Dan Quinn is the type of head coach that would much rather draft a rookie than sign a veteran free agent. Obviously there are some exceptions (Dontari Poe), but Quinn prefers finding the young talent and molding them to fit his schemes. In his first two years with Atlanta, this approach to the off-season has worked beautifully. The first four players selected in the 2016 Draft were Keanu Neal (first round), Deion Jones (second round), Austin Hooper (third round), and Devondre Campbell. You probably recognize these names because they were solid contributors to the Falcons in their rookie seasons, making it a little easier to trust in Quinn’s process.
Atlanta Falcons Draft Needs
The Falcons will come in to the 2017 Draft with six picks, not receiving any compensatory selections. After trading their sixth round pick to the Tennessee Titans for guard Andy Levitre, Atlanta will have a pick in the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and seventh rounds. The beauty of this upcoming draft is that the Falcons don’t necessarily need to fill a hole as much as they just need to add depth.
More than likely, the first three picks will be used for depth at the offensive and defensive lines. If the Falcons are going to win the NFC South again, they’re going to have to get more pressure on Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, and Drew Brees. Atlanta also needs to protect their MVP quarterback, Matt Ryan, from the pressure Carolina and Tampa bring (and Cameron Jordan from the Saints).
On the Defensive Side
We saw the emergence of Vic Beasley last season as he led the league in sacks and I’m hoping we saw the arrival of Grady Jarrett in the Super Bowl where he was able to sack the elusive Tom Brady a record-breaking three times. After landing some solid free agents, Atlanta will have a defensive line rotation to include Jarrett, Ra’Shede Hageman, Jack Crawford, Dontari Poe, Courtney Upshaw, Derrick Shelby, and Vic Beasley.
This defensive front finished last season with 189 tackles, 26.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, five pass deflections, and one defensive score, collectively (Poe with Kansas City and Crawford with Dallas). I wouldn’t be surprised to see Atlanta add a player in the draft to add to this rotation, but it looks pretty solid as is.
One of the needs Atlanta has to fill in the draft is at the linebacker position. Deion Jones has, without a doubt, become the star of this defense and should’ve won defensive rookie of the year. What he lacks in size, he makes up for with speed and intelligence. Jones finished his rookie season with 108 tackles, 11 pass deflections, one forced fumble, and three interceptions for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
Alongside Jones was fourth round pick De’Vondre Campbell, a fast, hard-hitting, explosive linebacker who seems like another lock at the position. Campbell started in ten games and finished with 48 tackles, seven pass deflections, a forced fumble, and an interception for seven yards.
Brooks Reed played a bit of outside linebacker for the Falcons as well and finished with 25 tackles, two sacks, one pass deflection, and one forced fumble. I think Reed could see some more time next season and hopefully become the force he was in his time in Houston.
While Atlanta does have three solid linebackers, as well as Vic Beasley who mostly lines up as an edge rusher, there is a need for some depth at the position. I expect that Quinn will look to bring in another fast, hybrid type, player to help with coverage as well as rushing the passer with their first pick.
Keanu Neal is a solid starter for the strong safety position and Ricardo Allen is steadily improving as a free safety. Atlanta did bring back Kemal Ishmael this secondary probably needs another solid safety. The corner back position also had some young guys emerge with the injury of Desmond Trufant.
Robert Alford may have solidified his spot as a starting corner, and even redeemed himself for all the pass interference calls. Alford finished with 61 tackles, 19 pass deflections, and two interceptions for 34 yards and a touchdown. Even though his leg pretty much won the Super Bowl for the Patriots, Alford dominated with 11 tackles, six pass deflections, and the 82 yard interception that became Tom Brady’s first pick six in a Super Bowl.
Brian Poole also showed promise at the corner position, especially on blitzes. Jalen Collins improved himself. C.J. Goodwin and D.J. Olatoye didn’t really have much playing time last season but they could develop into good situational contributors.
Atlanta did bring back Blidi Wreh-Wilson in free agency as well and if he can bring to Atlanta what he brought to Tennessee, he could become a crucial part of the secondary as well. I would still like to see a defensive back drafted somewhere in a later round, if the right guy is there, and could see Quinn having a healthy rotation in the defensive secondary as well.
On the Offensive Side
Another need for depth to be addressed in the draft is offensive line. Ryan Schraeder had a solid year only to end it with an injury in Super Bowl 51 and Jake Matthews seemed to struggle in recovering from his injuries. Alex Mack, who earned the respect of fans by playing in the Super Bowl with a broken leg, still played well but could have greatly benefited from having a backup to rotate in.
Andy Levitre was solid for the Falcons but the departure of Chris Chester leaves a gaping hole at the right guard position. Ben Garland will get a shot to take over the position but I expect the Falcons to draft one or two offensive lineman to add to the mix.
While most fans would like to see Atlanta draft another tight end to pair up with Austin Hooper, I’m one of the few who really likes Levine Toilolo as the number two tight end. Thought not as much of a receiving tight end as Hooper is, Toilolo is a decent pass blocker. D.J. Tialavea could also emerge as a solid backup tight end.
I would much rather see Atlanta use the remaining picks to add depth to the defensive secondary or, possibly, even a third string quarterback. Matt Ryan is in his prime and likely has ten years, or so, left in him but our backup quarterback is a 35-year-old Matt Schaub who, realistically, has about three to four years left.
So, after the 2017 draft is said and done, I’m hoping, and expect, it will look something like this:
First round: Defensive end/Linebacker. (Also expect this would be the first pick in the second round if the first round is traded)
Second round: Offensive lineman
Third round: Linebacker/Defensive end
Fourth round: Offensive lineman
Fifth round: Defensive back
Seventh round: Quarterback or another defensive back; best player available.