This is the sixth installment of a series reviewing Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith’s first draft class in Atlanta, which included a total of nine players. We’ll go chronologically through these draft picks in the order they were selected; next up is the Falcons’ fifth-round pick, who quietly had an impressive rookie campaign.
If you’ve missed any other installments, be sure to check them out!
Ta’Quon Graham was selected 148th overall in last year’s draft; even though he had minimal impact in his first season, the former Texas Longhorn improved dramatically as the year progressed.
He played in 13 games and logged over 300 defensive snaps, totaling 15 tackles, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, and five hurries. The reason Terry Fontenot selected Graham had to be his length and positional flexibility, as we saw when Dean Pees moved Graham up and down the defensive front.
Pees didn’t play the rookie much at the beginning of the year, but his snaps ramped up in the latter weeks of the regular season. Graham played at least 20 snaps in the final eight weeks while eclipsing 30 in the final four. His length showed up multiple games, and the staff clearly impressed with his development gave him a bigger role in the last quarter of the season.
Graham’s first full offseason will be focused on improving mentally and physically. First-year pros don’t have the luxury of working on their technique or body because of the draft process and the learning curve of the NFL. Graham, like all rookies, is sometimes overwhelmed by all the information and new processes that are thrown at them. Thankfully, Graham has one of the best interior defenders in the league to learn from — Grady Jarrett.
“He was a guy that I was watching in college,” Graham said before the regular season concluded. “With the amount of success he had, especially on that Super Bowl run that they had, that’s where a first noticed him. Working with him every day has been great. Having him in the meeting rooms to just talk about being a pro and talk about things you’re going through has been huge. I feel like I had a pretty decent rookie year,” Graham said. “I made some mistakes I wish I didn’t make, but I have learned and, watching the tape, I feel like I’m progressing pretty well.”
Getting bigger, faster, and stronger will be Graham’s focus this offseason, but mentally improving is just as important. Playing next to an All-Pro-caliber player in Jarrett should only speed up that process.
The Falcons need Graham to turn into a solid rotational defender, and his mentality illustrates what kind of players this Falcons regime wants to draft — relentless pursuit of improvement. Among the entire rookie class, Graham doesn’t seem satisfied with their rookie years. That’s good because Atlanta needs this entire class to pan out if they have any chance of competing before they move on from Matt Ryan.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire