Atlanta Falcons Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Austin Hooper, TE, Stanford – Round 3
The Falcons have had a huge hole in their offense since the retirement of Tony Gonzalez. They had hoped that Levine Toilolo would fill the void, but Toilolo has proved to just be backup quality. Atlanta was fortunate to land Hooper in the third round as that is a good value for getting the second-rated tight end in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Hooper is an athletic receiver who is very sure-handed and adept at working the middle seam of the defense. He also is a good drive blocker, and sources said that Hooper impressed them in their interviews with his intelligence. Even though he entered the draft early, I think Hooper could be a solid starter for the Falcons as soon as during his rookie season.

Last season, Atlanta’s passing attack became one-dimensional with only Julio Jones posing a threat to defenses. The Falcons have upgraded their passing offense with the addition of Hooper and Mohamed Sanu. Those two players should help to take advantage of defenses focusing on Jones. Hooper should be a quick upgrade and give the Falcons a solid starting tight end.

Most Likely To Bust

Deion Jones, LB, LSU – Round 2
Jones received a far amount of media hype leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, but I knew a number of NFL sources that felt that Jones was being overrated. They feel that Jones (6-1, 219) has major size issues, and he isn’t much bigger than most starting safeties in the NFL. They felt that Jones is too undersized to be an every-down linebacker, and he is a linebacker to only play in the nickel unless he is able to add weight and strength.

While NFL defenses are playing the nickel for the majority of their snaps, Jones is still going to have problems with runs coming downhill at him. Pro running backs and offensive linemen are going to be a real physical challenge for Jones. He is very fast with sideline-to-sideline speed to fly around the field, but scouts have told me that Jones’ instincts are questionable. He also was a 1-year wonder in college as well.

I think that Jones’ issues with instincts and size could end up making him a bust for Atlanta. He could be well suited as a pass defender, but I have doubts that he will ever develop into a three-down starter. Of the Falcons’ early round picks, I see the most bust potential with Jones.

Potential Boom Pick

Keanu Neal, S, Florida – Round 1
Atlanta took Keanu Neal higher than expected, but it wasn’t a complete shock to me. Teams around the league loved Neal for a variety of reasons. On the field, they liked how he could play free or strong safety. Neal has the size to defend against the run, big receivers, and tight ends. He also has the speed to cover ground in the deep end of the field. Neal is a developed and versatile safety.

In 2015, Neal had 85 tackles with a pass breakup and interception. He was a tough defender for Florida, but needs to continue to improve his coverage skills for the NFL and work on wrapping up ball-carriers rather than looking for the knock-out blow. Neal has good instincts and showed that playing strong safety as a junior with a lot of time at free safety during his sophomore season. Team sources also said that Neal is great off the field. He is a good kid, hard-working, and absolutely loves football.

I think Neal will be able to step in quickly for Atlanta. The Falcons had a huge hole at safety. and Neal has a lot of experience against top competition. He could start out his career at strong safety, but before long, I think he will prove to be a versatile player who can play either spot. That is a valuable commodity to have, and I think Neal has a lot of upside to develop. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if becomes a Pro Bowl safety for Atlanta.

Future Depth Player

De’Vondre Campbell, LB, Minnesota – Round 4
Like Jones, Campbell is a fast linebacker who will upgrade the speed in the middle of Atlanta’s defense. Campbell (6-4, 232) has versatile size to be a middle or outside linebacker, but on the exterior is his long-term home if he were to develop into a starter. However, his current size really is excellent for him to be a game-day backup at middle or outside linebacker. Very quickly Campbell could be a valuable backup and special teamer for Atlanta.

Walt’s 2016 NFL Draft Grades:

17. Keanu Neal, S, Florida C- Grade
Not a great pick. Keanu Neal was seen as a high second-rounder who had a chance to stumble into the opening frame in the late 20s. This is a reach, especially when considering that Myles Jack and Shaq Lawson were on the board; not to mention Darron Lee and Kevin Dodd. There were better options for the Falcons, who could’ve obtained a decent safety in the second round. I don’t like this very much, but it’s not Millen-worthy.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

52. Deion Jones, LB, LSU C+ Grade
I was shocked to see the Falcons pass on Darron Lee and reach for Keanu Neal in the first round. This is yet another reach, though not nearly as blatant. Deion Jones seemed like a mid third-round prospect, but he definitely fits a need. It’s also not completely surprising to see him chosen, as he fits Atlanta’s athleticism requirement. Jones has great upside, but his floor is pretty low as well, as he doesn’t seem to have the strength to play very much right now.

81. Austin Hooper, TE, Stanford A- Grade
The Falcons continue to draft their supreme athletes. Austin Hooper definitely is one, as he tested extremely well, which may have mitigated his lack of experience in college. Still, he’s a very good pick for Atlanta, as he could’ve been chosen a round earlier. He’d fill an extremely obvious need, as the Falcons have had a big hole at tight end since Tony Gonzalez retired.

115. De’Vondre Campbell, LB, Minnesota C- Grade
I don’t think I can get behind De’Vondre Campbell in the fourth round. Campbell, who was probably a sixth-round prospect, maintains below-average athleticism and put together mediocre film from his time in Minnesota. He’s a project for sure, and he’ll be relegated to special teams. The Falcons could’ve done better.

195. Wes Schweitzer, G, San Jose State C- Grade
It’s a good thing that the Falcons added some offensive line depth, but I didn’t have Wes Schweitzer ranked in my top 400 players. From the confusion going around with him, I’m guessing most people didn’t think he’d be drafted. Schweitzer projects as a fit for Atlanta’s blocking scheme, but he probably could’ve been obtained as a UDFA.

238. Devin Fuller, WR, UCLA B+ Grade
Credit the Falcons for buying low with this pick. Devin Fuller played well prior to 2015, but dealt with numerous injuries this past season. A solid athlete, Fuller has the talent to make Atlanta’s final roster if he can remain healthy. That’s a good thing, as Mohamed Sanu is terrible and needs to be upgraded eventually.

2016 NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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