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The Atlanta Falcons tried going linebacker in round 1: should we be worried about Duke Riley?

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Maybe the Falcons went full BPA, but we can’t help but worry a bit about their plans to take one of the draft’s top linebackers.

Atlanta Falcons v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Last week, we passed along the report from he somehow plugged-in writer Peter King that the Atlanta Falcons missed out on their top defensive linemen in the first round of the NFL draft, as well as Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans. For those unfamiliar, we wrote up a scouting report on the linebacker after his predraft visit.

Draft guru Kevin Knight had the following to say, before handing Evans a second-round draft draft:

He’s a punishing hitter, which is perhaps even more impressive due to his relatively small size for a LB. I love his toughness and his competitive fire. Evans has the potential to be an elite run defender, and his instincts and football IQ could likely lead to early success. However, I don’t believe he meets the athletic thresholds that the Falcons look for in their LBs—and his possible coverage limitations give me pause.

Evans was snatched up by the Tennessee Titans, and Atlanta never got the chance to select the defender. They, of course, selected another Alabama player that was rarely on Atlanta mock drafts.

The report leads us to wonder what in the heck the Falcons are doing considering a linebacker, especially in round one.

The team definitely needs to see improvement from their depth, but for a team primarily in nickel, who were they expecting to replace? Deion Jones is unequivocally locked in as starter. De’Vondre Campbell played over 400 more snaps in his sophomore season, signaling he was not in the dog house. He played nearly 85 percent or more of the defensive snaps. His play was more hot and cold than expected, but should be expected at this early point in his career based on his predraft pedigree.

Which leaves us with last year’s third-round selection Duke Riley.

Were the Falcons already itching to replace Riley after one awful rookie season? Riley missed multiple games with injury, but was easily the defense’s biggest liability. His absurd 4.58 40 time was on display when he overpersued and ran right past offensive players. It was one of the worst rookie seasons in recent and even less recent history for the Falcons.

It is way too early to even consider Riley a lost cause. He had limited starting experience at LSU, did not even get a full, healthy rookie season, and had plenty of negatives that needed to be improved. I would never question a third-round pick’s ability to perform after only one season, but the Evans news suggests the team still questions Riley.

The Falcons seemed to pass on linebacker for quite awhile, taking safety/linebacker Foyesade Oluokun from Yale with their last pick in the sixth round. Most sources have him at 230 pounds, while the official Falcons website list him at a safety-ish 215 pounds.

Regardless, I don’t expect Oluokun to replace Riley in base packages anytime soon. But it seems like the Falcons will have a watchful eye on Riley during training camp to see if he’s the player they tried replacing during the NFL draft.