Atlanta Falcons 2016 NFL Draft Retrospective and Regrade

Atlanta Falcons, NFL Draft Retrospective


How does the Atlanta Falcons 2016 NFL Draft class look three years later?

Coming into 2016, the Atlanta Falcons had several areas that they needed to address. During free agency, they were able to add Pro Bowl Center Alex Mack. General Manager Thomas Dimitroff assumed Mack would be the final piece of the starting offensive line and then he would add a few depth pieces.

Going into the 2016 NFL Draft, the theme was “Fast and Physical.” Head coach Dan Quinn wanted to replicate the pieces he had in Seattle and thought going after fast big hitters was the key to doing so. After losing their initial 5th round pick for pumping in fake crowd noise at the Georgia Dome, the Falcons made one draft day trade in 2016 when they sent the 50th overall pick to the Houston Texans in exchange for the 2016 52nd overall and the 2016 195th overall (in the sixth round).

With those selections, the Falcons took LSU linebacker Deion Jones and San Jose State Guard Wes Schweitzer. The 2016 draft class will more than likely end up being the best class Dimitroff will have ever selected.

Original Grade

Sports Illustrated: D

“The Falcons’ personnel brain trust of Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff has had iffy results in the last few drafts, with Dimitroff as the more tenured veteran in the organization. On its face, this draft looks like another head-scratcher. The Falcons did little to address their defensive line needs, instead, spending the 17th pick on (Keanu) Neal, who looks like a reach there. Jones is a speed linebacker with some safety-level assets—not a bad player, but perhaps another reach.” – Doug Farrar

FanSided: D

Keanu Neal is a decent safety prospect, but he was a massive reach in the middle of the first round. Atlanta needs to be right about Neal, or this will be a pick that general manager Thomas Dimitroff doesn’t live down anytime soon. The rest of this class might not be able to start over the next few years, something that doesn’t bode well for a team in need of talent.” – Matt Verderame

Draft Class

Round 1 (No. 17)

Keanu Neal

S, Florida

Current Team: Atlanta Falcons

Fans hated this pick, most thought he was a third-round pick at best. However, Dan Quinn was looking for another Kam Chancellor-type safety to add to the mix. During his time at the University of Florida, where he was recruited by Quinn, Neal was known as a big hitter but was never able to wow fans with his style of play in college.

He had a good combine and Quinn knew he had his first piece to the “fast and physical” style of defense he wanted to employ. People around the city had their eye on the hometown kid Robert Nkemdiche and Clemson’s defensive end Shaq Lawson as the picks to help beef up the defensive line, which was an area of need despite taking Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett the previous year.

Neal was named to the all-rookie team in 2016 and made the Pro Bowl in 2017. His loss to injury in 2018 was a devastating blow to Quinn’s defense. His impact has been felt on the field by every running back, wide receiver and quarterback who has crossed his face.

Round 2 (No. 52)

Deion Jones

LB, LSU

Current Team: Atlanta Falcons

If fans were not already upset with the Neal pick, then this reach in the second round put them over the top. The Falcons and Quinn opted for speed with this pick, which was made after trading down two spots.

The biggest knock on Jones was he was not a full-time starter at LSU. His combine numbers clearly got Quinn excited as he ran a sub 4.4 40, three-cone time of 7.13 and a 20-yard short shuttle of 4.26. Still, he had never shown anything during his time at LSU. Even LSU fans were puzzled by this pick.

Coming into the 2016 draft the Falcons wanted to find a guy with speed that could keep up with  running backs and tight ends, Jones is definitely that guy. He has quickly become the best cover linebacker in the NFL. Like Neal, Jones was also named to the all-rookie team in 2016, a Pro-Bowler in 2017 and suffered through injuries in 2018.

Round 3 (No. 81)

Austin Hooper

TE, Stanford

Current Team: Atlanta Falcons

Dimitroff was finally looking for the playmaker to replace Tony Gonzalez at tight end, who retired at the end of 2013. While the Falcons drafted another Stanford tight end in 2013, Levine Toilolo, he was turning out to be a much better blocking tight-end than he was a pass catcher.

Matt Ryan loves the tight-end, especially in the red zone. The Falcons desperately wanted to add that type of player back into the mix go along with Julio Jones. Hooper was widely considered the second-best tight end prospect behind Hunter Henry from Arkansas.

Hooper performed well at the combine and the Falcons were elated he was sitting there with the 81st pick in the third round. Hooper took longer to adapt to the NFL than Neal and Jones. Having two different offensive coordinators in his first two seasons did not help Hooper. In his third year, “Hoop” had a career high in catches, yards and touchdowns and was named to the 2018 Pro Bowl.

Round 4 (No. 115)

De’Vondre Campbell

LB, Minnesota

 

Current Team: Atlanta Falcons

There were plenty of football issues that plagued Campbell coming out of Minnesota. Mainly, he did not have the instincts to play linebacker in the NFL. Still, Quinn and Dimitroff loved what they saw from the Gophers linebacker.

Campbell was an All-Big Ten honorable mention on the field and an All-Academic Big Ten in the classroom. Quinn loved his size, frame and work ethic. Campbell was not drafted to be an instant impact guy on the Falcons defense.

However, it was obvious at rookie minicamp he was going to be on the field a lot for the Falcons. Campbell started 10 games for the Falcons as a rookie and collected 48 tackles and five tackles for loss. Campbell’s second year in the league saw him add considerable weight, yet not lose his speed. He and Deion Jones each started all 16 games and formed one of the best one-two punches at linebacker in the NFL. Campbell’s production has increased, as has his role, each year in the NFL.

Round 6 (No. 196) 

Wes Schweitzer

OG, San Jose State

Current Team: Atlanta Falcons

This was a pick of familiarity for the Falcons. Schweitzer’s offensive line coach in college, Keith Carter, had become the assistant OL coach for Atlanta. Schweitzer was added to the Falcons practice squad as a rookie in order to help him developing while moving him from left tackle in college to right guard in the NFL. Schweitzer has started 29 games for the Falcons over the last two seasons, including all 16 in 2017. Regarded as one of the lower-tier and lowest-graded guards in the NFL, it’s still shocking to many he is still on the Falcons active roster.

Round 7 (No. 238)

Devin Fuller

WR, UCLA

Current Team: Free Agent

Devin Fuller is a guy that was highly productive in college. He finished his career with more than 140 catches and was one of the Pac 12’s best kick returners. After not being invited to the NFL Combine, he jumped on the radar of many teams thanks to his Pro Day,when he ran a 4.37 40-yard dash.

Unfortunately for Fuller, hearing his name called in the seventh round would be the only highlight of his NFL career. His 2016 would end in training camp when a shoulder injury put him on IR and then in 2017 he tore his ACL in training camp. The Falcons released him during the summer of 2018.

Retrospective Grade

Deion Jones is the best cover linebacker in the NFL. His impact on the Falcons defense is seen every single week. When Jones is healthy, Atlanta has a Top 10 defense. When he missed nine games in 2018 due to injury, the defense was terrible.

Jones, Keanu Neal, and Austin Hooper have all made at least one Pro Bowl in their first three seasons wearing the Red & Black. Wes Schweitzer has made more than 20 starts over the last two seasons and De’Vondre Campbell has started in 39 of the 43 games he has appeared in.

Devin Fuller is the lone draft pick from 2016 that was never able to catch on and that was due to injuries.

WIth three Pro Bowlers, the 2016 Falcons draft class will go down as the most important to the Quinn era and one of the best draft classes Dimitroff has had during his time in Atlanta. There have been better individual pieces drafted in previous years. However, the 2016 class top to bottom is the class that put the Falcons over the top and took them from pretender to contender.



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