The 2017 draft was one of the most exciting in recent memory. It consisted of numerous trades up and down the board and even more questionable decisions that will decide the future of a number of franchises. The Falcons have nailed both drafts since Dan Quinn became the head coach, which quickly resulted in the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance since 1998. The real results of this draft will be judged over the next several years, but on paper, Atlanta looks to have successfully addressed its most glaring needs heading into the 2017 season.
Round 1, Pick 26: Takkarist McKinley
Thomas Dimitrioff showed once again he is not afraid to make moves on draft day, especially up the board. On the first day of the draft, the Falcons elected to trade their 2017 first, third and seventh-round picks for the 26th overall pick from Seattle. With that pick, Atlanta selected Takkarist McKinley, an incredible talent out of UCLA. After recording just six sacks in his first two seasons with the Bruins, McKinley broke out as one of the best pass rushers in college football last season. He recorded 61 total tackles, with 18 of those going for loss including 10 sacks in just 11 games. The 6 foot 2 inch, 250-pound beast has all the makings to be the perfect “Robin” to Vic Beasley Jr.
The first topic everyone talks about with this player is his unbelievable motor, and it is easy to see why after looking at the tape. McKinley is in terrific shape and refuses to take plays off. Many of his sacks do not come from the prettiest pass-rushing moves, but from his non-stop effort and grit. He can will his way to get to the quarterback. That “all-day toughness”, as Dan Quinn referred to it, combined with his elite athleticism fits the mold of the defense the Falcons have been trying to build. McKinley ran a 4.59 40-yard dash at the combine, which is incredible for a 250-pound man that projects as a defensive end.
In a draft that had overloads of talented players, it might have been wise for Atlanta to have saved those picks and stand pat or even traded out of the first-round for more picks. Dan Quinn has done an outstanding job picking out talent in the middle rounds of the draft. Deion Jones, Grady Jarrett, Jalen Collins, De’Vondre Campbell were all taken after the first-round by Quinn and started in the Super Bowl. Given Quinn’s terrific track record after the first round, there is reason to believe Quinn likely would have landed at least one and maybe even multiple quality players that could help patch up the remaining holes.
However, I tend to want to side with teams that go up and draft the guy they want. The Falcons recent draft success suggests Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitrioff recognize the types of skills they want their players to possess and personalities they want around the locker room. Falcons pre-draft intelligence revealed McKinley was not going to make to the Falcons at the 31st pick. They were aware both the Cowboys and Steelers were looking for pass-rushers in the first round. Atlanta’s move to hop over those teams and select their guy is a smart move. It essentially only took a third-rounder to accomplish, and the Falcons got the guy they had been eyeing on from the beginning of the draft.
McKinley had 10 sacks his senior season, but he is far more than just a pass rushing specialist. His 61 total tackles show he is active against the run and is terrific at shedding blocks. The six pass breakups show his is unbelievable will to affect the game in any way possible. His pass rushing technique might be the thing he needs to work on the most. The Falcons did a tremendous job developing Vic Beasley, and he was the NFL sack leader in only his second year in the league. If McKinley experiences that sort of progression, opposing quarterbacks are going to have nightmares about playing the Falcons. Atlanta gets a B+ because they addressed their biggest need on the defensive side of the ball. McKinley should be a nice complement to Vic Beasley Jr. and once his shoulder is 100%, he should be starting and wrecking havoc with Beasley. They also receive a little credit for trading up to get the guy they wanted without having to give up too much.