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Falcons Looking Faster After First Two Picks

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Falcons looking even faster on defense after first two picks



May 3, 2017
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer LOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- One NFL executive made an interesting observation after seeing the Atlanta Falcons select pass-rusher Takkarist McKinley and LSU linebacker Duke Riley on the first two days of the NFL draft.

2017 NFL DRAFT | Philadelphia

"They have put together one of the fastest defenses in the league," the exec said. "You'll be hard-pressed to find a defense with that many fast people."

Dan Quinn vowed to build a fast and physical defense from the moment he was named the Falcons' head coach in February 2015. Each of his first two draft picks the last three years have been defensive players: reigning NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr. and cornerback Jalen Collins his first year, strong safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones last year, and now McKinley and Riley.

Folks marveled how fast the Falcons looked during last year's Super Bowl run, with middle linebacker Jones, with his 4.38 speed, orchestrating the defense and Beasley, with his 4.53 speed, chasing down quarterbacks from behind. And that run was completed without injured Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant (pectoral surgery) and his 4.38 speed on the field opposite fellow cornerback Robert Alford (4.39).

Now the Falcons add the 6-foot-2, 250-pound McKinley, who ran a 4.59 at the NFL combine, and the 6-foot, 232-pound Riley, who ran a 4.58.

Quinn talked Thursday about the relentless style and passion McKinley brings to the defense as an edge rusher and a perfect complement to Beasley. Then on Friday, Quinn gushed about having Riley in the fold to help enhance the defense.

"The toughness, the speed that he plays with, fits terrifically into our style," Quinn said. "We clearly know how to feature him in that role. So we're pumped to have him on board. I can wait to get him here and get started with him."

Quinn said Riley "will likely start off" as a weakside linebacker, although the inside linebacker spots in the Falcons' defense are interchangeable. Quinn is all about versatility and getting the best combination on the field. With that in mind, playing Riley alongside former LSU teammate and starting middle linebacker Jones likely would mean a switch to strongside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who worked more often at weakside linebacker last season. The trio of Jones, Campbell and Riley certainly would cover a lot of ground. It also would leave open some options in the nickel package in terms of which pair of linebackers plays together, depending on matchups.

Although Riley made his mark at LSU on special teams before becoming a full-time starter on defense his final season, Quinn said the Falcons didn't just draft him to run around on special teams.

"No, 100 percent not," Quinn said. "I see all three of them playing (on defense)."

Maintaining a fast defense is even more imperative now for the Falcons considering some of the offensive improvements teams around the NFC South have made through free agency and the draft. Tampa Bay gave quarterback Jameis Winston two new weapons in speedy veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson and talented rookie tight end O.J. Howard along with rookie receiver Chris Goodwin. Carolina and Cam Newton added all-everything running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Curtis Samuel. And the Saints gave quarterback Drew Brees a couple more weapons in former MVP Adrian Peterson and rookie running back Alvin Kamara.

"This time of year, you definitely look out for your division," Quinn said. "That's what certainly comes across my radar first. All three teams in the division, as you would expect, have (draft picks) that we liked as well. It will be more of that over the next couple days. It's how each of the three teams change and, 'OK, how will they feature that player? What role will he have?' So that's definitely a big part of it."

Based on the way Quinn is building his team, the Falcons certainly should be up to speed to defend their division title.

Edited by Tim Mazetti
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