After you have fished through the multitude of Atlanta Falcons draft grades, some of you are probably still curious about some of the new faces.
It is not a star-studded class, but it is one of the more well-rounded classes the Falcons have had in quite some time. Key roster needs were met and all in all, the depth chart is more refined than it was this time last week. Before we hit a slight lull in the Falcons 2017 offseason, why don’t we take the time to highlight a key strength and weakness for each of the Falcons 2017 draft prospects.
DE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
Key Strength: Dangerous speed/quickness - If there is one attribute that stands out above the rest for McKInley on film, it is his impactful speed. The trait was on clear display at the NFL Combine with a 4.59 40-yard dash and an insane 10-yard split of 1.61 seconds. I am one who is not a hype machine when it comes to 40-yard dashes as they tend to be a little overvalued than most. Yet, his split time shows his initial burst and for an edge rusher, a time like that places you at an advantage on a lot of plays. His speed is evident on tape regardless if it’s rushing off the edge, chasing a quarterback who thought he had the edge or chasing a run play 15 or 20 yards down the field.
Key Weakness: Lack of hand usage - The 26th overall draft pick has game-changing quickness but what he probably has to work on the most is his hand usage within his pass rushing technique. His overall strength is solid, I have already spoken on his speed, yet when McKinley gets tied up with a blocker, he doesn’t resort ripping through the blockers or slapping away their hands which affects their leverage. McKinley will not be able to win every battle with a lineman with quickness. His hand usage is where he can make a real difference as a pass rusher. I expect this blemish to improve over time but as of now, it is a notable red flag.
LB Duke Riley, LSU
Key Strength: Play diagnosis - The Falcons grabbed Riley in the third round in what was a slight surprise for some. Riley had a similar upbringing through the LSU program as second-year Falcons linebacker Deion Jones. Adding Riley to an already skilled set of starting linebackers enhances the defense. Riley brings an above average ability to identify plays and put himself in position to properly defend them. The plan seems to be to have Riley on the field along with Jones to give the defense two undersized but athletic linebackers. Riley’s skill of identifying play direction and tendencies of opposing offenses can pay dividends for the already athletic Falcons defense.
Key Weakness: Play strength - When watching Riley on film, you will often see Riley occupied with blockers and have a tough time shedding those blockers. It’s the dilemma that is having undersized linebackers. What they lack in power they make up for in overall athleticism. Riley is slightly bigger than Jones at 232 pounds, so while Riley may never be the strongest linebacker on the Falcons, it is a flaw that he can slightly improve on. That will only help him down the line.
T/G Sean Harlow, Oregon State
Key Strength: Run blocking - The run blocking strength that Harlow brings is pretty much the main reason why he was drafted. Harlow is powerful when it comes to opening up running lanes and shows some of that disrespectfulness that some offensive line coaches drool over. Harlow saw time at both left and right tackle throughout his Oregon State career and the Falcons will look to slide Harlow at the right guard spot. One thing is for sure, with his upper body strength and his willingness to finish blocks, the run game got a boost with the selection of Harlow.
Key Weakness: Pass protection - This is a tricky red flag to identify. Simply because you can account his pass protection woes to Oregon State not being reliant on the passing offense. So a lack of quality reps can leave many prospects lacking desirable skill. I will say that has some to deal with this being his weakness. I will also point to his below average footwork. Harlow seems to be heavy-footed at times which affects his balance when it comes to mirroring quick defensive linemen. Playing at guard can mask this somewhat but it is still something to closely monitor as he gains reps at the guard position.
DB Damontae Kazee, San Diego State
Key Strength: Ball skills - This quality by Kazee is about as obvious as the speed of Julio Jones and the toughness of Alex Mack. Kazee is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Mountain West Conference and can thank his greediness as a defensive back because of it. He totaled 15 interceptions the past two seasons including two pick-6s. What many overlook is his knack of getting pass breakups (27 the past three seasons) and three force fumbles the past two seasons. Basically, Kazee has a nose for the ball and was one of the better ballhawks in the entire draft.
In this Gif, Kazee makes a quick break and anticipates the throw before the receiver completes the short-out towards the sideline. Ball skills come into play as Kazee maintains concentration to complete the interception.
Key Weakness: Long speed - Some may point to his size as being his weakness but as we’ve seen with Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford the past few seasons, it is something that can be conquered. Speaking of Trufant and Alford, both are two of the fastest cornerbacks in the league and are capable of participating in a foot race. The same can’t be said for Kazee, who is more quick than fast. This is one reason why Kazee may be better at either the slot or as a free safety at the next level than lined up on the outside.
RB Brian Hill, Wyoming
Key Strength: Physicality - Hill is what most scouts call a bruiser. Hill has good size at 6’1 and 219-lbs. On tape, he runs bigger than 219 pounds and to tackle him, you must bring your hard hat.
It is a treat to watch Hill run through tackles and he rarely if ever goes down on first contact. Hill’s physicality is an interesting addition to the Falcons offense and if incorporated into the scheme, Hill can grind out defenses while Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman gash defenses with quickness and versatility.
Key Weakness: Lack of elusiveness - Plain and simple, Hill does not bring a ton of “wiggle.” He won't make defenders miss in the open field and does not juke his way out of tackles. While it is a weakness, it can be dismissed because of his power and his ability to make defenders miss by simply running through them.
TE Eric Saubert, Drake
Key Strength: Athleticism - For a pass catcher that is 6’5 and 253-lbs, Saubert is fluid and very athletic for his size. When watching him, he reminds me of Cincinnati tight end Tyler Eifert, who when healthy, is a mismatch for defenses. Saubert has the ability to line out wide and attack defenses down the field because of his athleticism. That athleticism also allows Saubert to make the difficult catches. Saubert was moved around a lot at the collegiate level and the same should be expected once he properly develops.
Key Weakness: Blocking - Saubert is not bad at blocking, honestly. He’s just not totally reliable at this point of his development. For an offense that utilizes blocking out just about all of their tight ends, this is an element where Saubert will need some time to fine tune and polish. Maybe his attitude towards the element itself was not warranted in college, but with the Falcons, he will learn to develop a fondness for blocking opposing defenders.