The Atlanta Falcons may have found another pass rushing specialist in Takkarist McKinley, but this year’s NFL Draft class may be all about Duke Riley.
The third round pick out of LSU could be what defines the six players who came off the board for the Red and Black. In his four years in Baton Rouge, Riley played for three defensive coordinators, which some may say could hurt a player’s development. In a story by Matt Moscona on Gridiron Now, Riley said Dave Aranda, the defensive coach for his final year in the program, is the one who had the most impact on him.
“I tell him — he hates to hear this, but he’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” Riley said of Aranda on my radio show Tuesday.
After spending his first three seasons at LSU as a reserve and special teams ace, he earned a starting job as a senior — Aranda’s first season with the Tigers — and led the team with 93 tackles. Riley was named the 2016 LSU team MVP.
“Dave Aranda came in and basically slowed the game down so much for me,” Riley said. “It was kind of like a blessing.”
It’s that kind of performance the Falcons will be looking for this season. While the team steamrolled through the regular season with an offense that never knew an off switch, there were still signs of trouble on defense. The New England Patriots exposed those weaknesses in … well, you know what happened.
The idea of joining former LSU teammate Deion Jones in the middle of the Falcons defense is something he looks forward to. Also, given his versatility, he could have an impact on his new team’s defense early on in his rookie season.
“I played the Sam. I played the Will. I played the Mike,” Riley said, illustrating why the Falcons coaches were impressed enough to draft him. “I can play all three and I’m smart enough to know all three.”
The Atlanta Falcons showed their hand this past week, using three of their first four picks on the defensive side of the ball. Here’s a look at the team’s draft class and analysis of their choices.
Round 1, Pick 26 (No. 26 overall) (From Seahawks) Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA
The Falcons got the player they targeted all along. The pass rusher could also see time at edge/outside linebacker. His intensity (as noted in the green room on draft night) is something this team still needs. Pairing him with Vic Beasley gives Atlanta two young pass rushers to build the defense around
Round 3 Pick 11 (No. 75 overall) Duke Riley, LB, LSU
Riley was a success in the college ranks because of ability and determination. Look for him to take a bit of time to adjust to the speed of the pro game, but find plenty of success. I like the idea of him working with former LSU teammate, Deion Jones. The Falcons built a young secondary last season. This season they continue to build a strong linebacker unit.
Round 4, Pick 30 (No. 136 overall): Sean Harlow, G, Oregon State
According to his draft analysis on ESPN.com, the Atlanta Falcons need someone to step up at their guard position and Harlow will get every opportunity to win a starting job there in camp. Matt Ryan was hit 105 times last season (5th most in NFL). Keeping the reigning NFL MVP upright is essential. I like his size and his ability to tackle low and move a defensive tackle backward on the initial snap. I good selection this deep in the Draft.
Round 5, Pick 5 (No. 149 overall) Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego State
Defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, former DB coach, gets one of the best nickel corners in this class. Kazee is a “dog” with ball skills who should make his way onto the field early and often in the Falcons’ sub packages next season. His size at 5-foot-10 and 184 could provide matchup problems for opposing wideouts. A player who will need time to adjust to the next level.
Round 5, Pick 12 (No. 156 overall) Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming
Upon his selection by the Falcons, Hill said the team just got the best running back in the draft. You indeed have to like that in a player who is picked this low. The Falcons have two good running backs in Tevin Coleman and Deonta Freeman, Hill at 220 pounds could be a nice goal line addition to the rotation.
Round 5, Pick 31 (No. 174 overall) Eric Saubert, TE, Drake University
Saubert played in a spread offense at Drake and has raw talent. He also has nice size to be a blocker on the line or a possession-type third-down pass catcher. I also think he will take a year or two to adjust to the next level and will spend his first season on the Practice Squad
Analysis: Solid picks for the Atlanta Falcons with McKinley Riley and Harlow. The team also added depth with Kazee, who could be in the rotation by midseason. Atlanta knew it needed help on the defensive side of the ball and addressed those issues.