Four Falcons poised for a breakout 2018


Deadrin Senat

Dan Quinn has been a defensive line guru his entire NFL coaching career, which has led to him becoming a terrific evaluator of talent at the position. It does not matter where in the draft, Quinn seems to know how to find big fellas that can get after the passer and clog up running lanes.

That will be Senat’s job as rookie playing next to Grady Jarrett. With Dontari Poe and Adrian Clayborn leaving Atlanta in free agency, there are holes across the defensive line that the Falcons need to fill. With no significant free agent acquisitions, Senat is going to be asked to do a lot.

The 6’0″, 315-pound defensive tackle was one of the best run stoppers in this year’s draft class. Looking back at where Atlanta struggled in their lost to Philadelphia in the Divisional round, the Eagles pounded the rock on the ground and really wore down the Falcons defense. Senat’s ability to clog rush lanes should help the defense immediately and earn him a lot of playing time as a rookie.

Takkarist McKinley

The sophomore year seems to be the time that most pass rushers come into their own in the NFL. Fellow Falcon, Vic Beasley, broke out for 15.5 sacks in his second year after recording just 5.0 as a rookie. Kahlil Mack made a similar jump from 4.0 sacks to 15.0 in his second season. Von Miller put up his monster 18.5 sack season in his sophomore campaign. In his second season, McKinley hopes to make a similar jump.

Last season, the UCLA product battled a shoulder injury coming into the year. He was able to play in all sixteen games, but it is hard to say he was ever 100% healthy. As a rotating pass rusher, he was still able to tally six sacks and then two more in the playoffs. McKinley became noticeably more effective as the season went on and will head into 2018 much healthier.

Expecting him to lead the league in sacks like Vic Beasley and Von Miller did their second seasons may be unrealistic, but McKinley should make huge strides. He will be a full-time starter with Adrian Clayborn heading to New England. With more opportunity and better health, McKinley should reach double-digit sacks this season.

De’Vondre Campbell

The 2016 draft class remains one of the best drafts in Falcons franchise history. Not only did they hit on two pro-bowlers with their first two picks in Keanu Neal and Deion Jones, they may have struck on a third with De’Vondre Campbell.

Campbell, a fourth-round pick out of Minnesota, ended up playing a lot during his rookie season mostly because of his versatility as a linebacker. He is tremendous in coverage, can stop the run and even mix in a little bit as a pass rusher. Campbell started in all sixteen games at the weak-side linebacker position next to Deion Jones last season. According to PFF, he graded out as a 78.6 in 2017, good for 28th at his position.

He came into the league as a raw athletic prospect, and despite already becoming a reliable starter, Campbell has room to be even better. There is a legitimate chance that both Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell can become pro-bowl linebackers for Atlanta.

Calvin Ridley

Any football fan would have been surprised this time last year if you had told them Calvin Ridley would be available for the Falcons with the 26th pick. Ridley was considered a top ten prospect in last year’s draft for a long time and the most explosive wide receiver but continued to slide as the draft approached.

That should be great news for Atlanta, who got a steal late in the first-round. Ridley can run the entire route tree and make something out of nothing with his quick cuts after the catch. He should become the offense’s next Taylor Gabriel, except with much more size and the ability to play all over the field.

With the Falcons offense having so many options, some might assume it will be hard for Ridley to see a lot of targets. However, having so many deadly options around him should open up the middle of the field from the slot position. Ridley has so much talent that he is going to be able to get open in single coverage, and as we all know, if you are open Matt Ryan is going to find you. I am expecting a huge rookie season from Ridley.


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