Atlanta Falcons Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Kendall Sheffield, CB, Ohio State – Round 4
The Falcons saw Robert Alford leave the team this offseason, so they were in need of more cornerback competition. Desmond Trufant and Isaiah Oliver are cornerbacks who have the size to be on the outside, so a smaller corner like Sheffield should work well to be Atlanta’s slot corner. Defenses are in nickel on 70 percent of their snaps, so if Sheffield is the lead nickel corner, he will be a starter for the Atlanta defense.

In 2018, Sheffield totaled 35 tackles, eight breakups and two interceptions. The 5-foot-11, 193-pounder has decent size, but he has excellent speed that was illustrated throughout his college career. Sheffield was said to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.3s, and he has the right mix of speed and athleticism to be a slot corner in the NFL.

Landing Sheffield in the fourth round was quality value for the Falcons, especially considering they did not have a second- or third-round pick thanks to the trade up for right tackle Kaleb McGary. Sheffield has experience and could compete quickly. In time, he could be a solid starter as Atlanta’s nickel corner.

2018: Calvin Ridley, WR
2017: Sean Harlow, G
2016: Austin Hooper, TE
2015: Vic Beasley, DE
2014: Jake Matthews, OT
2013: Desmond Trufant, CB

Most Likely To Bust

Kaleb McGary, OT, Washington – Round 1
While Chris Lindstrom was a bit of a reach in the top 20, Atlanta doubled down by trading back into the first round for McGary. In speaking with sources at other teams, they had McGary graded on the second day of the draft and the tradeup looked very unnecessary.

Atlanta also took McGary over other tackles who had higher consensus grades around the league. That group included Florida’s Jawaan Taylor (Jaguars), Oklahoma’s Cody Ford (Bills),and Ole Miss’ Greg Little (Panthers). Those three all possesses a better athletic skill set than McGary in terms of more athleticism, quickness, and not being size deficient. On top of those players being more physically gifted than McGary, some of them, like Ford, are more developed mentally, as there were teams that had concerns about McGary’s football I.Q. The Falcons could have waited to the second round of the draft to move up for McGary and paid a cheaper price to do it.

In the NFL, I could see McGary having some problems with speed rushers. He is a tough right tackle who should help open holes in the ground game and be able to handle the power left defensive ends and five-techniques. However, speed rushers and unique blitzes off the edge could give him some problems. Of the two picks Atlanta made in the first-round, I think McGary has the most bust potential.

2018: Ito Smith, RB
2017: Takk McKinley, DE
2016: Deion Jones, LB
2015: Jalen Collins, CB
2014: Dez Southward, S
2013: Levine Toilolo, TE

Potential Boom Pick

Chris Lindstrom, G, Boston College – Round 2
Atlanta’s offense wasn’t the quite the same during the past two years as it was when they made a run to the Super Bowl in 2016. After upgrading their receiving weapons for Matt Ryan last year, the Falcons made improving their offensive line a point of emphasis for 2019. While Lindstrom a little higher than expected, he should be a starter at right guard who upgrades the Atlanta offensive line instantly.

Lindstrom looks like a plug-and-play starter in the NFL at right guard. I was watching Senior Bowl practice with a couple of directors of player personnel and they epitomized Lindstrom well when they said, “This Boston College guard is tough as hell.”

That toughness is the first thing that jumps out about Lindstrom, as he is a strong blocker who is tough as nails at the point of attack. He blocks hard through the whistle and mixes it up with defenders on every play. Even if he gets rocked back initially, Lindstrom shows recoverability to gather his feet and balance to reengage the defenders. Against bull rushes, Lindstrom generally has a strong anchor due to his developed strength and quality length for a guard. He also has good technique, playing with proper leverage. Lindstrom uses his strong hands, hand placement, and upper-body strength to sustain his blocks and neutralize defenders from making plays. It is rare to see a player who Lindstrom is blocking get in on a tackle.

In the ground game, Lindstrom can get some movement at the point of attack. He does not have the size of a dominating road grader, but he is strong and fires off the ball. He torques and manipulates defenders to get some openings for his back. He also can get to blocks on linebackers and does a nice job of riding them out of a play when he gets a hold of them.

As a pass blocker, Lindstrom is polished and is very reliable to keep his defender from putting heat on the quarterback. He is smart and adjusts well to games or stunts. Lindstrom does a quality job of riding defenders around the pocket when they try to beat him with speed. In the NFL, interior speed rushers could give him some issues because he does not have special athleticism and does not stand out for having quick feet. However, he should improve with time and be a dependable pass protector.

Lindstrom was a very safe pick, and it would not surprise me if he emerges as one of the better right guards in the NFL during his career. With his Pro Bowl potential, Lindstrom is the prospect who has boom pick potential for the Falcons.

2018: Isaiah Oliver, CB
2017: Duke Riley, LB
2016: Keanu Neal, S
2015: Tevin Coleman, RB
2014: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT
2013: Malliciah Goodman, DE

Future Depth Player

Qadree Ollison, RB, Pittsburgh – Round 5
The Falcons lost Tevin Coleman in free agency, and that opened up a hole for a rotational running back behind Devonta Freeman. Ito Smith and Ollison could rotate as the backup running backs to help keep Freeman healthy and fresh. The 6-foot, 228-pounder brings size to the Atlanta backfield and should provide a nice variety in backup to the shifty Smith. Ollison averaged 6.3 yards per carry in 2018 for 1,213 yards with 11 touchdowns. He probably won’t become a three-down starter with the Falcons, but he could be a solid backup running back who rotates into the game and is able to contribute on special teams.

2018: Russell Gage, WR
2017: Brian Hill, RB
2016: De’Vondre Campbell, LB
2015: Justin Hardy, WR
2014: Devonta Freeman, RB
2013: Robert Alford, CB

Walt’s 2019 NFL Draft Grades:

14. Chris Lindstrom, G, Boston College D- Grade
Look, I understand why the Falcons didn’t select Andre Dillard over Chris Lindstrom. Atlanta desires to be more physical, so Lindstrom would qualify as such over Dillard. However, the value here is zilch. Selecting a guard in the top half of the opening round is highly questionable, especially when considering that teams in the 20s believed Lindstrom would be available to them. I suppose this pick is a byproduct of Christian Wilkins being snatched off the board. It’s a panic move for sure. I like Lindstrom, and he should turn out to be a solid protector for Matt Ryan, but once the Dolphins snatched Wilkins, the Falcons should have moved down six or so spots. They would’ve been able to obtain Lindstrom or someone comparable there.

31. Kaleb McGary, OT, Washington D- Grade
I nearly made this my fourth “F” grade of the night, but the other three were slightly worse. Still, this is a horrible selection, mostly because of the trade. Kaleb McGary is a player I consistently slotted in the 50-75 range of my mock draft. He was regarded as a Round 2-3 prospect, so had the Falcons chosen McGary in the second frame, that would’ve been fine. Trading up for him, however, seems unnecessary and ridiculous, and after what happened in the first round, I have to wonder if Atlanta’s front office created its draft board after a long night of drinking.

111. Kendall Sheffield, CB, Ohio State B Grade
Kendall Sheffield is an extremely raw prospect. He has immense upside because of his athleticism, but he’s a project for sure. The Falcons will need to develop him, or he won’t do anything. However, he’s worth the risk here in the fourth round.

135. John Cominsky, DE, Charleston A Grade
This is a great pick at the end of the fourth round. John Cominsky could’ve been chosen a round earlier than this, but there’s obvious concern with his level of competition. However, Cominsky is a highly athletic player with immense upside. He holds up very well against the run and has the potential to emerge as a potent pass rusher.

152. Qadree Ollison, RB, Pittsburgh D Grade
Qadree Ollison is a tough runner, but offers very limited athleticism and upside. I didn’t think Ollison would be drafted, so this is a reach. The Falcons needed a backup running back after losing Tevin Coleman, but they could’ve done better.

172. Jordan Miller, CB, Washington B Grade
Jordan Miller is a long cornerback (6-1, 186) with above-average athleticism, so there’s some potential with him. However, he needs to be developed. He lacks strength, gets injured too often and misses way too many tackles. This is an OK choice at the end of Round 5.

2019 NFL Draft Team Grade: C- . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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