By Allison Smith // @FalconAlley
While there is no actual football being played, football season is in full effect with the NFL Draft completing this past weekend. The Atlanta Falcons traded up, then back and ended with six picks this season, split evenly between adding to the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The big splash will be defensively, but is that a surprise for a Dan Quinn coached team?
Falcons 2017 Draft Class
1 – 26: Takkarist McKinley, DE from UCLA; 6’2, 250 lbs
3 – 75: Duke Riley, LB from LSU; is 6’0, 232 lbs
4 – 136: Sean Harlow, T from Oregon State; 6’4, 303 lbs
5 – 149: Damontae Kazee, DB from San Diego State; 5’10, 184 lbs
5 – 156: Brian Hill, RB from Wyoming; 6’1, 219 lbs
5 – 174: Eric Saubert, TE from Drake; 6’5, 253 lbs
Takkarist McKinley, will forever be known as the emotional, cuss word dropping draft pick with the new Falcon catch phrase, “Fine Me Later.” While some may be concerned about his language seconds after being drafted, my take away was that this kid WANTS to play and prove himself and is full of passion. As he was leaving the stage, he also mentioned something about getting to the quarterbacks. I assume he knocked down a couple of prospective quarterbacks around back stage. Please note, Takk, in class act fashion, has apologized for his unplanned, emotional language. Can this rookie be my new favorite player already?
Takk is going to be the perfect complement to this already aggressive defensive line. He is known for his pass rushing skills and actually getting to the quarterback, compiling 10 sacks in 2016 alone. He had 61 tackles, 18 for loss in his final year at UCLA. After his initial statements, Takk immediately began referencing Falcons players (“NFL sack leader” Vic Beasley and “future Hall of Famer” Dwight Freeney) and stated he is ready to learn from these guys. He also said, “It’s a brotherhood. I’m so excited to be home.”
The only question on Takk is his shoulder injury. He played the last two seasons with the injured shoulder and had surgery in March. Please note, last year’s first rounder Keanu Neal was out the first few games of the 2016 season and that still paid off well for us. Takk is expected to be fully rehabbed and healthy by the start of the 2017 season. GM Thomas Dimitroff said of Takk, “He is a high energy, high toughness guy with speed and length.” All I heard was “Fast and Physical.”
The second most excited person to be drafted to the Falcons this season was LSU product Duke Riley. Riley was the team captain and leading tackler his senior year and joins the previous holder of those titles, former and now future teammate, Deion Jones. When Riley heard his name called, he immediately jumped up, screaming how excited he was to be back with DeBo and to be a Dirty Bird. This is our 3rd LSU defender in 3 drafts, beginning with Jalen Collins in 2015. On his call with Quinn and Dimitroff, Riley assured them they made a good decision, “You guys got the best guy in the draft.”
Quinn noted Riley will play Inside Linebacker, can play all 4 downs and contribute on Special Teams. Riley was the 2nd fastest linebacker at the combine and is noted to be able to run, and hit. Again, “Fast and Physical.” Riley had 93 tackles in 2016 and is known for making plays, playing sideline to sideline, and having high football IQ.
Then the not so flashy, but still needed addition from the draft is Tackle Sean Harlow. He will likely be converted to Guard for the Falcons. He will be competing for a spot on the offensive line, as Chris Chester has retired and left an opening. Dimitroff noted that Harlow, “Comes from a great bloodline….smart, highly competitive.” The Harlow pick comes as no surprise at 6’4, 305 pounds, he is within an inch and 5 pounds of the rest of the members of the O line and was recruited out of high school by new OC Steve Sarkisian.
The Falcons like familiarity. Harlow is excited to join the Falcons as well, “I’m at a loss of words. I’m excited to be around great players and learn from them.” Another consistent theme, not just the excitement to be a Falcon, but the willingness to learn from the veterans.
Cornerback Damontae Kazee, you guessed it, is happy to be a Falcon. “Words can’t explain how I feel right now. I almost already took a flight out there.” Kazee was a MW Defensive Player of the Year, holds the SDSU record for interceptions at 17 and is known to force fumbles. The NFL Network reported Kazee is “One of the best nickel corners in this class.” The Falcons could move him to Free Safety as needed, and Kazee already seems versatile, which is key in this Atlanta system. He also returned punts in college. The Falcons noted Kazee is tough, aggressive, and fiery. Just what they want to add to this Defense.
The Falcons wrap the draft adding 2 offensive weapons. While neither Brian Hill nor Eric Saubert may be starters in their positions, they have much to contribute to this team.
Brian Hill is a big, strong running back out of Wyoming, likely used to running with buffalos. He accumulated 4287 yards and 35 touchdowns and already played, and is accustomed to, the outside zone scheme the Falcons currently run. He is big and athletic and self-noted, “I am the best running back in the draft.” So much confidence coming to Atlanta this year.
Quinn noted that Hill has “The strength to be a solid 3rd down pass blocker, like a fullback, he runs angry.” So, don’t be concerned about Devonta Freeman losing a spot, but with FB Patrick DiMarco not being on the team for 2017, a strong and fast fullback type would be a great addition to open up space for Free and Tevin Coleman. And likely Hill can contribute on Special Teams as DiMarco often did. Hill is good to catch the ball, as well, and is known to have football smarts.
The final pick for the Falcons goes to Tight End Eric Saubert. He is another big, blocking TE. He had 111 catches and 17 touchdowns in his last two seasons at Drake. Echoing what many other draft picks said, “I can’t wait to get out there with Matt Ryan, it’s a blessing.” Dimitroff said Saubert has the opportunity “To be an explosive tight end in our scheme.”
While on the phone with DJ Shockley, Saubert said it was a blessing to come to a Super Bowl team and that he will be “A competitor through and through…I just see the ball and it’s mine….I am a grinder and want to help the team.” Saubert may very well compete for the starting TE spot as he is very versatile and recognized for his blocking as well as ability to catch the ball.
Overall, DQ is excited about this draft class, especially adding to the defense, “Speed, athleticism, the way we want to attack” will definitely continue with these 3 hungry defenders. Dimitroff said that looking at their initial board of choices vs. what they got in the draft, they are very happy. They split half and half offense vs. defense as planned. They acquired “explosive, speed, competitive, grittiness” and got the on and off the field personalities that they wanted and that would fit in to this Brotherhood.
My opinion, while not knowing too much about some of these guys, (you all know I just want all Clemson Tigers) but seeing stats, their excitement and statements post draft….I almost feel sorry for the teams we face, IF I had emotion for other teams that is. I am super excited about 2017 and this draft has helped me recover from the Super Bowl loss and am more encouraged for our return. Whether these guys have swagger, confidence, or something to prove, I think this is our Super Bowl WINNING season. If I am right next January – remember this article!
#RiseUp // @FalconAlley Owt