ATLANTA – May 4 – Sean Nerny
The 2016 NFL Draft is in the books, but the journey has just begun for this year’s crop of rookies, as well as the coaches who are entrusted to get the most out of them. There was no lack of suspense during the early rounds as we watched Myles Jack fall out of the first round due to his knee, and Laremy Tunsil fall due to a bong/gas mask. I dare say that nothing will ever top that draft story. We saw local favorites taken in early rounds, Leonard Floyd to the Bears and Adam Gotsis to the Broncos. The two biggest surprises both came in the second round, when the Cowboys selected injured LB Jaylon Smith and Tampa Bay TRADED UP for FSU Kicker Roberto Aguayo.
The Falcons came into the draft with multiple needs to fill, which often led to skipping over better talent in order to help complete the roster. Due to “Noisegate” and Andy LeVitre, Thomas Dimitroff and company came into Thursday night with only five picks to work with, but were able to get one of those picks back after trading down in the second round. Here’s a quick rundown of what the Falcons did.
Keanu Neal S UF
Pros: Hard hitting strong safety who should step in as a starter immediately. Dan Quinn recruited Neal while at UF so the pair knows each other better than most rookie/HC combos. Great character guy so I’m not expecting any Jalen Collins-like situations with Neal. Nightmare against the run game, he totaled 95 tackles last season while missing two games. Neal is the type of player the “hit stick” on Madden was created for.
Cons: Most draft experts had Neal rated as a second to fourth round pick. While I believe he is worthy of a late first round selection, I would’ve liked Thomas to have found a way to move back from 17. As with most hard hitting players injury is a risk with Neal. He missed two games in each of his last two years at UF due to injury. While he is a stud against the run game, you are not going to want to match Neal up against AJ Green.
Deion Jones LB LSU
Pros: Many people were shocked in the first round when the Falcons passed on speedy LB Darren Lee. Turns out, Deion Jones was the Darren Lee of round two. Jones ran a stunning 4.38 40 yard dash at his Pro Day and is a sideline to sideline guy with the ability to comfortably drop back into coverage. With five sacks in 2015, Deion can get to the QB when asked. He also has plenty of experience playing special teams. Here’s a bonus, his parents named him after Deion Sanders.
Cons: Jones was only a one year starter at LSU and is lacking experience due to that. He was backing up Tampa Bay’s Kwon Alexander so he is given a pass but he still may need to be coached up a bit. Jones is slightly undersized and scouts wonder if his frame has “maxed out”.
Austin Hooper TE STAN
Pros: Initially I was upset to see the Falcons go TE here, but the more I read into Hooper the more I’m starting to warm up to him. He is a red zone threat at 6’4 and caught six touchdown passes in 2015. Hooper is more fluid as a route runner than Levine Toilolo and should work in behind Jacob Tamme on the depth chart sooner than later.
Cons: Tight ends often have a larger learning curve when transitioning into the NFL and I expect Hooper to follow suit. Even Tyler Eifurt, who is one of the league’s top tight ends, took a few years to get things going. Hooper is going to have to bulk up a bit and work on his blocking skills.
De’Vondre Campbell LB MINN
Pros: Campbell may very well end up being the best NFL player taken in this Falcons draft class. He has a perfect frame at 6’4 235 pounds with some room to add more weight. Campbell has the speed to come off the edge and led the Gophers with four sacks in 2015. Most scouts agree that his best football is still ahead of him. A very high production guy, Campbell should contribute on special teams right away.
Cons: Campbell is nowhere near ready to start at LB in this league. While his potential is through the roof, Dan Quinn is going to have to mold this young man into a dominant player. Too often he was out of position at LB and really took himself out of plays. The good news is that he has the right body frame and attitude to be the perfect guy to “coach up”.
Wes Schweitzer G SJST
Pros: Anything that can be done to unseat Andy LeVitre as a starting guard has to be considered a positive move. I was anticipating the Falcons going guard earlier in the day but I am glad they eventually brought one in. Apparently this is one smart kid who is working on a PhD. Good size, 6’4 300 pounds and he put up 28 reps on the bench press.
Cons: Not too much is known about Schweitzer, many draft scouts did not have him on their draft boards. The only question I have with this pick is why the OL was not addressed sooner in the draft?
Devin Fuller WR UCLA
Pros: The Atlanta Falcons will save 3 million against the cap by releasing Devin Hester, drafting Devin Fuller could make the front office lean that direction. The wide out ran a 4.39 40 yard time and averaged almost 25 yards per kickoff return last year. It is a win anytime you can get a guy in the seventh round that ends up touching the field, and I see that happening with this guy.
Cons: The Falcons are fairly set in the WR depth chart with Julio, Sanu and Justin Hardy, so Fuller is going to have to prove himself quickly as a return threat is he wants to end up making a game day roster.
As in every draft, you never really know how you did until a few years down the road. Dimitroff and company filled many needs, but I believe defensive end was one they missed on. Arthur Blank mentioned publicly that he wanted starters produced from this draft and Neal, Jones and Schweitzer(because of who is in front of him) all have the potential to be starters next season.