Vaughn McClure breaks down the 2016 Atlanta Falcons draft class.
My take: My hunch is that Neal was high on the Falcons' board, but it seemed more likely for him to be targeted in a trade-down scenario since Neal got a second-round grade from ESPN draft expert Todd McShay. But the Falcons clearly felt comfortable enough with him to overlook UCLA linebacker Myles Jack and Clemson pass-rusher Shaq Lawson. Neal is a strong safety who can run but can also hit like a linebacker. It's easy to see him playing a Kam Chancellor-type role in the Falcons' Cover 3 scheme. Quinn believes Neal has the ability to cover tight ends, which has been a struggle for the Falcons. Neal, of course, now has to go out and show he has the footwork to cover, which is something he's never proven. And Quinn also believes having Neal's coverage on third down will aid the pass-rush issues. The Falcons needed to address their defensive holes before anything else, and adding Neal helps at least one glaring need in the secondary. The Falcons cut ties with William Moore because he couldn't run the way he used to. And they didn't have confidence in Kemal Ishmael to step in as the starter.
No place like Atlanta: Neal told ESPN.com Thursday afternoon that he would love to get a call from the Falcons. Well, it happened, and Neal is now headed to his desired destination. Here is what he said about the Falcons about a week ago when asked if Atlanta was the best fit: "For me, schematically, yes. I feel like that's a great fit for me and my style of play. The coaching staff is authentic. I can tell they really care about each other and the program. I feel like [secondary coach] Marquand Manuel can really help me out as a person and a player. And Coach Quinn, he's a tremendous head coach. Getting under him, getting under his wing and learning will skyrocket my career."
What's in a name? Neal is named after actor Keanu Reeves, as you might expect. "Everything he's been through, he's stayed humble and grateful," Neal said of Reeves. "He gave all his 'The Matrix' revenue to a charity. Really good dude."
My take: The Falcons obviously had an interest in Jones from the start based on how closely they monitored him at the Senior Bowl. Then Jones had a private workout with the team, just another indication of the interest level the Falcons had. Although Jones didn't have a lot of starting experience at LSU, his speed is such an asset and something the Falcons sorely need at inside linebacker. In the Cover 3 scheme, Jones' speed can be utilized as he drops in coverage and closes on the ball. What might hurt Jones is he's not the most instinctive player. But again, a team needing improved speed at linebacker just took a significant step. Jones expects to step into a role at weakside linebacker, where the Falcons are unsettled after cutting veteran starter Justin Durant. You wonder if the Falcons had maybe just a little hesitation after taking another LSU player, cornerback Jalen Collins, in the second round last season then seeing Collins struggle as a rookie. They hope Jones doesn't have the same type of rookie experience. Pro Football Focus gave the Falcons a `D' for drafting Jones, saying he misses too many tackles. And scouts around the league say although he has great straight-line speed, Jones might be a little stiff when it comes to coverage.
In the middle of the rivalry: Jones, who is from New Orleans, told ESPN.com during the draft process that his father is a die-hard Saints fan. So it should make matters much more interesting that Jones now plays for the bitter-rival Falcons. "He'll get over it," Jones said of his father. "He won't have a choice." Jones gets to return home in Week 3 of the regular season, when the Falcons and Saints square off on ESPN's Monday Night Football in the 10-year anniversary of the reopening of the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina.
High praise: Here's what LSU coach Les Miles told ESPN.com's Mike Triplett about Jones after he ran that 4.38 at the pro day: "Not a lot of linebackers in history will run like that. That guy may be the fastest linebacker that I personally have been around that had any size to him at all. He’s absolutely the first. That fits into the NFL game as a guy that can move and make plays and has ball skills. He’s going to fit right into the NFL game." Jones was upset about running a 4.59 at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
My take: The Falcons obviously needed another red zone threat, particularly with the added defensive attention given to Julio Jones. The 6-foot-4, 254-pound Hooper gives the Falcons that type of target. Hooper has long arms and big hands. He's a crafty route runner who should provide a great mismatch in favor of the Falcons. Since he was split outside a lot in college, he didn't have the type of blocking responsibilities he'll have in the NFL. So, expect him to improve his blocking with time. The Falcons might have eyed Arkansas' Hunter Henry, but he came off the board earlier. Hooper has the tools to start immediately in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme, which is likely to have more two-tight ends sets now. Jacob Tamme returns off a 59-catch season.
Stanford connection: Stanford has produced solid tight ends as of late, so the Falcons hope Hooper can follow suit. Those players include Zach Ertz (Eagles) and Coby Fleener (Saints). Current Falcons tight end Levine Toilolo also played at Stanford. Toilolo can continue to carve out his niche as a blocker, he could stick. Those are not strengths for Hooper and Tamme.
My take: The scouting report on Campbell is he's very athletic at 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds. He's got the kind of arm length Quinn is looking for at the position. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds and had an average 16 bench press rep. Campbell apparently can play both inside and outside linebacker. But the negative is he appears to lack instincts, which would slow him down even if he can run. If he's a project, then having Quinn and linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich to work with should help him grow. Last season, Campbell had 92 tackles (6.5 for a loss) and a team-high four sacks for the Golden Gophers. He's a former teammate of current Falcons defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman.
The Falcons entered the draft needing help at linebacker and have found two so far in second-round pick Deion Jones and now Campbell. We'll see where the Falcons use Campbell, who said he spoke with linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich about playing the WILL linebacker. He definitely has confidence. ``My mindset coming in is I'm coming in to play," Campbell said. "I'm not coming in to sit or redshirt or wait. I'm coming in to play."
In a rush: Campbell has worked with former Falcon and pass-rush guru Chuck Smith, so we'll see if the Falcons use that element of his game. ``It's something that I feel like I can take the next step in my game to help me become an even better player because I focus on having no weaknesses,'' Campbell said. ``And that was one of things that I knew I needed to work on because I have the skill-set to be a dominant pass-rusher.'' Campbell said he's versatile enough to rush the passer, play all three linebacker spot, and even cover slot receivers.
Round 6, pick 195*: Wes Schweitzer, G, San Jose State
My take: It looks like Schweitzer is a really intelligent kid who spent summer internships studying the effects of atmosphere chemistry. He plans to earn his PhD in chemistry. That's great and all, but let's see what he brings on the field. The former standout high school wrestler gained 80 pounds between his junior and senior years of high school to play football. He started at left tackle at San Jose State the last three seasons. The Falcons spent time during the draft process working out lineman who were capable of playing tackle or guard, so obviously Schweitzer fits in that category. If he can run and is tough, he'll get a shot to compete. The Falcons are not fully sold on their guard situation, particularly on the right side. Veteran Chris Chester was re-signed to a one-year contract but is coming off shoulder surgery with no definite timetable for a full recovery. Mike Person, the starting center last season, might get a chance to compete at right guard, but he's not the answer. Schweitzer said the Falcons view him as a guard/center. He played for current Falcons assistant offensive line coach Keith Carter, who was San Jose State's offensive line coach/run-game coordinator.
Spartan love: This is the second consecutive year the Falcons have added a late-round pick from the San Jose State Spartans. Last year is was cornerback Akeem King, who showed some flashes in limit duty as a rookie.
*Acquired from Jets through Texans
My take: The Falcons needed more depth at receiver plus a player capable of helping on the return game, so it made sense to bring in Fuller. He ran a sub-4.4 in the 40-yard dash and was one of the Pac-12's top return men. Fuller averaged 24.2 yards per kickoff return last season and 11.8 yards per punt return. That's not to say that Hester is out the door. He is intent on showing the Falcons that last year was just a fluke injury and that he has something left to give in the return game. But if the most accomplished return man in NFL history is unable to enhance the Falcons on special teams, then Fuller could be the next man up. Fuller had 194 return yards in a game against BYU.