Breaking down the Atlanta Falcons' 2018 draft class.
Round 1, No. 26 overall: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
My take: Defensive tackle appeared to be a more pressing need for the Falcons, but they went offense instead. Obviously they felt like Matt Ryan needed another weapon to complement Julio Jones as the Falcons struggled to make plays down the field last season. Ridley is a great route-runner with 4.43-second speed, so he can create separation and put stress on defenses. He had 20 touchdowns (one rushing) in 44 career games with the Crimson Tide, so Ridley can get the ball in the end zone. Dan Quinn said Ridley will play both inside and out. The Falcons lost speedy Taylor Gabriel to the Bears in free agency, so Ridley joins a receiving corps that includes Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Justin Hardy.
The Falcons are also getting a motivated player in Ridley, who believes he should have been picked higher. "I'm happy the Falcons selected me, but I could have been picked way before," Ridley said on a conference call with the Atlanta media. "But I'm going to work hard and I'm going to prove everybody wrong who always doubted me. I'm going to make everybody a believer."
What about Julio? Of course, Jones remains the Falcons' top threat. But Jones hasn't joined the team for offseason workouts just yet and there is talk about him wanting to boost his salary to become the league's highest-paid receiver. It's not an issue now, but if it lingers for some reason, the Falcons have to proceed with business as usual. Having a guy like Ridley on the practice field, if Jones isn't, only helps matters. But expect everything to be just fine with Jones in the end. They understand how valuable he is as one of the most dangerous threats in the league. The question is how will Jones' body holds up with a variety of injuries throughout the years. Just another reason to have Ridley in the fold.
Rookie production: The Falcons have taken four receivers in the first round since 2004: Michael Jenkins, Roddy White, Jones and now Ridley. Jenkins had just seven catches for 119 yards and no touchdowns as a rookie in '04. White had 29 catches for 446 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie in '05. And Jones had 54 catches for 959 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie in '11. We'll see what Ridley does in '18. He had 63 catches for 967 yards and five touchdowns last season at Alabama. "We love the speed, we love the energy, we love the toughness," Quinn said of Ridley.
Round 2, No. 58 overall: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
My take: The Falcons got another top talent a little lower than expected with Oliver, considered a first-round talent by some. It appears the Falcons looked at the best player available rather than drafting for a specific need, with defensive tackle the area most figured they'd address after drafting Ridley in the first round. Oliver (6-foot-1, 201 pounds) has the speed and length to contribute. He can make plays on the ball, as his 32 career pass breakups indicate. He fits the mold of the type of cornerback coach Dan Quinn and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel are looking for.
How he fits: Again, a player this talented will have a place somewhere. His size would indicate more of an outside corner opposite Desmond Trufant. The Falcons have talked about using Robert Alford inside in the nickel and said Trufant has the versatility to do the same. Brian Poole is the nickelback but will have to compete to keep his spot, and the addition of Oliver allows the Falcons to get a closer look at others inside. The Falcons can't have enough tall, lengthy cornerbacks with receivers such as Mike Evans in the NFC South. There do appear to be some technique concerns regarding Oliver, however, but those can be cleaned up. "Myself, being a bigger corner, that's what I pride myself on, going into those games and being able to stop those guys. So I look forward to it," Oliver said when asked about having to defend big receivers like Evans. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Oliver can play outside and inside on defense and also has the ability to return punts, being a track guy. The Falcons love the way he tracks the deep ball. "We think that he has some of the best ball skills in the draft, hands down," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "He's a very talented, all-around versatile athlete."
Prospect Profile: Deadrin Senat
Former South Florida DT Deadrin Senat excels against blockers in the run game and has a solid motor.
Round 3, No. 90 overall: Deadrin Senat, DT, South Florida
My take: The Falcons needed to address defensive tackle at some point after losing Dontari Poe to the Carolina Panthers. They did so here with a guy in Senat who possesses quickness and strength, having thrown up 35 bench-press reps of 225 pounds. He had 10.5 tackles for loss and six sacks last season. The Falcons saw other tackles they'd looked into come off the board, such as B.J. Hill (Giants), Nathan Shepherd (Jets), Derrick Nnadi (Chiefs), and Justin Jones (Chargers), so at least they got a quality body to put into the interior mix.
How he fits: Senat said he's willing to play fullback if the Falcons want him to. Coach Dan Quinn said Senat will enter the mix at nose tackle with Grady Jarrett and Jack Crawford. "Let's let him come in and compete and battle, but he's got really good quickness for a big guy; strong, square," Quinn said. "The effort, the toughness, all the things that we look for at that position." Senat has the potential to immediately contribute as a run-stuffer. It might just be a matter of what the Falcons can get out of him as a pass-rusher, which is not his strength. But Senat sounds like a highly motivated kid, driven by the death of both parents while he was a teenager.
Round 4, No. 126 overall: Ito Smith, RB, Southern Mississippi
My take: The Falcons needed a running back, but taking Ito Smith in the fourth round when he was projected to be a seventh-rounder is somewhat puzzling. There's no doubt Smith has been productive, with more than 1,000 rushing yards last season and almost 400 yards receiving. He's 5-foot-9 and 198 pounds, and Smith said he compares to Jerick McKinnon. If he can bring McKinnon-type production, this is a win for the Falcons.
How he fits: Of course, the Falcons have a starter in Devonta Freeman and an explosive backup in Tevin Coleman. But with Coleman going into the final year of his contract, there's no guarantee he'll be around in the future. Plus, Freeman has dealt with concussions. So Smith is good insurance, based solely on his college production. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff said he likes Smith's ability to jump cut. It will be interesting to see how he is utilized on offense as the third running back. Dimitroff also expects Smith to contribute on special teams, and Smith has kickoff return ability. There's always concern when a guy has a smaller frame and there have been questions about Smith's burst. If nothing else, Smith has one the most interesting names on the team. His real name is Romarius, but family members called him "Ito" because he was born during the O.J. Simpson trial and they said he looked like Judge Lance Ito as a baby.
Round 6, No. 194 overall: Russell Gage, WR, LSU
My take: Figures the Falcons would draft another LSU player, marking the fourth consecutive year following Jalen Collins, Deion Jones and Duke Riley. The Falcons actually surrendered their two seventh-round picks for Gage, although Gage (6-0, 183) was projected as a seventh-rounder. Gage performed well at LSU's Pro Day, with a 4.42 40 and a 39-inch vertical. He is a converted defensive back and said he plays receiver with a defensive back's mentality.
How he fits: Gage would appear to be a guy the Falcons could use on special teams immediately, considering he notched 19 special teams tackles for the Tigers last season. He said he's more than willing to contribute on teams as a gunner and also has the ability to return. He was LSU's Co-Special Teams Player of the Year in 2017. He didn't have much production as a receiver. Anything the Falcons get from him in that category would be a bonus, but think about him as another special teams body to pair with newly-signed special teams ace Justin Bethel.
Round 6, No. 200 overall: Foyesade Oluokun, LB, Yale
My take: The Falcons went to the Ivy League and certainly landed a smart, high-character player in Oluokun. It sounded like he expected to be signed as an undrafted free agent until Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli called him during the draft to express interest. In the late rounds of the draft, teams are always looking for players who can make an impact on special teams. We'll see if Oluokun turns out to be one of those players.
How he fits: Oluokun, listed at 6-2, 229, played the hybrid linebacker/safety role at Yale but will be a linebacker with the Falcons. He runs a 4.48 in the 40, which is what the Falcons want when they talk about the run-and-hit factor. He has a 37-inch vertical, which speaks to his explosiveness. And he bench pressed 225 pounds a total of 18 times. Those were impressive numbers for a guy who didn't participate in the combine. Let's see how those numbers translate on the field. Oluokun could provide depth at linebacker and possibly at strong safety.