The FALCONS have been on a very nice roll since the hiring of DAN QUINN as Head Coach. Despite losing their Super Bowl team OC KYLE SHANAHAN, before last season, the team scrambled their way into the Play-Offs in good measure thanks to their 4-2 divisional record. The NFC South has become one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. This requires a steady flow of new talent to be added to the team each year. So let’s look at the 2018 Draft effort by GM THOMAS DIMITROFF and his personnel people.
I was surprised to hear more than a few folks expressed surprise that the team would select the best WR in this Draft, CALVIN RIDLEY/Alabama with their Pick at 26. He was arguably the best WR in the 2018 Draft. He looks as good, or IMO better than, AMARI COOPER now with the Raiders. It is also a fact that the Falcons receiving corps was a bit thin in the WR group. RIDLEY is fast enough 4.45/40 to help stretch the field. But best of all he is a sure handed, route running perfectionist, who made a lot of big plays for the Crimson Tide. He caught 63 balls in the ‘Bama offense with a mediocre throwing QB named HURTS last season. Stir him into the mix with vet wideouts, JULIO, SANU and HARDY and you have a deep and versatile group for MATT RYAN to throw too. Remember the old adage about drafting the best available athlete? That is what the FALCONS did and it should pay immediate dividends.
With Pick 58, in Round 2 the team flipped to Defense and selected Colorado CB, ISAIAH OLIVER, whose style of play and physical makeup remind me of a guy named REVIS, whose career may have just wrapped up. Last season for the Buffalos he was voted Pac 12 First Team while recording 13 PBU and 2 INT. He is not a speedster (4.52/40) but he is physical (6’0/201) and plays with savvy. His job was usually to cover the opponents’ top wideout. He is a solid tackler, but does not always look to rush into the heat of battle and throw his body around in run support. I expect him to play multiple sub-package roles initially, and may even supplant ROBERT ALFORD, who is penalty prone with his grabbiness, as the starting CB opposite of Trufant. Looks to me like they got two starting players with nice size and athleticism to start the draft.
In Round 3, with Pick 90 they might have reached a bit, but when you analyze their defense you can see the logic in selecting DEADRIN SENAT/DT/South Florida. The 6’0/314 bulldozer, with quicks, reminds me a lot of their top Interior DL, GRADY JARRETT. SENAT was at the Shrine venue this January, and despite all the deserved praise heaped on P.J. HALL, taken in Round 2 by the Raiders, I felt SENAT was the more productive, impressive player in the interior DL at that venue. He explodes at the snap of the ball, and stays low, which causes problems for blockers who are mostly 5-6″ taller than him. He is also strong like a bull in that low charging burst. As an interior DL he recorded 66 tackles last season, including 10.5 TFL which featured 6 sacks. Want an example of his strength and power? How about a Bench Press count of 35 reps at the Combine. Very strong hands (9 3/4″) and a very high rev motor. Having 2 JARRETT-style players is not going to be a bad thing.
In Round 4, at Pick 126, the team might have reached just a bit, but ITO SMITH/RB/Southern Miss is a versatile, quality offensive weapon who will add some needed depth to the FALCONS RB group. He is 5’9/198, and ran a respectable 4.49/40 at his Pro Day. He was a ‘local boy’ invite to the Senior Bowl and showed his versatility and overall talent during the week. He has large, 9 3/8″ hands, which could make him quite a weapon sneaking out of the backfield and into patterns. Not a great blocker in pass pro, but is willing and holds his own most of the time. In 2017 he rushed for 1413 yards at 5.7 ypc, and 13 TD. He also caught 40 passes including another 2 TD. ITO also uses his nice speed/quickness combination to return Kicks and Punts. FREEMAN and COLEMAN are a top notch RB combo, but FREEMAN showed some wear and tear last season, including 2 worrisome stints in the League’s concussion protocol. I think it worth mentioning that SMITH received All-Conference recognition last season, both on the field and academically. He’s a smart, hard working player who should be a joy in the locker room. Just as a point of info his real first name is ROMARIUS.
The FALCONS finished their Draft effort up with a couple of superior athletes who will most likely add speed to their Special Teams units, with a chance for positional roles over time. At Pick 194 they selected RUSSELL GAGE/WR/LSU. GAGE got some serious late Draft attention after having some very solid games late in the season at LSU. He has natural athleticism but isn’t much of a football player… yet. I liken him to another former LSU standout athlete named Russell Shepard, who has made a name for himself as a Special Teams ace in the League, but has failed to develop much as a receiver for either Tampa or Carolina. GAGE could be a gadget player (reverses, etc) and Special Teams ace (6’0/180), but only time. and serious coaching can possibly make him more than that.
Their final Pick at 200, was the small school standout in FOYESADE OLUOKUN/LB/Yale who will bring added speed and a very high motor to the Special Teams room. At 6’2/215, and with a reported 4.48/40 time, and a 37″ vert, FOYESADE appears to have the numbers to play that fairly new/hybrid IB/SS role in an NFL Defense. Last season at Yale he had 50 tackles, including 3 sacks and had 4/PBU and 1 INT. I cannot tell a lie, and admit that I have not seen this guy on game film. DIMITROFF is known for having his scouting troops identify “athletes” who would be considered developmental projects for later rounds, and that looks to hold true in both of these 6 Rounders.
I cannot argue with the overall success of the FALCONS under the guidance of Dimitroff, but I would add that his drafts often do not follow the norm on prospect rankings from first to last pick. This group fits his overall style. But I would also add that he seems to have rounded up a better than average URFA group this year, which could come in handy beefing up the bottom end of the FALCONS roster.