With apologies to Takkarist McKinley, the gifted defender who has become one of the team’s most entertaining personalities in the space of about a week, we have to name Damontae Kazee as the most anticipated rookie in this year’s class.
That’s partly because we all expect McKinley to be very good, even if injury limits his production early on. Kazee, on the other hand, is a fifth round pick, and those are rarely year one contributors. He may very well be the exception, though, and he’s certainly the exception to the idea that Dan Quinn only loves defensive backs with length and elite speed. That’s a popular idea, even if it’s a demonstrably untrue one.
Take Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke, who selected Kazee as his most interesting sleeper from the team’s draft class.
Atlanta Falcons: Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego State (Round 5, No. 149 overall)
Two inches shy and about five hundreths of a second off his 40 time from being an easy Day 2 selection, Kazee (5' 10" with 4.54 speed) should be able to live up to his early-Round 5 billing and then some. In an odd twist, current Falcons nickel corner Brian Poole announced the selection of Kazee, who figures to be Poole’s fiercest competition.
It’s not difficult to figure out why Kazee is so well-liked given his football smarts, aggressive play and playmaking ability—we’ll dive in more in our rookie outlook, too—but we’re still not 100% sure where he’s going to get playing time his rookie season. Even with a deep secondary, though, there should be snaps at a thinned-out safety position and sharing time, at the very least, with Brian Poole in nickel and dime sets. If we’re all right, he should impress early.
If Kazee (and perhaps Brian Hill and Eric Saubert) become quality players, it will solidify the idea that the Falcons are unearthing steals in the fifth round. Since 2014, Atlanta’s had six fifth-round picks, with Grady Jarrett and Ricardo Allen turning into quality starters and Marquis Spruill’s injury preventing him from making an impact with the team. Given that recent track record, it’s no surprise the Falcons wanted to land three fifth rounders in total this year, and Kazee appears like the best bet to become another quality starter from the round.
What are your expectations for the talented rookie defensive back?