The Falcons’ 2018 rookie class showed a lot of promise per usual in their first complete season. Thankfully, for the most part, this group remained injury free. It featured a potential star talent in the first round and several hidden gems in the back end, but unfortunately, there is no questioning the colossal step back the Falcons took as a team.
Some of that blame has to lie on the shoulders of the Falcons front office and the way they approached this draft. These grades are purely for the decision makers and not the players themselves. While their performance on the field is a substantial part of the grade, it is not the only thing that will be taken into account. Other things to consider are team need and who they could have selected.
Calvin Ridley (Round 1, Pick 26)
Calvin Ridley was a slight surprise given the Falcons needs across the defensive line. Nonetheless, Ridley appeared to be the best player available when Atlanta was on the clock, and the Falcons offense could have used an extra dose of explosiveness with Taylor Gabriel leaving in free agency. He finished his rookie campaign with 64 catches for 824 yards and a franchise rookie record of ten touchdowns. An A performance, but I knock it just a tad because the Falcons clearly had much greater needs across the defensive line.
Isaiah Oliver (Round 2, Pick 58)
With their second pick, the Falcons continued to ignore their most glaring need – a pass rusher. It showed the entire season, and I’m not exactly sure how they completely overlooked it in, not only the draft but free agency as well. That’s more of what this grade is about than anything else.
On top of that, Oliver never established himself in his rookie season, something that should have been expected for a second round pick on a team in win-now mode. Even with all the injuries in the secondary and Robert Alford’s poor play, Quinn rarely relied on Oliver in meaningful games. However, when he did play, he played pretty well. There’s a solid chance Oliver is starting next season and can make this pick look much better than it does now.
Deadrin Senat (Round 3, Pick 90)
Finally, the Falcons picked someone to help out their thin defensive line, but he was never going to be much of a pass rusher. Regardless, Senat showed plenty of promise for a third-round pick. Without him, I don’t know what this Falcons already poor run defense would have done. At the very least Senat can continue to be a solid rotational piece on running downs and possibly even develop into a starter.
Ito Smith (Round 4, Pick 126)
Even though the Falcons had both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, it is basically a foregone conclusion that Tevin Coleman will walk this offseason. Ito Smith was a bit of a shocking selection, and the Falcons could have waited to draft a back this year, but it looks like it might pan out quite nicely.
With the injury to Devonta Freeman, Ito Smith was forced into a much larger role faster than the organization ever expected. Running behind a poor offensive line, Smith’s stats aren’t eye-popping, but he proved to be a tough and shifty runner that can also contribute in the passing game. He and Freeman should combine for a nice one-two punch next year.
Russell Gage (Round 6, Pick 194)
The Falcons were miserable on special teams in 2017. They made an intensive effort to try and be better last offseason, and Gage along with veteran Justin Bethel helped to do so. Dan Quinn has spoken of Gage several times in high regard as a player who has taken advantage of his opportunities this season. He even began to see some reps as a receiver late in the year.
Foyesade Oluokon (Round 6, Pick 200)
This was the best value pick the Falcons drafted. When you get this late in the draft, you are just hoping to land on a project, or possibly find your next kicker. However, the Falcons seemed to find a true diamond in the rough with Oluokon.
Like Smith, Oluokon had to play a lot more than anyone expected with so many injuries on defense, but he outperformed most of the starters. In sixteen games including seven starts, Oluokon racked up 91 total tackles. He still has some work to go as far as pass coverage goes, but on a defense that really struggled with tackling, Oluokon emerged as one of the leaders. He cruised by Duke Riley on the depth chart and will be in the conversation for a full-time starting spot next year.