Atlanta Falcons Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell - @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Sean Harlow, G, Oregon State - Round 4
Atlanta has a quality offensive line with some young talent, but the team still allowed Matt Ryan to take too many hits last year. Entering the offseason, the Falcons had one starting spot open as they needed a guard to finish off their line. They waited until the fourth round, but came away with a player who could compete to be a starter in Harlow.

At 6-foot-4, 303 pounds, Harlow has quality size for an interior blocker to go along with some quickness and athleticism. He also has some strength at the point of attack and should be able to compete quickly in training camp to start for Atlanta. The Falcons like to employ zone blocking, and Harlow is a good fit for that system. He was a nice value pick in the fourth round.

Harlow should be able to beat out the Falcons' holdovers to form a guard tandem with Andy Levitre. Levitre is 31 years old, so before too long Atlanta will have to think of replacing him. Between those two guard positions, Harlow has a good opportunity, and he has the skill set to become a quality starter quickly for the Falcons.

2016: Austin Hooper, TE
2015: Vic Beasley, DE
2014: Jake Matthews, OT
2013: Desmond Trufant, CB

Most Likely To Bust

Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA - Round 1
I wrote prior to the draft that McKinley stood out to me as a player with bust potential. For starters, he is undersized to play as an edge defender at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds. He also lacks pass-rushing moves, and everything is based off his speed rush and running around blockers. While McKinley is fast, he is extremely tight and stiff as a rusher. There were games last year where he was destroyed as a run defender, so that could limit his playing time, at least early in his career, and he could be a liability against the run throughout his time in the league.

For the NFL, McKinley is a fast and explosive high-motor run-chase defender. He enters the league as a one-trick pony speed rusher, however. McKinley is very fast off the edge with an explosive first-step and excellent closing speed but lacks moves. He is purely a speed rusher and needs to enrich his technique for the pro game. Long offensive tackles also will give McKinley problems getting around them. In run defense, McKinkley can get pushed around as his size hurts him at holding his ground. He can get shoved out of his gap and ridden around the field. McKinkley is at his best in pursuit using his explosive speed to chase down backs.

Sources have also said that McKinkley has a shoulder issue and is also not being a slam dunk on the character side. Particularly, McKinkley can be moody and slow to trust, which impacts relationships with coaches and teammates. Thus, I think there are a lot of potential issues that could lead to McKinley being a bust. Considering Atlanta has its first- and second-round pick invested in McKinley, if he goes bust it would be very costly for the organization.

2016: Deion Jones, LB
2015: Jalen Collins, CB
2014: Dez Southward, S
2013: Levine Toilolo, TE

Potential Boom Pick

Duke Riley, LB, LSU - Round 3
The Falcons were happy with what they got from LSU linebacker Deion Jones as a rookie, and they doubled down with fast Tigers linebackers - reuniting Jones and Riley - by taking Riley in the third round. Jones had a strong debut in his rookie year and looks like Atlanta's long-term starter at Will - weakside - linebacker. Riley could be his partner in the middle and form one of the faster linebacking duos in the NFL.

Riley was a backup before coming on as a senior. He had an impressive game against Alabama and got better as the year progressed. In 2016, Riley totaled 93 tackles with nine for a loss, 1.5 sacks, one pass batted and one interception. He played well on special teams for the Tigers before becoming a starter as a senior. The 6-foot, 235-pounder could add some weight in the NFL to hold up in the ground game.

In the passing-driven NFL, it makes sense to have fast linebackers who can fly around the field. Riley and Jones should help Atlanta's ability to cover receiving targets in the short to intermediate part of the field while also having the speed and athleticism to cover tight ends. Before long, Riley should turn into a good starter for Atlanta, and he could be boom pick as a plus middle linebacker in the modern NFL.

2016: Keanu Neal, S
2015: Tevin Coleman, RB
2014: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT
2013: Malliciah Goodman, DE

Future Depth Player

Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming - Round 5
Falcons starting running back Devonta Freeman is in the last year of his contract, and Atlanta is expected to make a push at re-signing him. Even if Freeman leaves the team, Tevin Coleman is in-house and has proven to be an effective pro. Thus, the depth chart looks too stacked for Hill to become the starter in Atlanta. However, he should be a good rotational and backup running back. Hill (6-1, 219) is a big back who can be used in short-yardage and goal-line situations to spare the veterans some pounding. Hill is a thick runner who produced a lot of yards and points for Wyoming. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2016 for 1,860 yards with 22 touchdowns last year. Hill may not have the speed or receiving skills to be a starter in the NFL, but he should be a nice rotational backup for Atlanta.

2016: De'Vondre Campbell, LB
2015: Justin Hardy, WR
2014: Devonta Freeman, RB
2013: Robert Alford, CB

Walt's 2017 NFL Draft Grades:

26. Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB, UCLA: C+ Grade
So, let me get this straight? Jonathan Allen and Reuben Foster fell because of injury concerns, yet Takkarist McKinley doesn't? Maybe McKinley could've gone a bit earlier, but he won't be able to play to open the 2017 season, unlike Allen and Foster. The Falcons are attempting to reach the Super Bowl this year, so not being able to have McKinley at full strength isn't ideal. He could be a great player for the Falcons once he's healthy, but the injuries are a concern. I'm giving the Falcons a C+ as a result. I don't like giving up the third-rounder to get McKinley when there were lots of good pass-rushers on the board.

75. Duke Riley, LB, LSU: B Grade
Duke Riley doesn't have much experience as a 1-year starter at LSU, but he was a big-time play-maker this past season. He's very athletic, which the Falcons love. Atlanta needed a linebacker, so this pick makes sense. Riley fits the range as a solid third-round prospect.

136. Sean Harlow, G, Oregon State: C+ Grade
The Falcons had to fill a big void at guard, but I'm not sure Sean Harlow is the answer. He's a tough blocker, but has lacking athleticism and sub-par size. On the bright side, he's versatile, as he can play tackle or center in a pinch. He'll be a quality backup, but probably not much else.

149. Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego State: B+ Grade
Damontae Kazee fits the range, as I had him slated as a fifth-round pick, and teams can never have enough cornerback depth. Kazee seems like he'll play in the slot, where he could snatch a decent amount of interceptions if he gets the playing time because of his positive ball skills.

156. Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming: A Grade
This is a great value pick for the Falcons, as Brian Hill was seen as a potential third-round prospect by some, including myself. Hill is a very talented runner, but really needs to work on his pass-protection skills. The Falcons are loaded at running back for now, but Devonta Freeman is an impending free agent after this season, so Hill provides insurance.

174. Eric Saubert, TE, Drake: B+ Grade
Eric Saubert is an athletic tight end who was productive at Drake. He's a bit of a project, but he has big-time upside, and he could pass Austin Hooper if Hooper doesn't develop as expected. This is a solid choice.

2017 NFL Draft Team Grade: B- . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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