One hilarious thing to do is to go back now and look at some of the deeply disappointed reactions to the Falcons’ draft class, particularly the “reaches” for Keanu Neal and Deion Jones. To wit:
#TBT To @PFF's ranking of the 16 worst picks in the 2016 draft, two Falcons you may recognize from their play this year in the top 7. pic.twitter.com/olIf2yMXwx— Falcons Ranter (@ATL_Falconry) February 24, 2017
The Atlanta Falcons snagged Neal in the first round and Jones in the second round to add year one playmakers to the defense. Neal dealt with injuries early on and Jones had a slow game or two, but they were more or less excellent all season long, with Jones delivering some of the biggest plays of the year and Neal delivering the kind of hits that make receivers fear for their lives. Hell, he killed Willie Snead there on the field, in front of everyone.
So why the low marks, and why all the talk about reach? Analysts miss all the time on players—frankly, we all do—so this is not about beating up Pro Football Focus or anyone else for their bad, wrong opinions. It’s more that Neal and Jones are just the latest example of why it’s a bad idea to judge draft picks by when they are supposed to be drafted, and to not factor in scheme fit and team fit more heavily. It’s a mistake we’ll all make again, perhaps as soon as April, but it’s worth looking at these two (and even Austin Hooper and De’Vondre Campbell) to remember that draft status isn’t always cut and dry.
I’m hopeful that Neal and Jones will be two superstars for this defense, which has badly needed physical, athletic, gifted players at both safety and linebacker for a long while now. They’re well on their way to getting there, and they’ve made a lot of analysts look very bad already.