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2017 Falcons rookie outlook: Takkarist McKinley

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The first rounder has obvious talent, but injury is a question mark in the short term.

NFL: 2017 NFL Draft Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NFL Draft class is a promising one, and it bears a closer look. Starting today, we’ll take a look at each of the six draft picks and their outlook with the Falcons.

The selection of Takkarist McKinley was not necessarily a surprise, but the fact that the Falcons swapped up to nab him was a mild one. McKinley is in many ways an ideal fit for Dan Quinn’s defense with his relentless motor, power, and quickness, and he’ll be counted upon to be the complementary pass rusher the Falcons have needed for Vic Beasley. How quickly will it all come together, though?

Let’s get into a few predictions and thoughts about how Atlanta’s first round pick will look in both the short-term and long-term.

2017 Outlook

Games Played: 14

I’m spitballing here, but I have a hunch that Takk’s rookie season may not start in Week 1, if only because the team will be cautious about rushing him back. If he’s healthy to start the season, for what it’s worth, there’s no particular reason to bet against a rookie playing 30-40 snaps per game getting into all 16 games.

Stat Line: 30 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

Some would consider that disappointing output, but you have to remember that none other than Vic Beasley didn’t even manage five sacks in his rookie season before he tore the world asunder in 2016. McKinley should be a pretty productive player—and after watching more of his play last season, he should be solid even against the run—but I doubt he’ll put up big sack totals. His athleticism and relentless pursuit skills should still make him feared from the get-go, though.

Role: Part-time edge rusher initially

The Falcons will likely utilize McKinley heavily on third downs to start, though he can be an early down force early in his career. That’s because they have Derrick Shelby, Courtney Upshaw, Brooks Reed and Adrian Clayborn available to handle early down work, all of whom are at least solid against the run.

Using McKinley somewhat sparingly while he gets up to speed has the advantage of keeping him fresh for those times when you really need to get to the quarterback, and less-than-stellar NFL tackles are immediately going to have problems containing a guy with his speed, ability, and long arms. Maybe McKinley will carve out a larger role than I think right off the bat—he is a first rounder—but the Falcons can still afford to bring him along slowly.

Long-term outlook: Great

I firmly believe that McKinley will be a tremendous player. He’s already a great culture fit for the Falcons, and the talent here is such that he could legitimately be a double digit sack threat for years to come. He and Beasley are going to be so, so good together, and the Falcons are lucky enough to have McKinley under team control at relatively affordable prices for the next 4-5 years. As the team says goodbye to pieces of its defensive end rotation next year through the vagaries of free agency, it’s going to be important to have someone as dynamic as McKinley around. There are no guarantees in the NFL, but I’m pretty convinced he’ll be special.

If he’s not an above average pass rusher and starting defensive end by year two, I’ll be surprised. For now, we’ll just worry about getting him healthy and on the field to contribute.