The Atlanta Falcons are less than a week away from making draft picks, and lemme tell ya, it’s about time to see what this draft class will be.
The Dan Quinn drafts have been pretty on point, with 2015 and 2016’s classes both full of impact, franchise players, and 2017’s carrying a potential steal in Takk McKinley, and talents like Duke Riley, Damontae Kazee, Sean Harlow, Eric Saubert and J.T. Jones, who could be poised for better things down the road.
If you can add two starters per draft, you’re doing pretty great work. The Falcons landed six starters (Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, Austin Hooper, De’Vondre Campbell, Wes Schweitzer, Brian Poole) in the 2016 draft, which is in part why they’ve been playoff-winning teams the last two years. The draft can make or break you, and it’s been making a lot of good things happen for Atlanta in Quinn’s time with the team.
2018 presents a lot of excitement for the team (especially if 2017’s class continues to come into its own), but, with any draft cycle, it comes with two roads that diverge in a Flowery Branch wood.
There’s the best-case scenario (2016) and the worst-case scenario (2012). A draft like the latter isn’t likely to happen again in Quinn’s tenure with the team, but as 2017 proved, drafts like 2016 just don’t happen every year, either.
They’re not likely to hit again as hard as they did in 2016, but what’s the best that could happen this year? What’s the worst that could happen this year? We’ll dig through all of this together and see what we can find.
Best-Case Scenario — Three’s Company
So, in this simulation, the Falcons nab three impact players to add to their already-loaded roster. It’s the kind of draft that doesn’t quite get to 2016’s rapturous results, but really, the team doesn’t have to have that kind of year to contend in the NFC.
The first pick has to hit, so let’s imagine they get a guy like Da’Ron Payne or Taven Bryan at pick 26, and don’t have to trade up. Both guys have been linked to the team, and have the skillsets they’d be looking for to replace Dontari Poe. Both guys would need about half a season to get used to the speed of the game, but in this situation, the Falcons see the potential in the new defensive tackle begin to flash in a big way, right down the stretch. If the pick can play with the same tenacity and talent that Takk McKinley showed come January, it’ll boost an already-sound Falcons defense to new heights.
Let’s say they also nail the second-round pick, whether that be a new third wide receiver (like, a DaeSean Hamilton, or a Keke Coutee, though some might say that’s a reach), a new tight end like Ian Thomas or perhaps a new defensive piece, like another defensive tackle, or a cornerback. The Falcons have not gotten much from their second picks over two of these three Quinn drafts (though, Riley was taken in the third, and has plenty of room to grow), so here, whomever they take having an impact, even at half of what Jones gave the team, would be a win.
From here, let’s say they nail one of the third, fourth or sixth round picks — the new slot guy could absolutely come here, and so could a new cornerback or tight end. Or, hey, how about a new, versatile edge defender to take over Takk’s rookie snaps? Really, any of the guys listed above could slot down here and make a difference.
The best-case scenario, for me, is for Atlanta to nab a new starting defensive tackle, a new offensive weapon and another slot-in-slot-out defensive lineman in this draft. If they can do that, it’s the best-case scenario for the team going ahead.
The worse-case scenario for Atlanta is for them to miss on the first rounder. They’ve gone three-for-three with Vic Beasley, Neal and McKinley, and stand to go four-for-four if they take a defensive talent (Quinn seems to know what he likes here, and makes it count).
But, could this be the first year where the guy doesn’t hit? The fear with a developmental talent like a Bryan or Payne comes with them not fulfilling their potential. Bryan’s a great character guy with a motor and great physicality, but he’s not quite there with his fundamentals and football smarts. Another guy lauded for his intangibles, Payne was a bit inconsistent at Alabama before his monstrous title game. What if those aspects don’t improve come fall? What if those guys are more second-round talents that play like that through their careers?
Again, no draft pick really gets validation until a few years pass by, but if these guys are essentially non-factors their first years with the team, it’ll leave a massive weakness on the defensive line, and will show some lag in the team’s draft record. But, again, Quinn’s been so sound at scouting the first round picks he likes, that it feels less likely for them to completely whiff on a defensive talent.
If they do decide to go offense, it creates an entirely new conversation about the team’s ability to scout offensive talent. That side of the ball hasn’t gotten many draft picks, and none of the team’s 2015-to-now offensive drafted players have really made huge impacts besides Tevin Coleman. WR Justin Hardy and Hooper are solid and still have room to grow, but Schweitzer probably won’t be starting in 2018 unless there’s injury, Saubert, Harlow and Devin Fuller are still mysteries and Brian Hill and Jake Rodgers got released.
If the team tries to dip their toes into using a first-rounder on an offensive player, it’ll be the first since Jake Matthews (a great pick in hindsight). The team also got Matt Ryan and Julio Jones with their first rounders, so it’s not all bad for offense in the first round, but it’s still uncharted territory for this era of Falcons ball. If they try to get a wide receiver or a tight end first, and the guy doesn’t pan out, it’ll be a blight on the team’s draft history.
If they miss with the first pick, but nail the others, it hurts less. But, again, it’s easier to succeed up top, and more realistic that a first-round failure would lead to a spottier draft class.
So, to me, those are the two extremes. You’re more than likely to get something in the middle, or something that skews a bit more positive.