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Overall thoughts on the Falcons’ 2018 draft class

After some time to process Atlanta’s six draft selections, here are some overall thoughts and grades on the Falcons’ 2018 draft class.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Alabama vs Clemson Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 NFL Draft has finally come to an end, with the Falcons making six total selections after trading up in the sixth round. There have been a lot of takes out there over the past few days, and I figured it was my turn to add my two cents to the mix. Atlanta made some pretty surprising picks—notably, the selection of WR Calvin Ridley in the 1st and deciding to wait until the 3rd round to address the need at DT.

Before I get started analyzing the picks, let me first say that I think Quinn and Dimitroff have earned our trust over their first three seasons together. They haven’t nailed every single pick, but they’ve been successful with enough of them to give the Falcons arguably the strongest roster in the NFL. I’m examining these picks assuming that they were drafted for a specific reason or role. Not all of them will work out, certainly, but I can see a cohesive vision being fulfilled by the team.

Now, let’s get to my thoughts on each of the Falcons’ 2018 draft selections.

Round 1, Pick 26: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama

Grade: A-

An unexpected pick that took me (and all of us on the Draft Party) by surprise, Calvin Ridley is a bit of a curious decision for the Falcons. On the one hand, Atlanta was in need of a good WR3 to take over (and improve upon) Taylor Gabriel’s role in the offense. On the other hand, WR3 probably isn’t where I would’ve spent my first round pick. There are a few more advanced reasons why this pick makes sense, however.

First of all, Ridley was believed by many to be the WR1 in the 2018 draft class (he was my WR2). Getting the WR1 so late in the draft is fantastic value. Second, Mohamed Sanu is likely to be a cut candidate in 2019—his cap hit of $7.4M might make him too expensive to keep around—so this pick makes a lot more sense when you realize that Ridley is likely going to be the WR2 in Atlanta going forward. Third, Ridley’s polished game and route running ability should make his transition to the NFL quick and easy. He’ll be able to jump in and contribute at a high level as a rookie, something my favorite WR D.J. Moore might not be able to do.

Ridley was a luxury “BPA” pick for the Falcons. Time will tell if it was a luxury the team could afford with a player like DT Taven Bryan still on the board. For now, though, Ridley makes the Falcons’ WR trio arguably the best in the league—and that should be very fun to watch this season.

Round 2, Pick 58: CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado

Grade: A+

There’s no better way to describe the selection of Colorado CB Isaiah Oliver than as a slam dunk pick. It’s also nice to see that I got one player right across all of my mock drafts. I pretty much already explained the pick in that mock draft, and everything I said still fits:

There were a lot of directions the Falcons could have gone with their second round pick, but the value at CB was simply too good to pass up. Isaiah Oliver is a fringe first-round talent that checks the boxes of a Dan Quinn CB: he’s athletic, physical, and big. When I say big, I’m talking about his 6’1, 201 lb frame and his arms, which are freakishly long—Oliver’s 33 1/2” arm length and 80 5/8” wingspan put him in the 97th and 98th percentiles, respectively, among CBs.

Oliver is similar in many ways to ex-Falcon Jalen Collins, except he’s more polished and has none of the off-field baggage. He still needs development—Oliver’s coverage technique needs refinement and he needs to work on his tackling. However, he’s got a very high ceiling and is a natural fit in the Falcons’ defense. Atlanta clearly agrees, as they’ve already had a private workout with Oliver. Oliver could challenge for the CB3 role in his rookie season, with the potential to play on the outside in nickel situations—allowing Alford to kick inside, where he’s had considerable success.

As I said, Oliver’s value in the late second round was simply too good to pass up. The Falcons don’t have a ton of needs, so upgrading on CB3 with a player of Oliver’s caliber turns a position that was simply average into a massive strength. Brian Poole will still have a role in Atlanta—likely as the dime CB and a reserve S—but won’t be relied upon in coverage nearly as much. This was the best pick of the draft for the Falcons.

Round 3, Pick 90: DT Deadrin Senat, South Florida

Grade: B+

The team clearly didn’t prioritize the need at DT as highly as any of us did, but they still addressed the position with a quality player in USF’s Deadrin Senat. He was a player that I liked a lot in the draft process, and clearly the Falcons agreed with me. The late third was probably a tad early for Senat based on draft projections, but that won’t matter much if he plays at a high level in 2018. He’s not the biggest (6’0, 314 lbs) or the most athletic DT, but he makes up for it with a ferocious motor, great strength, and refined hand usage.

Senat can play the 1T in the Falcons’ defense, allowing Grady Jarrett to have more pass rushing opportunities at the 3T. He’s a force against the run and has some untapped potential as a pass rusher. Senat isn’t ever likely to turn into a 4+ sack player on the interior, but he’s got a well-rounded game and should fit in perfectly next to Jarrett. Perhaps most importantly, he’ll be on an affordable contract—which will be key with the money that Jarrett and other Falcons’ players will be demanding in 2019.

Round 4, Pick 126: RB Ito Smith, Southern Miss

Grade: B

A pick that a lot of people are complaining about—but shouldn’t be. RB Ito Smith comes from a small school and doesn’t have much hype behind him, but he’s got a ton of potential in an offense like Atlanta’s. He’s a fast, one-cut runner with solid vision and excellent receiving ability. Smith also has some value as a kick returner that the Falcons’ could be interested in testing.

Was he picked early? Yes, absolutely. But Smith is pretty underrated based on the tape I’ve seen. I think his traits and fantastic ability as a pass-catcher could make him a long-term fit as the Falcons’ third down back. Will he be a replacement for Tevin Coleman? No, probably not—Coleman is bigger, faster, and more durable. But Smith should be more than adequate as an RB3 this season and perhaps even as an RB2 if he reaches his ceiling. The Falcons have had a knack for finding contributors in the 4th round under Dan Quinn—let’s see if Ito Smith can build on that tradition.

Round 6, Pick 194 (via trade): WR Russell Gage, LSU

Grade: B-

The Falcons traded both of their 7th round picks to move up for an additional 6th round selection. That’s fine, especially if you have your eyes on just a few prospects that you don’t want to hit undrafted free agency. However, the selection itself was a bit puzzling: LSU WR Russell Gage. I believed the Falcons were pretty set at WR with the addition of Ridley earlier in the draft, but Quinn and Dimitroff apparently disagreed.

Gage, in all honesty, is more of a special teams ace than a WR. He’s a converted DB that excels as a gunner, with solid athletic traits and some untapped potential as a slot receiver. If nothing else, this pick shows that Atlanta is committed to improving what was a pretty lackluster special teams unit in 2017. Gage is no lock for the roster, however—he’ll have to compete with the likes of Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall, Reggie Davis, and the slew of UDFAs the Falcons added. I think his special teams acumen will set him apart, but the trade-up lowers the grade on this selection just a tad for me.

Round 6, Pick 200: LB Foyesade Oluokun, Yale

Grade: B

A player I had never heard of until draft night, LB Foyesade Oluokun from Yale is another player in the mold that Dan Quinn likes: athletic and versatile. Oluokun put on some solid weight at his Pro Day, but often played both LB and S for Yale during his several seasons there. Even at his higher weight (6’1, 230), Oluokun tested very well—his 4.48 40-yard time and 4.12 in the 20-yard shuttle would have been among the best of all LBs at the 2018 NFL Combine.

From all accounts, Oluokun is quite raw as a prospect. But as a depth LB that can learn behind the starting duo of Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell, Oluokun could have plenty of time to develop while using his natural athletic ability to contribute on special teams. Outside of that, we’ll see how his development progresses over the next few seasons.

Overall Draft Grade: B+

The Falcons got a very good haul of starters and depth players with their six selections in the 2018 NFL Draft. Ridley was the BPA at 26, and was excellent value with an eye towards the future of the offense. Oliver was a slam dunk pick at 58, and should be the player the Falcons thought they were getting in Jalen Collins. Senat is an immediate starter at DT, and bolsters the defensive line next to Grady Jarrett. Smith is a versatile RB3 option with the upside for more. Gage and Oluokun are both developmental prospects that should be immediate contributors on special teams.

I like the value the Falcons got in this draft, and I think the first two picks—even though they didn’t directly address the biggest need—will help make this roster measurably better in 2018 and beyond. Sure, the Day 3 picks were a little unexpected, and I know many of you expected the team to target a FB and a developmental QB. The team found some possible solutions there in the UDFA pool. There was also a clear and concerted effort to address special teams, which is important to a team that wants to compete for a Super Bowl.

It’s impossible to know for sure how the class will turn out, but for now, I have to tip my hat to Dimitroff and Quinn for what looks like another very good draft class.

What did you think of the Falcons’ 2018 draft class? What grade would you give the team based on their picks? What was your favorite and least favorite pick?