding Austin seemed like a luxury pick at first, but then you remember how poor Ryan's receiving options after Julio were last season. Hooper gives Ryan a red-zone option at the awesome value of a third round pick.
Worst Pick: De'Vondre Campbell - This is not me saying this is a bad pick; far from it, actually. Just that the Falcons already took a similar player in Deion Jones. Both are athletically raw projects in the linebacker corps, and rolling the two out quickly could have adverse effects. However, his physical traits are unteachable, and I have a hard time imagining they drafted him with the thought he'd play weakside behind Jones for the next four years. Hopefully they have future plans for him in the heart of the defense, and I think he could be an steal there. There honestly weren't any downright back picks this year, thankfully.
2016 Starters: Four - I think it's safe to assume Neal and Jones both start immediately next season due their respective positions being in such bad condition. Hooper and Schweitzer are both borderline starters, but I think they'll edge out the incumbents if the coaching staff truly wants to field the best athletes. Campbell could become a starter as well, but I think he may need at least a season to prepare. Though, if they decide to throw him on the field at MLB early on, I'd be totally for it. He's got the most promise there as opposed to everyone else on the current roster.
Grade: A- - Quinn and Dimitroff hit some of the team's' biggest needs by adding scary athleticism at every position they drafted. You can't teach speed, and boy did they get a lot of it this week. The only negative about this class is they didn't fix the two biggest needs on the roster in MLB and Defensive End. But, they did fix most of the other ones, and the team likely won't be seriously competing for a Super Bowl this season anyways. Good on the front office for not making desperation picks, and instead taking pure talent for the future.
Best Pick: Deion Jones. I thought about going with Campbell here on his pure potential, but landed on the mix of good value and early impact with Jones. Early reports suggest Jones will battle with Paul Worrilow for the mike spot, and I really like his potential there. We knew the Falcons wanted someone who can run (fast) and hit (hard), and Jones should easily and quickly upgrade on one of the league's least effective middle linebackers in Paul Worrilow. The mere thought the Falcons added a linebacker with sideline-to-sideline speed is enough to raise my otherwise negative outlook on this team.
Worst Pick: Passing on Myles Jack. I don't care if this isn't an option, and I understand the team was sold on Keanu Neal. But no Myles Jack? I'm sure fans from 31 teams are angriest about this, and I'm one of them. He could have played any linebacker spot, safety, running back, and if given the chance, I'm certain he could kick a 50 yard field goal.
2016 Starters: Three, with two more seeing heavy snaps. As I expect it, Neal, Jones, and Fuller will start at safety, middle linebacker, and punt returner/kick returner starting day one. I fully expect to see Hooper get heavy snaps, but unable to unseat Jacob Tamme in his rookie year. Campbell is only fighting Phillip Wheeler. While he impressed last season, I'd expect the coaches to give Campbell snaps by midseason to give him some experience. It is hard to know what Schweitzer will do, or to complain much about a 6th round selection, but it seems unlikely he beats out both Mike Person and Chris Chester. At the same time, this coaching staff switched Person's position and made him the starting center, so maybe he unseats Jake Matthews during training camp.
Grade: B+. While I have grown accustomed to scratching my head on draft day, this draft plan was crystal clear. It did not take any mental acrobatics to come to grips with why a player was picked and where they fit on the roster.
"Adding Ra'Shede Hageman after signing two expensive defensive tackles? The team just wants a heavy rotation on that 3-4 defensive line, of course. Prince Shembo must have gotten through the team's stringent vetting process, and will sort of play linebacker because he doesn't have a position. Levine Toilolo should really improve the team's red zone offense."
NO MORE! Every pick has a clear, defined role, and a lot of these guys have tons of potential. The coaching staff clearly wants to develop some of these players, and have already had more success with late round picks in one season than Mike Smith had in his entire career. I'm excited with their results after entering the draft with only five picks.