The 2018 NFL Draft has come and gone, and now we get to welcome all the new faces of the Atlanta Falcons. Join Last Word on Pro Football as we break down every Falcons pick so you don’t have to.
The Falcons went into the draft not having many holes on their roster. This allowed them to go best player available for most of their picks and allowed them to come out with a pretty good haul.
- First round, 26th overall: Calvin Ridley, wide receiver, Alabama
- Second round, 58th overall: Isaiah Oliver, cornerback, Colorado
- Third round, 90th overall: Deadrin Senat, defensive tackle, USF
- Fourth round, 126th overall: Ito Smith, running back, Southern Miss
- Sixth round, 194th overall: Russell Gage, wide receiver, LSU
- Sixth round, 244th overall: Foyesade Oluokun, linebacker, Yale
Atlanta Falcons 2018 Draft Grade: 8.5/10
Atlanta Falcons 2018 NFL Draft Review
The Best Player: Calvin Ridley
Coming into the draft wide receiver was a need for the Falcons but no one expected them to address it in the first round. No one also expected Ridley to fall into the Falcons lap. Both happened. Now the Falcons have one of the strongest receiving corps in the league. Ridley was one of the best, if not the best, route runners in the draft. To pair him with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu is great for the team and gives Matt Ryan all the targets he needs.
Ridley should step into the offense and light it up right away. He will be able to get open and create separation quickly and often with teams having to spend great resources covering Jones. He has to be an early rookie of the year candidate with the number of targets he could receive in the Falcons’ offense.
Another thing that the Falcons are thinking ahead for is life after Jones and Sanu. I know, I know you probably had to double take right there and are thinking to yourself, “is this man crazy/what is he talking about,” but hear me out. Jones is sneaking up to being 30 years old soon and Sanu is 28. Atlanta currently has both players under contract till 2021 but have a potential out in Sanu’s contract after this season. If Ridley really comes onto the scene he could replace Sanu as the number two receiver. Then in a few years, after Jones contract is up, he could become the number one. With this Ridley pick the Falcons have not only set themselves up for the short term but also the long term.
The Head-Scratcher: Why No Offensive Line?
The one position that could’ve used an infusion of talent yet was not addressed during the draft was offensive line. Many analysts mocked the Falcons grabbing an offensive guard like Isaiah Wynn or Connor Williams in the first round. The Falcons ended up lucking out and had steals with their first three picks but failed to address this particular at any point in the draft. Though it’s true that in the fourth round and later there are only developmental guys but that is just the type of player the Falcons could have as a backup/depth guy who could eventually start. In the fourth round, Atlanta reached for Smith when there were prospects like Tyrell Crosby, Wyatt Teller, and Jamarco Jones still on the board for the taken.
The Surprise: Ito Smith
Every year, the Falcons seem to draft a running back in the later round of the draft. It worked out great when they drafted Devonta Freeman in the fourth round in 2014 and Tevin Coleman in the third round in 2015 but hasn’t been great since. Last year, Atlanta drafted Brian Hill out of Wyoming in the fifth round and he didn’t even make the roster. This year, they drafted Smith out of Southern Miss in the fourth round.
Though the desire to address running back is understandable, especially when you consider the fact that Coleman’s contract is up after the 2018 season, but why Smith in the fifth round? This is a guy who was projected as a seventh-round pick and possibly even a priority free agent. Now the front office has shown that they know what they are doing in the draft, but it’s hard to understand this pick. If the Falcons wanted to go running back here why did we choose Smith with other options available.
However, Smith will provide the team with some depth at the running back spot and could turn out to be a good change of pace guy. Atlanta let Terron Ward walk in free agency and need a new third back. Smith is someone we could rely on coming out of the backfield catching passes. He averaged 10.5 yards a catch over the last three years in college.
The Steal: Isaiah Oliver
Oliver was a corner most people thought would go late first round, early second and wthe Falcons grabbed him in the late second round at pick 58. Now he fell because many scouts thought he lacked toughness, but this is a definite steal.
Oliver will be able to start immediately, whether that is as the outside corner taking over for Robert Alford or as a nickel corner. Either way he has the size, speed, and length necessary for the position and will help the Falcons against the big wide receivers they face in the NFC South twice a year.
Most Likely to Turn Heads in Training Camp: Deadrin Senat
The Falcons have been needing a big gap stuffer in the middle of the defense for quite some time now. They signed Dontari Poe but that was only a one-year experiment. We let Poe walk this off-season, leaving a big hole up front in our defense. Senat fills that hole quite nicely. He is a big man, at 6’0” 314 pounds and can be a better version of what we wanted Poe to be for us. He plays with a wide, sturdy base that is hard to knock off balance and has fast initial hands to knock the offensive lineman off balance.
Senat is someone to watch out for next season as I see him making an instant impact in the run game for us. He can stuff gaps quickly and use his strength to get into the backfield. It’s possible that Senat will be the team’s starting defensive tackle for years to come and getting him in the third round is a steal if so.
In the sixth round the Falcons drafted two other players, Russell Gage and Foyesade Oluokun.
Gage is a wide receiver and special teams star. He should help make an impact early as a special teams player if he makes the team. He is a converted defensive back that excels as a gunner. Gage will have to compete with others for a roster spot but has a chance because of his special teams’ ability.
Olukoun didn’t get invited to the Combine but put up great numbers at his Pro Day. He had a 4.48-second 40-yard dash, had a 37-inch vertical, and a blazing fast 4.12 20-yard shuttle (which would have been only second behind Clemson linebacker Dorian O’Daniel at the Combine). Olukoun sowed he has the speed that the Falcons look for at the linebacker position. He is the athletic freak that Dan Quinn likes and should find himself in a depth role at linebacker for us.
The Falcons did a great job addressing most of their needs while also being able to go best player available in the draft. They were able to solidify the wide receiver spot with a great trio of Jones, Sanu, and Ridley. They also were able to solidify the secondary by adding Oliver to the mix of corner options. Senat should be an instant impact player as well.
Not addressing offensive line was a bit puzzling but the coaching staff must believe in the existing unit. The two sixth round picks could provide good depth, assuming they make the team.
Overall, this was a very good draft class that will help further the Falcons closer to another Super Bowl appearance. Before the draft, this roster didn’t have many holes and after the draft most of those holes have been filled with players who have the potential to make an immediate impact.