by Roddy E. “Seminole Warrior” Nixon, Jr.
Well, the 2017 edition of the NFL’s Annual Selection Meetings, aka the NFL Draft, has come and gone. After a couple of days to assess the workings of the Atlanta front office, we here at Tee Pee Sports decided to take a closer look. The Falcons went into this draft with concerning needs at several positions. Among these were offensive line, defensive line (particularly a defensive end/pass rusher), safety, and linebacker.
Tee Pee Sports will now take a look at the players selected, assign a grade, and give an outlook in regards to anticipated impact on the team. The FINAL OVERALL draft grade assessed to the team by Cocoa Mel and Tee Pee Sports is C+.
The draft could have been better despite an overall weak class in many areas. As you will see, the Falcons did well in some areas and not so good in others. The trade in the first round may have been essential if the player selected TRULY was the man we wanted all the time. Only the shadow knows!!
But this front office has a history, more troubling than productive, of making moves up for players that are more “splash” than “solid”. So, let’s see how it all played out in the eyes of the Tee Pee.
DE/OLB Takkarist McKinley – University of California, Los Angeles Grade: A
The Falcons HAD to address their pass rush. I hate that they had to move up in the draft to do so but I have no issues with the player they selected. I am going to be this kid’s biggest fan!!
Takkarist McKinney represents an emerging talent. He is filled with an intense degree of pride and dedication. He is driven by something GREATER than football. He wants to succeed not because he stands to make millions in the process. TM has a much higher, more personal reason to represent himself well and leave a legacy. And it is that edge that Tee Pee Sports senses will result in the greatest Falcons pass rusher since John Abraham wore our colors.
TM is still developing his skill set. But make no mistake. It has the potential to be one HELL of a skill set. His game has grown each year during his time at UCLA as has his role. A review of video reflects a player that is a bonified pass rushing specialist. But the same video review indicates that there is still a raw nature to his game in terms of technique. He does not possess a dominate move (i.e., Reggie White’s famous club move) but he still gets to the target.
Quality coaching and improved technique will certainly be essential in developing this talented player. His combination of speed, aggression, and drive can’t be taught. And if properly enhanced, he is going to become one of the league’s most feared defenders. Expect an ascent very similar to that of former first round pick and Deacon Jones Award winner, Vic Beasley. Four to six sacks this season is likely but by year three, double digit sacks each season should be the norm.
OLB/ILB Duke Riley – Louisiana State University. Grade: D
The Falcons needed depth at the linebacker position but to select a special team ace with one year of experience at this point in the draft was not the approach TPS would have taken. First, Riley is an undersized linebacker who put on some twelve pounds just to get to the 232 he was listed at for the NFL Combine. Second, his coverage skills are questionable when one takes a look at the tape. Granted, he has a very quick step and may offer some promise as a blitzing linebacker (evident on tape), the total package is not there. Sure, he followed in the footsteps of former Tiger Deion Jones, TPS does not feel that he is as complete a package as Jones was. Using a third -round selection was not in order here as TPS sees Riley as a future special team linchpin and a quality reserve player.
At this point, given the need and value, Tee Pee Sports would have taken, instead of Riley, Pittsburgh offensive guard Dorian Johnson would have been the choice. Johnson would be an instant plug and play at right guard in his rookie season. In the zone blocking scheme, Johnson displayed, as his tape reflects, solid footwork and solid blocking technique. Further review reflects a solid performance in both pass protection and opening lanes for running backs.
An alternate to Johnson, Tee Pee Sports also considered CB Fabian Moreau from UCLA. Moreau’s 6 foot, 205lb frame and talents would have been great opposite Desmond Trufant and would have allowed me to use the skill set of Robert Alford in his new position, free safety.
OG Sean Harlow – Oregon State University Grade: C+
Offensive line depth had to be addressed in this draft. At this point, Sean Harlow represents a solid pick and quality value at this point. He is a versatile lineman and is capable according to scouting reports of playing all positions along the line. Some reports we here at TPS looked at compared Harlow’s game to that of former New York Giant and current Fox broadcaster, David Diehl. If that is the case, given Diehl’s fifth round selection by the Giants and his ensuing eleven-year career, this may be a quality find. This was a good selection in an overall not too impressive offensive line class.
NOTE: The Falcons are STILL in need of OL depth across the board. 2018 looks to be a better OL class.
RB Brian Hill – University of Wyoming Grade: B+
Outstanding value and a fine pick at this point. The Falcons were hurt several times last season by the lack of size and power when attempting the inside rushing game. Courtesy of the Mountain West Conference, those days may well be over in Atlanta now. Brian Hill is a PERFECT counter to the skill set of Devonta Freeman in the Atlanta rushing attack. The 220 pounder runs with a purpose. There is a little Michael Turner in his game as he can be deceptively effective and hit another gear on sweeps and around the end. Video review of Hill shows a power back that grinds out the tough yards. He is a solid blocker as well. The perfect red-zone compliment for Atlanta and the perfect spell-man for Freeman. Most of all, review of the tape reveals one of the most secure ballhandlers in college football over the past two years.
However, Hill is not the most gifted receiving option. But that is not why we are bringing him to Atlanta. There are a few minor things to clean up in his game but this is a VERY solid pick.
TE Eric Saubert – Drake University Grade: D
At this point in any draft, a few chances are taken. Some turn out to be the rare discoveries and others just fade into the twilight. I really do not know what to think of the selection of Eric Saubert. We do not have a lot of depth at tight end; Austin Hooper shows flashes of potential and will have every chance to emerge big time in 2017. Every other tight end on the roster is living on borrowed time.
In the limited film study, TPS noted that Saubert was much more inconsistent than I care to see. There are some things there to build upon. There is nice size and speed. At times, his routes look nice. But….
Here comes that word again – consistency. It’s missing in action too often. We saw easy passes dropped. He saw a lack of effort in blocking too often. Overall game would run hot and cold too easily. Honestly, Tee Pee Sports thinks that the Falcons would have been better off here with perhaps, another offensive line selection.
ROUND FIVE: CB/S Damontae Kazee – San Diego State University Grade: B-
I love the Mountain West. And for a defense that relies on depth at defensive back, the Falcons found pretty VERY GOOD value here if they are looking for the ultimate “nickel” corner. Damontae Kazee is the real deal. He is very solid in slot. DK displays a very nice talent suite; a fine feel for the ball; reads the quarterback well and understands how to attack passing lanes. DK further displays a nice ability to jump routes having secured FIFTEEN interceptions over the last two years. This pick DEFINES value.
So, there you have it. The 2017 edition of what the defending NFC Champions need to address in the eyes of the Tee Pee. Let the discussion, pro or con, now begin….