With the draft officially over, Last Word On Sports will be conducting its annual Draft Review series for all 32 teams. Today, the Atlanta Falcons selections will be examined. The Falcons ended up with six picks for the duration of this draft. Trying to clinch their first postseason berth since 2012, here are their draftees below:
1st Round, 17th Overall: safety Keanu Neal (Florida)
2nd Round, 52nd Overall: outside linebacker Deion Jones (LSU) *
3rd Round, 81st Overall: tight end Austin Hooper (Stanford)
4th Round, 115th Overall: outside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (Minnesota)
6th Round, 195th Overall: offensive lineman Wes Schweitzer (San Jose State) *
7th Round, 238th Overall: wide receiver Devin Fuller (UCLA)
* = Denotes draft pick acquired from Texans
Atlanta Falcons 2016 NFL Draft Review
Falcons 2016 Draft Grade: 8/10 (B)
The Best Player: Keanu Neal
Neal was an important grab for the Falcons in the first round. Although the safety position wasn’t considered a top-three need for the team, according to Last Word On Sports, but the spot was definitely in the discussion. As the site repeatedly stressed in the past, one of the key factors in Atlanta’s 2012 playoff run was the effective play from safety tandem Thomas Decoud and William Moore. Combining for 122 tackles, 17 passes defensed and ten interceptions during the 13-3 campaign, their opportunistic production was the catalyst for the team’s respectable defensive play. Neal’s arrival will bring some of that centerfield playmaking ability back to Georgia. Known for his hitting, he’s capable of making stops anywhere around the line of scrimmage to kill a play’s momentum. Having a high motor, fatigue issues are not an issue since he aggressively drives through contact to finish tackles. In today’s pass-centric NFL, strong defensive back play is imperative. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn once coached Seattle Seahawks All-Pro strong safety Kam Chancellor. Will Neal become Chancellor 2.0?
The Head-Scratcher: No defensive lineman selected. Unlike the safety spot, Last Word On Sports did list a defensive lineman as a crucial need for Atlanta before free agency. Atlanta mustered up a league-worst 19 sacks in 2015. To put that in perspective, Houston Texans star J.J. Watt alone had 17.5. The Falcons total takedown numbers have decreased each season since 2013. With the quarterback position having so much reign in modern-day football, it’s important to get guys who can stop the passing game. Their linebacker choices were acceptable, but neglecting pass rushers on the line was not.
The Surprise: De’Vondre Campbell
For clarity, Campbell is a formidable player, but a fourth-round pick on him was slightly lofty. The Golden Gopher plays with outstanding effort and intensity, showing how to never give up on plays. But he isn’t the sharpest defender in terms of tackling, coverage and overall technique. Though making flashes in pass rushing during the 2015 season, there is much room for improvement. Once again, Campbell is a respectable backer, but calling his name could’ve waited until the fifth or sixth round. Instead, the Falcons should’ve addressed the trenches with their fourth-round pick.
The Steal: Austin Hooper
Although Deion Jones was worth robbery in the second round, the close edge for this superlative goes to Austin Hooper. Following in the Stanford Cardinal lineage of productive tight ends (i.e Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz), the 6’4’’, 254-pound pass-catcher will be yet another piece in quarterback Matt Ryan’s arsenal. Posting 74 receptions, 937 yards and eight touchdowns since 2014, Hooper will alleviate pressure off the hands of Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu with his separation ability down the middle. His ability to high-point and shield the football away from defenders will make stopping the Falcons aerial attack that more arduous. Atlanta had failed to replace Tony Gonzalez as the security blanket in the center of the offense, but that void has finally been filled.
Most Likely to Turn Heads in Training Camp: Deion Jones
Jones will be the guy who grabs the coaching staff’s attention come July. There’s one word to describe the LSU linebacker: speed. Despite limited playing time in Baton Rouge, Jones was still able to put his 4.38 40-time explosiveness on display, gunning from sideline to sideline to corral ballcarriers. Tallying 100 tackles and 13.5 tackles for losses in 2015, he is a tackling machine who has shown to make plays in the backfield. Perhaps his greatest trait is his attitude and team-first mindset, qualities that every organization dreams about. For Falcons fans, think of Jones as a Curtis Lofton with additional burst.
The Rest: Wes Schweitzer is a consistent and intelligent offensive lineman that doesn’t mind being physical with the man across the line of scrimmage. But his lack of athleticism may be an early downfall for him as he gets acclimated to the professional game.
Devin Fuller is a talented slot wideout with game-breaking speed, but he’s missing the mechanics and consistency an everyday NFL receiver should have. Although Devin Hester and Eric Weems are still high-level special teamers at 30-plus years old, kick and punt returning will be Fuller’s initial ceiling.
The Bottom Line: Outside of the defensive lineman absence and minor misjudgements of talent level, this was a decent draft for the Atlanta Falcons. The sole purpose of the selection process is to fill team needs, and that’s what this Falcons draft was mainly about. The jury’s still out on whether or not they’ll catch the Carolina Panthers, but they’re off the a good start.