2017 Draft Report Card: Falcons earn a B-plus

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn explained their approach to attack their list of needs in the draft. (By D. Orlando Ledbetter/dledbetter@ajc.com)

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:


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


Reader Comments 0


Yeah, the '16 draft yielded three blue chip studs and an up-and-coming tight end. OG Schweitzer can't get on the field due to talent in front of him to really give a grade. With as much talent and depth as the Falcons have at WR, Devin Fuller even making the team says he has talent and potential. The problem with your grade was I felt it was based on emotion not evaluation of prospects, team needs, and current roster. Looking at our roster post-draft, I still see holes: RG, FS, FB, NT, TE. Million dollar question: Who is our starting RG? Garland? Schweitzer? Robinson? At FS we have Kemal Ishmael (coming off IR) and Ricardo Allen. Ishmael is lights out in run support and will take someone out coming across the middle, but he lacks true deep speed. Allen is inconsistent: Looks like an All-Pro one play and a camp body on the next. Our FB, Derrick Coleman, has a pending week 5-8 NFL suspension facing him for the smoking Spice/Hit-and-Run incident in 2015. Beyond him, journeymen and rookies. At NT, Dontari Poe is a beast, no doubt, but his injury history has me concerned and lack of 320+ depth behind him is also disconcerting especially when the team has identified lack of size as one of the factors for losses last year. I know, Grady Jarrett can play NT effectively, but he is better suited for UT duties. Tight End is going to be interesting, and I felt that we had opportunities to shore up the position this year with all of the available talent at TE in this draft. The camp/preseason battle will be worth watching. Biggest concern is RG, second is FB especially since we couldn't run the ball in the 4th quarter in the SB and don't have the ability to line up in short yardage and get a first down without throwing the ball. SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO POUND THE ROCK!!!


One other note: As a reader, I think that your, wariness, because I don't knowm your heart enough to say dislike, for Thomas Dimitroff, has a tendancy to come out. Just saying...