Dec 11, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley (44) is greeted by Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (97) after he scored on a 21-yard fumble recovery in the third quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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The Atlanta Falcons made the most of Day 3 of the 2017 NFL Draft as they know all too well, it’s not how you start but how you end that matters.
By doing so, the Atlanta Falcons fulfilled their immediate needs and long term needs, giving head coach Dan Quinn the weapons he needs for a Super Bowl caliber team for multiple years. It will take some time for the veterans and rookies to develop chemistry and good rapport, and even for some players (such as McKinley) to recover from injury, but the Falcons have a good and stable foundation. And they also have the opportunity to continue building upon their success in the unofficial eighth round: undrafted free agency.
Let’s take a look at how well Day 3 of the Draft went for the team.
Mar 2, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Oregon State offensive lineman Sean Harlow speaks to the media during the 2017 combine at Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Round 4, No. 135: Sean Harlow, OL – Oregon State
The Atlanta Falcons offense had one of its best seasons in 2016, but couldn’t establish equilibrium between its passing and rushing attacks. Running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman were forced to settle for minimal gains and at times, simply stuffed at the line. The team finished the season tied at fifth place in the league with 62 negative rushing plays.
Things got worse before they got better for the Falcons offense. When Chris Chester retired and free agent Patrick DiMarco signed with the Buffalo Bills this offseason, the Atlanta Falcons were left with gaping holes in their offensive line. Therefore, the team kicked off their Day 3 draft picks by selecting Oregon State offensive lineman Sean Harlow in the fourth round (No. 135 overall pick).
Although the Falcons have a pressing need at guard specifically, and Harlow doesn’t have a lot of experience at the position, he’s demonstrated real skill in run blocking. Furthermore, his ability to play tackle and center affords the Falcons the versatility they need.
Listed at 303 pounds, Harlow is undersized but is powerful, explosive, and has a great amount of upper body strength. He’ll have to work on his technique and probably won’t beat Wes Schweitzer, Ben Garland, and Hugh Thornton for the starting guard position, but gives the Falcons options this season as well as in the future as he improves his technique. And considering that the team hasn’t exactly gotten everything it wants out of its offensive line, options are good.
Mar 6, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; San Diego State defensive back Damontae Kazee runs the 40 yard dash during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Round 5, No. 149: Damontae Kazee, CB – San Diego State
The Atlanta Falcons had needs on offense, defense and special teams this offseason, but spent three of their first four draft picks boosting their defense. While to some that might not be seen as the best approach, it is. After the team and defense collapsed in the Super Bowl, the Falcons absolutely had to take advantage of this year’s defense-heavy draft class by adding both starters and depth.
They selected Damontae Kazee out of San Diego State with their first of three fifth-rounders. He’s listed as a cornerback, but will likely be utilized exclusively as a nickel or at safety. The Atlanta Falcons found a gem in the fifth round. Kazee is a beast on the field as a relentless ballhawk with speed that allows him to keep up with receivers and also get ahead of them. Furthermore, with his versatility, he can play on the outside or in the slot and come up with big plays on defense and also make an impact on special teams from the start.
In addition to his play, Kazee has the intangible skills Dan Quinn looks for: leadership, intelligence, and mental strength. He fits right into the Atlanta Falcons brotherhood and has the potential to carry over his role as team captain from college to the NFL. The Falcons are making it very clear that character factors greatly into their selections and because of that, the team has young players that can represent it in the best light, on and off the field.
Nov 12, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Wyoming Cowboys running back Brian Hill (5) rushes for a touchdown during a game against the UNLV Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium. UNLV won the game in the third overtime period 69-66. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Round 5, No. 156: Brian Hill, RB – Wyoming
The Atlanta Falcons have two starting running backs in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Unless they leave the Falcons or miss time with injury, Brian Hill out of Wyoming won’t start. However, he can be utilized to throw the defense off or on third- or fourth-down situations with his physicality. Even if he sees little playing time during his rookie season, he will have the opportunity to learn from elite running backs and hone his pass protection skills, which will give the Falcons a solid back in the future.
Hill is a power back when compared to Freeman and Coleman. He plows through the defense and could punch it in at the goal line. Regardless of whether he’s the intended back for a play or not, his blocking will pave the way for Freeman and Coleman to gain yardage. Hill also maintains ball security even after taking hits. This gives him an advantage when competing for a spot.
I anticipate the competition at fullback and running back being the biggest battle during training camp. With Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Derrick Coleman, Sona Vainuku and now, Brian Hill, the Atlanta Falcons have multiple options and if they implement a running-back-by-committee rotation, they may finally balance their play on the ground and with their potent aerial attck.
Round 5, No. 174: Eric Saubert, TE – Drake
The Atlanta Falcons had a void in their offense when veteran tight end Jacob Tamme left. They filled it by selecting Eric Saubert out of Drake University with their final fifth-round pick.
Saubert is a star when running routes with his speed, instinctiveness, and ability to track the ball in the air. He lays it all out on the field (sometimes with acrobatic catches) and it pays off as he’s been able to rack up several touchdowns. Saubert makes the difficult catches away from his body as he hunts the ball. In addition to that, he can make all the difference for the Falcons in the red zone — if he remains focused, that is.
Saubert needs to hone in on his blocking skills and become more consistent but has the potential to help the Falcons go all the way. Needless to say, the Atlanta Falcons won with this pick and in this year’s draft.