How has this Falcons rookie class fared in 2019? The answer is that, like many recent draft classes in their first season in Atlanta, the results have been mixed.
The good news is that there are bright notes here, which the Falcons desperately need given the changes to the roster ahead, and if all goes exceptionally well this class could return four starters before all is said and done. For now, though, we’ll content ourselves with looking at their performance (or lack thereof) at the halfway mark of 2019.
G Chris Lindstrom: Incomplete
Lindstrom looked pretty good when he got on the field, but of course he’s been on the shelf for most of the season at this point, so it’s impossible to say how good he is, and he legitimately hasn’t been able to contribute. If he’s activated in the second half of the season, we’ll hope he can build on a strong summer and solidify the right guard position, though Jamon Brown has fared pretty well in his absence.
He’s an essential building block for this offensive line going forward, either way.
T Kaleb McGary: B-
On the one hand, McGary has had a very rocky rookie season to this point. Pro Football Focus has him allowing five sacks, committing three penalties, and grading out as a roughly average player. He’s struggled with speed off the edge and he’s not been a road-grading blocker for the run game, all things that were expected but certainly have contributed to the offense’s woes.
That said, what did we really expect? McGary’s a rookie tackle on a line that’s struggling across the board, and he’s had three different players and counting line up next to him at right guard in 2019. The more important thing is that he’s been starting to make some progress in recent weeks, and the most important thing is that the lumps he’s taking this year should help him improve in 2020. I’m still quite bullish on his long-term outlook, and we can’t forget that he had a heart procedure that slowed him down late in the summer, which bit into development time.
McGary will be fine, in other words.
CB Kendall Sheffield: A-
Sheffield was a Dan Quinn special, in that he was a player who was thought to be fairly raw and in need of development time coming out of the draft, yet he’s found himself pressed into a major role and is holding his own. This recalls Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff’s best picks of the era, including De’Vondre Campbell, Grady Jarrett, and Deion Jones.
Sheffield hasn’t blown anyone’s doors off with his coverage, but he’s getting better by the week and hasn’t seemed even a little bit overwhelmed by suddenly being thrust into major snaps on the outside. He was brilliant at times against Tyler Lockett last Sunday, and Tyler Lockett is no one’s idea of an easy matchup. Given his obvious athleticism and ability, the fact that he’s holding his own in his rookie season means he could be a special player down the line. Definitely the pleasant surprise of this class thus far.
DE John Cominsky: A-
It probably should be an incomplete given that he’s seen just 11% of the defensive snaps thus far in 2019, but Cominsky’s been almost as good as he was in preseason, albeit a little more quietly. He’s shown power and a quick first step and has managed not to get swallowed up by opposing offensive linemen when presented with opportunities, which are very encouraging signs.
Given Cominsky’s reputed rawness, this is very impressive. Like Sheffield, he’s a guy who should get more snaps down the stretch and have an opportunity to prove he deserves at least a major role in the defensive line rotation in 2020.
RB Qadree Ollison: Incomplete
Ollison did well enough this summer to make the roster, but he hasn’t been able to push his way on the field. That’s mostly because Devonta Freeman is locked in as the starter, Ito Smith as the change-of-pace back, and Brian Hill as the third man up, but it’s always a little disappointing when a coaching staff uses a fifth round pick on a player they apparently don’t intend to use.
Ollison’s got the requisite physicality, speed, and hopefully blocking chops to be a useful player, but it may have to come under the next coaching staff, which is always a dicey proposition. We’ll see if he gets a longer look in the second half of the season.
CB Jordan Miller: Incomplete
Like Ollison, Miller hasn’t really made it on the field yet. Unlike Ollison, he wasn’t necessarily expected to, because he’s buried behind Desmond Trufant, Isaiah Oliver, Damontae Kazee, Kendall Sheffield, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson.
Miller’s NFL readiness and coverage skills in college may make him an asset in the future—I certainly hope so—but I doubt we get a good look at him until 2020 at the earliest.
WR/RB Marcus Green: F
It’s impossible to spin the fact that the Falcons used a sixth-round pick on Green and ultimately cut him, as he had a poor summer and was surpassed on the depth chart by Olamide Zaccheaus. Green could still turn out to be a nice player for someone else, but given that the Falcons drafted him to be an interesting offensive chess piece and a return and he couldn’t make the team, we’ll grade harshly.
This already looks like an interesting draft class. Lindstrom and McGary have to be effective, multi-year starters for this whole thing to work, and we haven’t seen enough of either yet to determine whether that will be the case. The class’s outlook is helped by encouraging early performances from the likes of Kendall Sheffield and Cominsky, while Ollison and Miller are long-term prospects with some upside.
The reality is that the Falcons, even with a new staff coming in, need this to turn into a good class, if not a great one. Consider that Desmond Trufant, Devonta Freeman, Vic Beasley, Jack Crawford, Tyeler Davison, James Carpenter, and others are on their way out in the next year or two and you can appreciate how valuable it would be if even three of these guys turned into quality starters and another couple into useful reserves. Let’s hope it happens, and let’s hope every single one of these players (minus Green, farewell) can get on the field in the second half of the season.