Falcons use last day of draft to build depth on offense
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Falcons added depth on offense during the last day of the NFL draft, picking a guard, a running back and a tight end to complement a unit that led the league in scoring last season.
Atlanta also added a cornerback, but Saturday was mostly about building depth around quarterback Matt Ryan, the league’s MVP.
Oregon State guard Sean Harlow was picked in the fourth round. Running back Brian Hill of Wyoming and tight end Eric Saubert of Drake were taken in the fifth.
All three have a good chance to make the 53-man roster. Atlanta is looking for a starting right guard and needs a proven backup at running back and tight end.
Defensive back Damontae Kazee of San Diego State, a fifth-round pick, will try to carve out a role as a nickel corner or a backup safety, but that might be tough even on a defense that blew a 25-point lead in the Falcons’ stunning Super Bowl loss to New England.
First-round pick Takkarist McKinley, a defensive end from UCLA, is the only draft class member projected to begin the season as a starter. LSU linebacker Duke Riley, a third-round pick, will begin training camp behind starters Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell.
NO LOSS FOR WORDS
Hill didn’t follow the usual script in a follow-up phone call with reporters, getting emotional as soon as he started to talk.
”The Falcons just got the best running back in this draft in the fifth round,” he said.
Hill described himself as a distinct part of Atlanta’s backfield. Even with two-time Pro Bowl selection Devonta Freeman and talented backup Tevin Coleman taking most of the snaps, Hill promised to add more toughness to the position.
”My style is violent,” he said. ”I run the ball with a passion. I run the ball with a will not to go down.”
General manager Thomas Dimitroff agreed.
”He’s an angry runner,” he said. ”It’s fun to watch him.”
Hill averaged 1,745 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns over his last two years at Wyoming, but those numbers mean nothing in the NFL. To distinguish himself, Hill first needs to earn a role on special teams and then add something the team lacks.
At 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, Hill has the size to solve one of Atlanta’s shortcomings in short-yardage situations. The Falcons need someone who can push the pile.
TRYING TO STAND OUT
There’s only one starting job open on offense after right guard Chris Chester retired. Harlow will compete with Hugh Thornton, a veteran signed last month as a free agent from Indianapolis, and second-year backup Wes Schweitzer.
Coach Dan Quinn expects brisk competition. There’s no clear favorite.
”Wes is having the offseason of his life and battling for it in every way,” Quinn said. ”I have a sense that Sean is made of the same things. That’s what everyone has reported to us.”
Dimitroff likes that Harlow, whose father Pat played offensive tackle from 1992-98 with New England and Oakland, ”has strong bloodlines.” The Falcons have fared well with left tackle Jake Matthews, whose father Bruce was a Hall of Fame tackle with Houston and Tennessee.
DEFINING A ROLE
Kazee can play corner, nickel and both safety positions if necessary, but he faces lots of competition.
Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, both signed to long-term contracts, are the starting cornerbacks. Jalen Collins and Brian Poole are solid at nickel.
At safety, Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen have no job security issues, and primary backup Kemal Ishmael has proven himself as an emergency starter.
IT’S SOMEBODY’S JOB
There’s a vacancy at tight end after Jacob Tamme, whose season ended early with shoulder surgery, wasn’t re-signed.
Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo shared the starting job after Tamme went down. Saubert will need to beat out Joshua Perkins and likely an undrafted college free agent to earn the spot behind Hooper and Toilolo.
The Falcons made two trades during the draft and had no sixth- or seventh-round spots after Saubert’s name came off the board.
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- Atlanta Falcons
- Austin Hooper
- Brian Poole
- Chris Chester
- Deion Jones
- Desmond Trufant
- Devonta Freeman
- Hugh Thornton
- Indianapolis Colts
- Jacob Tamme
- Jake Matthews
- Jalen Collins
- Joshua Perkins
- Keanu Neal
- Kemal Ishmael
- Levine Toilolo
- Matt Ryan
- NFC South
- Ricardo Allen
- Robert Alford
- Tevin Coleman
- Wes Schweitzer