The draft is behind us, and we're welcoming all of the new Falcons to the team. Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff were confident the guys they were able to draft will fill needs and fit the scheme, so here's hoping they're correct.
Quinn and Dimitroff shared their thoughts on the new Falcons throughout the weekend, and the recent draftees also talked to the Atlanta media about what fans can expect from them in the fall.
On Keanu Neal:
The Falcons surprised some people by grabbing safety Keanu Neal out of Florida with the 17th overall pick. Neal was recruited to the University of Florida by Quinn, though Quinn left before he had an opportunity to coach Neal. Nonetheless, Quinn was very familiar with him and felt that he was a perfect fit for this scheme and this team.
Neal is excited to be a Falcon, and he believes he's a great fit for this scheme. He says he can cover tight ends, he can play in the box, and he's ready to be a part of this defense.
"Everyone on the defense likes to compete, and it's a competitive defense. I'm a competitor," Neal said. "I love to play the game. I play it the right way. I respect it and I take it serious. That's what the Falcons defense is about."
Neal acknowledges that he'll have a learning curve when he comes into the league.
"There's a lot of things you can work on. I mean, every player isn't perfect," Neal said. "No one playing the game of football is perfect. There's a lot of things that me personally, I can work on, just like details, covering, run stopping, just everything. Every aspect of the game of football I can get better at."
Quinn loves what Neal brings to the table. Though Neal isn't a pass rusher, per se, he still can help the pass rush.
"It helps because we got better on third down, and that helps your pass rush a bunch too," Quinn said. "Like I said, we struggled at times in certain areas of our coverage, and we're not done yet. We're still working, and we've still got a couple days to add to our club. We like the additions that we made in the off-season, and we like the fact that he's all downs and we knew how to feature him covering tight ends. And we do play zone, which we play a lot on third down as well, he is a factor."
Dimitroff likes Neal's size and athleticism.
"We felt at 215-plus pounds the way that he moves and his ability to flip his hips and his break on the ball was good," Dimitroff said. "It was a really important factor as well because again, versatility is important. You can't just be a guy who is in the box and not being able to spend any time in coverage. Obviously it was important for him to be adept in that area."
Some fans thought Neal was a reach at 17, but Dimitroff didn't agree.
"Well, I think our staff always had him as a first round pick, and I'm very proud of the prowess of our scouting staff as far as evaluating and slotting properly," Dimitroff said. "That was never a concern for us. We knew that there were other teams out there that were focused on safeties through the whole process, and we felt very comfortable where he was. He was right up there at the top of the board with a number of other guys that we were looking at, and we felt, again, that this was a player and the person that we were looking for this organization to help carry Dan's message."
On Deion Jones:
Jones is fast and physical, and he certainly fits Quinn's vision for this defense. Jones seems to get it.
"I'm a hard worker, fast, and I can catch the ball," Jones told the Atlanta media shortly after being drafted. "I played outside backer so I kind of know what it takes."
Quinn talks a lot about having a clear vision how to use players in this defense, and that's certainly the case for Jones.
"Number one, I think run and hit backer. When we play as much three deep zone that we do, you'd better be able to play in space and make tackles and close, and those are some of the key elements of playing zone," Quinn said. "Match up wise on tight ends and running backs is something that we looked closely at, and he certainly did do that."
Jones also has the length Quinn covets in defensive players.
"I think he has 33 inch arms, has length to defend and cover. So those two parts of it, that's what we were looking for, to be an all-down backer, speed, the close ability, the tackling in space," Quinn said.
Helping out with the pass rush is an area where Jones will need to develop.
"They didn't blitz him a lot, and we'll see that part of his game, how much we can develop," Quinn said. "I can't anticipate where he's at in that part of his game, but what I can tell you from the coverage, the tackling, the physicality, how hard he plays, man, that's the part of the game that we're going to feature him in the most, and that's the thing I love about his game the most."
On Austin Hooper:
In the third round, the team added Austin Hooper, who was generally considered to be the second-best tight end in this draft. Stanford, Hooper's alma mater, runs a pro-style offense, which should help with his transition to the NFL.
"There's definitely a translation. I mean a lot of the plays are similar," Hooper said. "I remember going over the board work with Coach Quinn and some of the other coaches with the staff and a lot of the concepts we ran at Stanford are very similar to the ones that Matt Ryan and Company run in Atlanta, so hopefully that's a testament to similarities."
Dimitroff said Hooper's abilities in the red zone were part of his appeal.
"Yeah, it was very important for us. We had our struggles there at times, and this kid has got he's got huge hands," Dimitroff said. "He's got an ability to be aggressive down in the red zone, and he's going to be a really nice element to mix in with what we already have there."
Quinn said Hooper is still developing, but he likes his potential.
"Yeah, I think he's developing. This is a young guy still, but I wouldn't by any means say this is not a strong player," Quinn said. "He's explosive, he's strong, but that's our job, to help him develop, and he's got a lot of good stuff already in the pass game, and that's how we intend to feature him first. But he'll be a factor in the run game, as well. He's a 255 pound man that is just kind of hitting his stride, so we're excited to work with him."
Overall, over the first three rounds, Dimitroff and Quinn were pleased with the players they ended up with.
"Relentless competitors and guys who are absolutely going for it," Quinn said. "You saw it at each level with Keanu, with Deion, and now here with Hoop. I'd say if I had to sum it up, that would be my word."
"High competitiveness and toughness," Dimitroff said. "It's the CT factor."
Your thoughts on these first three picks?