FLOWERY BRANCH – It’s hard grading the Falcons’ draft because they admittedly don’t take the best player available on the board.
They enter the draft with their list of needs and they attack that list.
That explains why they appear to pass on higher rated players while building out their their roster in the draft.
This has worked well in the past two drafts and allowed them to amass enough talent to reach the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn more clearly explained this approach after the 2017 draft. Last season, I wasn’t sure the Falcons landed three starters in the draft after gave them a C-minus.
That was clearly a low grade given the contributions of 2016 draft class, led by safety Keanu Neal, linebacker Deion Jones, linebacker DeVondre Campbell and tight end Austin Hooper.
However, this 2017 class clearly doesn’t have the same star or starter power and the top pick, defensive end Takkarist McKinley, is coming off major shoulder surgery. But that’s what the Falcons wanted. They wanted to add depth and that’s what they picked up.
About the only glaring hole on the roster now is backup tackle after the team didn’t resign veteran Tom Compton.
So given that they attacked their needs by adding a pass rusher, interior line help and depth on defense at linebacker and cornerback, they’ve earned a B-plus for this draft class. The also picked up an interesting project at tight end to work with.
Here’s a breakdown of the class:
FIRST ROUND (26th overall) TAKKARIST McKINLEY, DE/LB, UCLA
HEIGHT: 6-foot-2 WEIGHT: 250 pounds ARM LENGTH: 33 3/8 inches HAND SIZE: 10 1/4 inches 40-YARD DASH: 4.59 seconds BENCH PRESS: 24 reps of 225 pounds VERTICALJUMP: 33 inches BROAD JUMP: 10 feet, 2 inches THREE-CONE DRILL: 7.48 seconds ■ OVERVIEW: He was a two-year starter for the Bruins after overcoming some early academic issues. He lined up at left and right defensive end in the Bruins’ four-man front, standing up and putting his hand on the ground. He was a legitimate candidate for Pac-12 defensive player of the year last season with 10 sacks.“McKinley has the explosive pass-rush potential to terrorize NFL quarterbacks, projecting in both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes,” wrote Dan Brugler in his 2017 NFL draft report.
THIRD ROUND (75th overall) DUKE RILEY, LB, LSU
HEIGHT: 6-foot-1 WEIGHT: 230 pounds ARM LENGTH: 32 inches HAND SIZE: 9 1/4 inches 40-YARD DASH: 4.58 seconds BENCH PRESS: 18 reps of 225 pounds VERTICALJUMP: 34 1/2 inches BROAD JUMP:10 feet, 2 inches THREE-CONE DRILL: 6.89 seconds ■ OVERVIEW: He was a three-star recruit coming out of John Curtis High in Bursa, La., and picked LSU over TCU and Tulane. The offer from the Tigers was a grayshirt opportunity, but the week before signing day, LSU upgraded the offer to a full scholarship. He committed on the spot. He spent his freshman season on special teams and recorded seven tackles. Riley earned his first career start as a sophomore, but most of his playing time was on special teams, posting 20 tackles. Riley moved into the starting lineup last season and led LSU with 93 tackles, adding nine tackles for loss, two passes defended and one interception.
FOURTH ROUND (136rd overall) SEAN HARLOW, OG, OREGON STATE
HEIGHT: 6-foot-4 WEIGHT: 305 pounds ARM LENGTH: 32 inches HAND SIZE: 9 1/2 inches 40-YARD DASH: 5.15 seconds BENCH PRESS: 26 reps of 225 pounds VERTICALJUMP: 30 1/2 nches BROAD JUMP: 8 feet, 9 inches THREE-CONE DRILL: 8.16 seconds ■ OVERVIEW: The San Clemente, Calif., native started 37 games for the Beavers, including 23 at left tackle and 14 at right tackle. He will be asked to play guard for the Falcons. He knows Falcons running back Terron Ward from his days at Oregon State and Falcons tight end Austin Hooper. His father, Pat Harlow, was the 11th pick in the 1991 draft and played for the Patriots and the Raiders from 1991-98. He’s a relentless hustle player who needs to refine his techniques for his move to guard. He graduated with a degree in human development and family sciences in December. He was a team captain. He helped the Beavers set a single-season rushing record with 5.2 yards per carry. He was named to the Pac-12 All-Conference second team.
FIFTH ROUND (149th overall) DAMONTAE KAZEE, CB/FS, SAN DIEGO STATE
HEIGHT: 5-foot-10 WEIGHT: 184 pounds ARM LENGTH: 30 7/8 inches HAND SIZE: 8 5/8 inches 40-YARD DASH: 4.54.15 seconds BENCH PRESS: 11 reps of 225 pounds VERTICALJUMP: 34 inches BROAD JUMP: 10 feet, 4 inches THREE-CONE DRILL: 7.11 seconds ■ OVERVIEW: The Falcons told him he would play some nickel back and safety in the defense. He redshirted and was a reserve in 2013. He made 13 starts in 2014 and led the team with 14 passes defended, adding 58 tackles and one interception to earn second-team All-Mountain West Conference honors. He was named an All-American and Mountain West defensive player of the year in 2015, with a team-best 15 passes defended and eight interceptions. Kazee returned for his senior season and again earned All-American status and won the conference defensive player-of-the-year honors with 65 tackles, 15 passes defended and seven interceptions. His brother, Walter, was a running back at San Diego State (2009-12).
FIFTH ROUND (156th overall) BRIAN HILL, RB, WYOMING
HEIGHT: 6-foot-1 WEIGHT: 219 pounds ARM LENGTH: 31 3/8 inches HAND SIZE: 8 7/8 inches 40-YARD DASH: 4.48 seconds BENCH PRESS: 15 reps of 225 pounds VERTICALJUMP: 34 inches BROAD JUMP: 10 feet, 5 inches THREE-CONE DRILL: 7.03 seconds ■ OVERVIEW: He played in 38 games and made 28 starts over his career. He rushed for 4,287 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry while scoring 35 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 41 passes for 403 yards over his career. He was a two-year starter rushing for 135.9 yards per game as a sophomore and 132.9 yards per game as a junior. He runs well off tackle and can bounce his runs to the outside. He runs with toughness and has vision in the open field.
FIFTH ROUND (174th overall) ERIC SAUBERT, TE, DRAKE
HEIGHT: 6-foot-4 WEIGHT: 242 pounds ARM LENGTH: 33 1/2 inches HAND SIZE: 10 3/8 inches 40-YARD DASH: 4.67 seconds BENCH PRESS:22 reps of 225 pounds VERTICALJUMP: 35 1/2 inches (Pro Day) BROAD JUMP: 10 feet, 1 inches THREE-CONE DRILL: 7.29 seconds ■ OVERVIEW: He played in 41 games and made 37 starts over his career. He caught 190 passes for 2,253 yards and 21 touchdowns. Saubert lined up in the slot, wing and out wide in the Bulldogs’ spread offense. He finished among the top FCS receiving leaders at tight end the past two seasons. He’ll have to improve his blocking to make it in the NFL.