I hate draft grades and they’re ultimately a great way to get made fun of one year later, but here we are. I like the McKinley pick and while I didn’t initially like trading up, the move makes sense given the teams we jumped in front of. Tak has a ton of upside and he and Vic Beasley together could be a nightmare for opposing QBs for years. Duke Riley was a bit of a surprise in the third (after trading down from our second round pick), but he could be a great pick up. He’s yet another highly athletic linebacker, making sure our LB corps has speed across the board. The only other pick that intrigues me is Brian Hill, as he could ultimately serve as “insurance” should Devonta Freeman’s agents want a contract the Falcons aren’t comfortable with. It was a solid class that addressed some needs, and several of these guys have upside that Quinn and his staff will look to unleash.
This class probably will not produce the same amount of starters as the 2016 Falcons draft class. However, that is no reason to be discouraged. Drafting Takk McKinley injects more speed and athletic ability to the already speedy defense. McKinley has certain aspects to improve on but his skills translate well in the Falcons defensive scheme. Duke Riley provides flexibilty to the Falcons defense and we will see plenty of Riley and Deion Jones frustrating opposing offenses because of their speedy play. Defensive back Damontae Kazee provides plenty of ball skills in the secondary and his instincts improves the secondary as well. Running back Brian Hill is also intriguing as he rounds out the Falcons running back group. A tough, aggressive runner will make the competition in Falcons camps even more tougher. Tight end Eric Saubert is better than most give him credit for and is similar to Cincinnati tight end Tyler Eifert. The team also added a rugged blocker in the run game in guard Sean Harlow. All in all, the draft class is solid and believe it or not, the Falcons took a step forward as a team because of this class.
I don’t want to give out the same grade as everybody else, so we get an A-. I love the McKinley pick, and the trade up was softened by a later trade down that I thought was fantastic. Takk may not be ready to rock right at the start of the season but if he ends up even 75% of what last year’s rookie studs gave us, he ought to be a terror to be reckoned with. Also loved the Duke Riley pick. I thought we might go LB at some point because converting Ishmael to LB suggested we were hunting for another option there. Riley may not be Debo, but the familiarity there should allow both to thrive off of each other immediately. Damontae Kazee is a potential replacement for Ricardo Allen. He’s not particularly big but has shown a willingness to play in run support and, with A+ ball skills, could be the free safety the Falcons need. I really enjoyed how we did this draft. We hit on positions of need with players that fit Dan Quinn’s vision and that’s all a fan can ask for.
Your eyes do not deceive you - that’s an A+++! Put differently, it’s an “A” with three “+”s. Why? Because I said so. Is that an A+++ a real thing? I don’t know; I was a bad student. Fine me later, Dave.
This draft is a bit of an enigma. It began with a surprising trade-up for EDGE Takkarist McKinley, and continued surprising us with several of the other picks. With time to process it, I’ve come around to these picks.
McKinley has a great energy about him and has one of the highest ceilings as a pass rusher in the class, and I think he’ll be able to contribute against the run early as well. LB Duke Riley is a super-athlete similar to Deion Jones, and his addition gives the Falcons arguably the fastest LB combo in the NFL with Campbell potentially taking snaps at SAM. G Sean Harlow is the most head-scratching pick--there were better options available, and I’m not sure he’s even a good enough athlete to handle the zone scheme. DB Damontae Kazee might be the best value pick in the class: he’s a ballhawk with great coverage skills, and can potentially play nickel or FS for Atlanta. RB Brian Hill is a capable and productive runner that’s also very good in pass protection, and he possesses a physical, powerful running style that the Falcons currently lack on the roster. TE Eric Saubert seems to be the most controversial pick, but I love his upside. Yes, he currently has a problem with drops, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that he posted 56 catches for 776 yards and 10 TDs last season (17 TDs over the last two seasons). Saubert can play--he just needs a little refinement and work on his blocking skills.
Overall, I like the class. The Falcons can afford to take chances on some of these high-ceiling players because the depth already on the roster is solid. If two or three of these players pan out, Atlanta will be in a great spot for the future.
The more time I spend looking at this class, the more it grows on me. Atlanta hit almost every major need except swing tackle with this group, and every single player has a path to playing time by 2018 if everything breaks right. It won’t work out this way—nothing ever does—but you could envision each one of these players drawing starter’s snaps at some point, as well.
With a front office stocked with former general managers and a head coach with a tremendous vision for how the roster should look, the Falcons have gotten awfully good at this. With the 31st pick, this class may yet prove to be Atlanta’s most impressive scouting work yet.