The Atlanta Falcons did not hit every need, but they made a point of going after their biggest question marks in this draft class. It was a bit of a roller coaster ride with some of the traded picks, but once the dust settled, the Falcons had six selections. Frankly, I like all of them.
This isn’t going to wind up being a perfect draft class, but it will be a pivotal one. If Atlanta hits on four or five of these selections, and those players can be either starters or top backups, they’ve done wonders for their long-term prospects. If they miss on several, things may get dicey as the team continues to dole out deserved long-term contracts and tries to find cheap solutions elsewhere. Time will tell, but I’m bullish.
Here’s a look at which need each picks (hopefully) solves. Look for the great James Rael with an overall recap of the draft class later tonight and a closer look at how
Takk McKinley - Pass Rusher
McKinley’s currently hurt and needs some refinement, but he’s an athletic, driven player who should add another element to the Falcons defense. I’m very excited to see him work in Atlanta.
Duke Riley - Weakside Linebacker
The Falcons will only play two linebackers at times, in which case Riley can spell Deion Jones, a similar (if better) player. When the Falcons do roll out three, though, the speedy Riley will be a nice fit next to Jones and De’Vondre Campbell.
Sean Harlow - Guard
Over the long haul, it would be ideal if the Falcons could find a couple of starting guards from their draft choices. Wes Schweitzer seems likely to be one, and Harlow could certainly be the other. His run blocking prowess means he might be an excellent fit for right guard, though I’m not sure he wins that job right off the bat.
Damontae Kazee- Safety
Kazee was announced as a cornerback and will get some run there, but long-term, the team seems to see him at safety. He’s a physical, heady player with ballhawking skills, so even if he doesn’t beat out Ricardo Allen down the line, he’ll be a useful asset for one of the league’s better secondaries.
Brian Hill - Running Back
This is one of the most controversial picks from a pure “need” perspective, but it does make sense. Hill will be under team control until after the 2020 season, and he offers a very solid all-around skill set that would make him a useful backup for any team in the NFL. We doubt Atlanta will be able and willing to keep both Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, so Hill will eventually find himself taking on a larger role, we’d wager.
Eric Saubert - Tight End
This is a pick I love because of the potential. Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo will get most of the run this year, with Josh Perkins potentially mixing in, but Saubert could be a starting-caliber pass catcher at the position if given time and good coaching. Long-term, the Falcons might have Hooper and Saubert with a blocking tight end, and that would be ideal for the offense.
Again, not all of these picks will work out, but the Falcons did a nice job of balancing their immediate needs with their long-term ones. This class has a chance to be hugely beneficial for an Atlanta team that needs the help at these positions, and while they still don’t have an obvious swing tackle or second starter at defensive tackle beyond this year, I love the state of this roster.
May it carry them to the playoffs (and beyond) in 2017.