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Atlanta Falcons' 2017 draft picks: Analysis for every selection


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Atlanta Falcons' 2017 draft picks: Analysis for every selection

Vaughn McClure breaks down the Atlanta Falcons' 2017 draft class.

Round 1, No. 26 overall: Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA

My take: The Falcons' primary focus going into the draft was finding an edge rusher to team with reigning NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr. The Falcons got quite a talent in McKinley, who referred to himself as "relentless" in regard to his ability to rush the passer. McKinley had 10 sacks for the Bruins during the 2016 season and ranked 10th in the nation with 1.6 tackles for loss per game. The addition of McKinley, along with picking up defensive tackle Dontari Poe in free agency, significantly improves the Falcons' pass rush, especially against a team such as NFC South foe Tampa Bay, which got better with the additions of veteran DeSean Jackson and rookie first-round draft pick O.J. Howard, the tight end from Alabama.

Health factor: It was well-documented that McKinley underwent major right shoulder surgery in March and couldn't even work out for the Falcons during the pre-draft process. McKinley initially said the timetable for recovery was four to six months. But as he explained Thursday, he was supposed to wear a sling for five weeks but only wore it for three and was back rehabbing twice a day Monday through Saturday almost immediately after surgery. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he anticipates McKinley will be ready by training camp, but the Falcons won't force the issue. McKinley basically played through the injury for two seasons. "Ain't no excuses," he said. "If you can play, you can play." Here's how McKinley described the specifics behind the injury: "They started using all these big words. I was like, 'I don't know what a glenoid is. Just tell me it's a bone socket.' I'm just ready to get it healthy and produce."

Caught up in emotion: McKinley also took a moment to explain the emotion he showed immediately after being drafted, as he held a framed picture of his grandmother, Myrtle Collins. McKinley said he fulfilled a promise made to Collins -- who died in 2011 due to heart complications -- and his emotions led to dropping the F-word while being interviewed by Falcons Hall of Famer Deion Sanders at the draft. Sanders immediately provided McKinley with his first NFL lesson by telling him to control his emotions and channel them the right way. As Quinn said, "Maybe we need a cool-down period at the draft." The Falcons certainly want McKinley to use all that energy and emotion to track down opposing quarterbacks.


Round 3, No. 75: Duke Riley, LB, LSU

My take: When the Falcons not only conducted a private workout with the 6-foot, 250-pound Riley but also brought him in for a private visit, you knew there was some serious interest between the two sides. Riley has the run-and-hit factor Quinn looks for out of his defenders. Depth at linebacker was a concern leading into the draft as backup Paul Worrilow left for Detroit via free agency and the Falcons opted not to re-sign veterans Philip Wheeler and Sean Weatherspoon. The Falcons not only addressed depth but got younger and faster in the process. Plus they were able to trade out of the second round, pick up some fifth-round picks for depth, while snagging a quality player in Riley.

How he fits: Riley told the Atlanta media that he’s willing to play anywhere. "If they want me to be a deep-snapper, I’ll be the best deep-snapper on the team," he said. "I know that’s not the ideal position, but I’m just saying it doesn’t matter where I’m at. I’m just ready to compete." Riley will start off playing weakside linebacker with his old college teammate, Deion Jones, manning the middle. But don’t get too tied in labeling Riley at one specific spot. He’s an inside linebacker with the versatility to move around, and Quinn will find a way to showcase Riley’s speed. Getting Jones, Riley, and De’Vondre Campbell all on the field at the same time will only make the defense that much faster and physical. Not to mention Riley brings value on special teams, which was his forte at LSU before he became a starter his final year.


Round 4, No. 136: Sean Harlow, OG, Oregon State

My take: The Falcons needed to look at guard at some point in Day 3 with the retirement of Chris Chester leaving a starting void at right guard. Addressing this position in the fourth round was a much wiser decision than picking a guy early in what was said to be a weak class of offensive linemen. The early word on Harlow (6-4, 305) is that his short arms (32 inch) don’t give him much punch, and his lack of length is the reason he won’t continue as a tackle after 37 starts there in college (23 left, 14 right). But Harlow, who threw up 26 bench press reps, does have some upper-body strength. And he has the bloodlines with his father, Pat, a former All-American offensive tackle at USC who went on to be the No. 11 overall pick of the Patriots in the 1991 NFL draft. It will be interesting to see how he develops.

How he fits: Again, the Falcons have a void at right guard after Chester started there the previous two seasons. Quinn has plenty of faith in returning players Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland, but Schweitzer wasn’t active for a single game last year and Garland made his best contribution at defensive tackle. That means Harlow probably has a legitimate shot to compete or at least add depth. The transition from tackle to guard might be tough, though, as Schweitzer discovered last year as a rookie. Harlow feels confident in his ability to get out and run in the outside zone-blocking scheme. Plus he was recruited out of high school by current Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, formerly the head coach at USC. Certainly Sarkisian wouldn’t have recruited Harlow back then if he didn’t believe he could fit his scheme.


Damontae Kazee had 17 career interceptions at San Diego State. Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports

Round 5, No. 149: Damontae Kazee, DB, San Diego State

My take: Quinn said coming in that the draft was deep at defensive back, so the pick of Kazee isn’t a surprise. He was rated as a fourth-round pick by some, so the Falcons might have gotten good value out of him. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Kazee has some ballhawking skills, obviously, being San Diego State’s career record-holder with 17 interceptions. He doesn’t have the size to play outside, but Quinn always can find a place for a guy who knows how to play the ball.

How he fits: Kazee said the Falcons told him he’d play safety or nickel back in their defense. The Falcons have a solid crew of defensive backs. Kazee would add depth potentially at free safety, with Ricardo Allen now the starter and Brian Poole expected to get an audition at free safety as well. Poole was the primary nickel back last year, but that could change with Desmond Trufant coming back from injury and Robert Alford having the ability to kick inside in the nickel, with Jalen Collins strictly an outside guy. Again, Kazee is a guy who can provide depth if he shows the versatility to play both safety and nickel. Plus, he can make an immediate impression by carving out a role on special teams.


Round 5, No. 156: Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming

My take: The Falcons filled their biggest needs with a pass-rusher in the first round, a linebacker in the third round and a guard in the fourth round. The fifth round allowed them to look at the best players available to increase competition. On paper, Hill’s impressive resume included 1,860 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns this past season and another 1,631 rushing yards the previous year. Hill didn’t even expect to go to the Falcons based on what the team already has at the position. But he also said the Falcons "got the best running back in the draft in the fifth round.’’ You always like a kid with such confidence.

How he fits: The 6-foot-1 inch, 219-pound Hill seems to run through defenders rather than around them, although he’s not necessarily just a power back. That adds another element behind Pro Bowl starter Devonta Freeman with his great vision and backup Tevin Coleman and his explosive speed. In short-yardage situations – like a third-and-1 with the game on the line – Hill might be a guy the Falcons can run between the tackles. The Falcons had three backs on the roster last season, but diminutive Terron Ward was the third. We’ll see what the Falcons make of Hill’s ability to pass protect. Of course, Hill would have to prove himself on special teams, too, but his running style could be an asset for new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.


Round 5, No. 174: Eric Saubert, TE, Drake

My take: Nothing too spectacular about this pick by the Falcons, and Saubert will have to make the transition from a smaller school that is not exactly known as a football powerhouse. But the 6-4, 242-pound Saubert was a productive pass-catcher with 56 receptions for 776 yards last season and 30-plus catches in all four seasons at Drake. He’s worth taking a look at to see what type of value he brings as a receiver because he’s not a blocking tight end by any means.

How he fits: The Falcons have their top two tight ends in Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo after not re-signing veteran Jacob Tamme, who remains a free agent. The third tight end role was big for the Falcons last season due to a slew of injuries. Saubert could come in and compete for that role against second-year player Joshua Perkins. One would think Perkins has the advantage having played for new Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian at the University of Washington. Saubert has size, strength, and is smart, which will help him. But he’ll have to work on his blocking if he hopes to make the team.

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14 hours ago, theProf said:

Round 3, No. 75: Duke Riley, LB, LSU

My take: When the Falcons not only conducted a private workout with the 6-foot, 250-pound Riley but also brought him in for a private visit, you knew there was some serious interest between the two sides.

 

The Falcons worked-out or had official visits from at least 5 of their 6 draft selections: DE/LB Tak McKinley, LB Duke Riley, OG Sean Harlow, RB Brian Hill, and TE Eric Saubert. The only 2017 draft pick that doesn't have a confirmed workout or visit with the Falcons at this juncture is CB/S Damontae Kazee. He still may have worked-out for the Falcons, we just might not know about it yet.

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I'm really coming around on this draft class. At first glance the names may not look like an impressive haul but a closer inspection shows the Falcons executed their draft plan very well. 

Quinn and TD identified players that continue to fit the mold of what we're building here, and these are players that can come in and immediately provide quality depth at key positions.

Takk has similar measurables to Beasley, he has a relentless motor, just down-right nasty attitude, and will rush from the opposite side. Riley has similar measurables to Debo, he can run-and-hit sideline to sideline, and he is comfortable playing in space. 

Harlow will have to prove how quickly he can transition from outside to inside, but he does have some experience playing on the right side and at least gives us another (cheap) swing tackle with the departure of Tom Compton. A ton of players will be entering their second contracts in the upcoming seasons, so our draftees will be counted on heavily to contribute and fill out the bottom third of the roster. 

Brian Hill is quickly becoming my favorite pick of this draft, which is saying something b/c I'm ecstatic about the additions of both Takk and Riley to our uber-talented defense (so much youth!). 

At 6'1" 219 lbs, 4.54-forty, those measurables match favorably to Leonard Fournette, 6'1 222 lbs (pro day weigh-in) 4.51-forty. Hill's hunger and drive should not be understated either as he is quoted as saying Falcons just got the best running back in the draft, end quote.  

Damontae Kazee was never one of my defensive back targets but I am comforted knowing the Falcons came away with someone who can improve immediate depth and competition in the defensive backfield. He is recognized as a ball hawk with great instincts, even if he lacks elite speed and ideal size. That's good value for a fifth-round pick.

Final take is all these guys will contribute on special teams which is often frowned upon or overlooked. Nothing sexy about it, but Smitty was right in that you need to win in all three phases. I can't have been the only one shocked and terrified at the ease in which Devin Hester repeatedly flipped the field against us. Our special teams was lacking at points last year and coach Keith Armstrong has some talented athletes to work with this year when you also include returner/gunner Andre Roberts.

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"Did each team address its needs in the 2017 NFL Draft? Let’s take a look.

Atlanta Falcons

Overall, analysts thought the Falcons performed well in the draft. Atlanta used the No. 26 pick on UCLA defense end Takkarist McKinley, who is a lethal pass rusher with size and speed. The Falcons strengthened their linebacker corps on Day 2 by drafting LSU linebacker Duke Riley in the third round. On Day 3, Atlanta drafted guard Sean Harlow, a solid corner in Damontae Kazee, and tight end Eric Saubert.

 

Dan Kadar, SB Nation: B-

Mel Kiper, ESPN: B-

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: B+

Chris Burke, SI: B

Nate Davis, USA Today: B-

Chad Reuter, NFL.com: A-"

 

http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2017/4/30/15493160/2017-nfl-draft-grades-nfc-south-saints-bucs-panthers-falcons

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27 minutes ago, Birdy Dird said:

I thought it odd that he listed Riley at 250 pounds. He isn't that big, is he? NFL.com lists him at 232.

Don't know where McClure got that Duke Riley was 250 pounds. Both nfl.com and cbssports list him at 232 pounds as you said. I wonder if McClure meant to type in 230 pounds, and made a typo error of 250 instead.

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52 minutes ago, theProf said:

Don't know where McClure got that Duke Riley was 250 pounds. Both nfl.com and cbssports list him at 232 pounds as you said. I wonder if McClure meant to type in 230 pounds, and made a typo error of 250 instead.

Yeah, that was very DLed of him. 

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4 hours ago, theProf said:

"Did each team address its needs in the 2017 NFL Draft? Let’s take a look.

On Day 3,  Atlanta drafted guard Sean Harlow, a solid corner in Damontae Kazee, and tight end Eric Saubert.

http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2017/4/30/15493160/2017-nfl-draft-grades-nfc-south-saints-bucs-panthers-falcons

The SBnation article failed to mention perhaps the Falcons best day 3 pick: RB Brian Hill.

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