The Atlanta Falcons entered the three-day NFL draft with six selections. Those picks were the 31st, 63rd, 95th, 136th, 174th and 249th overall. They wound up exercising six picks – the 26th, 75th, 136th, 149th, 156th and 174th. They kept only two of the choices they held as of Thursday morning.
They made two trades. They moved up five spots – from No. 31 to No. 26 – to snag pass rusher Takkarist McKinley in Round 1. They also shipped their third- and seventh-round picks to Seattle, temporarily reducing an already small draft class to four. (They had no sixth-round pick due to the trade for Andy Levitre in September 2015.) They balanced the scales by sending Pick No. 63 to Buffalo to gain Nos. 75, 136 and 149.
Here’s the part I liked most: If you add the picks the Falcons held as of Thursday morning, you get 748; if you add the picks they actually made, you get 716. Just going by numbers, they improved their drafting station a bit – and were able to get McKinley, who mightn’t have been available had they stayed at No. 31 – without compromising future drafts.
Yes, they gave away their second-round choice (63rd), but they added an early third (75th), and that became Duke Riley, the LSU linebacker. They punted their seventh-round pick, which would have been the draft’s fifth-from-last. (Meaning: No big deal.) They moved up once, moved down once and wound up with six picks in the first five rounds, which was slightly better than they had when Round 1 began.
For a team that was set to pick where the Super Bowl runner-up picks, the Falcons did as well as they could have done without making a splash move, and when you’re coming off a Super Bowl you don’t need splashes . McKinley and Riley seem the essence of DQ Guys – the in-house description of players who fit Dan Quinn’s fast-and-furious model – and I especially liked the selection of running back Brian Hill in Round 5.
Hill is bigger than Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. If the next Super Bowl finds the Falcons with third-and-a-long-1 at their 36 with 8:31 remaining, they mightn’t need to throw the ball. (And see Freeman whiff on Dont'a Hightower, whereupon the whole game starts to come undone.) They might just, you know, hand it to Hill.
That ESPN’s Mel Kiper and CBS Sports’ Rob Rang handed the Falcons a B-minus for this draft bothers me not one whit. They were set to pick 31st: You can’t expect a big fat “A” from there. In its aggressive-but-measured way, this draft was a winner.