Atlanta Falcons Blog

Atlanta Falcons blog by D. Orlando Ledbetter, the pro football and Atlanta Falcons reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Ranking the Falcons’ top 10 newcomers

FLOWERY BRANCH —  The Atlanta Falcons, after going 11-5 and winning the NFC title in Dan Quinn’s second year as head coach, attempted to upgrade the roster this offseason.

With the team set to report to training camp on Wednesday, July 26, here’s a look at the Falcons’ top 10 newcomers:

  10: Deante Burton, wide receiver. Burton as signed as an undrafted rookie after going undrafted out of Kansas State. He impressed special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong over the offseason.  He made 35 career starts at Kansas State, including his final 26 games. He caught 84 passes for 1,085 yards with five touchdowns in four seasons.

9. Damontee Kazee, cornerback. 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). With the development of Jalen Collins and Brian Poole, its all of sudden crowded at the cornerback spot. His quickest path to the field is likely at safety.

8. Andre Robert, returner/wide receiver. He was signed to add a spark to the return game. He drops too many passed to be relied on in the passing game. Roberts, who played at The Citadel, was a third-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2010. He played four seasons with the Cardinals, two with Washington and one with Detroit. Over his career, Roberts has had 456 targets and 253 catches (43.1 percent) for 2,899 yards and 14 touchdowns.  Roberts is a punt and kickoff returner. He had 20 punt returns for 246 yards and two touchdowns last season. He also had 33 kickoff returns for 747 yards (22.6).

7. Jermaine Grace, linebacker . Grace, who’s 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, was the Hurricanes’ leading tackler (79) in 2015. He was dismissed along with defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad on Aug. 27 after he was accused of violating NCAA rules in a highly publicized luxury car-rental case and didn’t play last season.

6. Derrick Coleman, fullback. He’s the leader to replace the departed Patrick DiMarco, who signed nice $4 million deal with Buffalo. After four seasons with Seattle, Coleman was out of football last season after pleading guilty to a vehicular-assault and hit-and-run charges in Bellevue, Wash. He’s attempting to revive his career.

5. Brian Hill, running back. 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.

4. Jack Crawford, defensive end. After cutting defensive tackle Tyson Jackson and not re-signing Jonathan Babineaux, the Falcons signed Crawford to a three-year deal. Crawford, 28, started 11 games and played in all 16 for the Cowboys last season. He played 529 snaps (50 percent) and 102 special-teams snaps (23.1 percent). Crawford, 6-foot-5, 274 pounds, was a fifth-round pick by the Raiders in 2012. He played at Penn State. He’s played in 57 NFL games, with 12 starts.

3. Duke Riley, linebacker. Riley was selected in the third-round of the draft. 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.

2. Takkarist McKinley, defensive end. McKinley’s recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and missed most of the offseason program because of the NFL’s academic rules. Defensive line coach Bryant Young coached him up over Facetime. Once healthy, he’s expected to earn a spot in the pass rush rotation. 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.

1. Dontari Poe, defensive tackle. This was a shrewd free agency signing as the Falcons signed him to a one-year $8 million make-good deal. “Poe is an athletic, big guy that can push the pocket,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “He will add to our defensive line group and will mix nicely with (Vic) Beasley, Jarrett, (Derrick) Shelby and (Adrian) Clayborn. We are happy to be able to add him to our roster.” Poe has recorded 202 total tackles in 78 games played – 76 started – while also recording 13 sacks, 12 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Last season, Poe played in all 16 games, while recording 27 total tackles – 18 solo - with 1.5 sacks, three passes defensed, and one forced fumble.


Part 1: Quarterbacks

Part2: Running backs

Part 3: Wide receivers

Part 4: Tight ends

Part 5: Offensive line

Part 6: Defensive line

Part: 7: Linebackers

Part 8: Cornerbacks

Part 9: Safeties

Part 10: Specialists


MUST READ PROFILE: Falcons top pick McKinley makes name for himself

2017 Falcons report card: Falcons earn a B-plus

NFC Champs add a pass rusher, quality depth 

1st rounder: Meet defensive end Takkarist McKinley

3rd rounder: Meet linebacker Duke Riley

4th rounder: Meet offensive guard Sean Harlow

5th rounder: Meet defensive back Damontae Kazee

5th rounder: Meet running back Brian Hill

5th rounder: Meet tight end Eric Saubert

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.