After nine weeks, the Falcons sit at 3-6 heading into their bye week. Although the 2020 draft class cannot be fully assessed through just nine games, we can still grade these rookies’ production thus far.
Pick 16, AJ Terrell
Many believed Thomas Dimitroff reached at the 16th overall pick when he selected Clemson cornerback AJ Terrell, including me. So far, he’s played better than expected, especially recently. It is fair to point out that the entire Falcons defense has been abysmal, and unfortunately, Terrell has been apart of the problem at times. He also missed two games after being placed on the reserve/ COVID-19 list, but a silver lining is that he has started in the seven games he was available, playing in at least 98% of the defensive snaps every game.
Through seven games, Terrell has given up 25 completions on 32 targets; opposing quarterbacks are completing 78% of their passes when targeting him. Those 25 completions went for 346 yards and three touchdowns — opposing quarterbacks have a 129.9 rating when targeting the Clemson product. Terrell does have one pass defended and one interception, but opponents have largely had success when picking on the rookie.
Terrell still has plenty of room for growth and has played well given the circumstances of essentially no offseason, a COVID hiatus, and while playing in an underperforming defense. He’s already become the Falcons most reliable cornerback and is certainly trending upwards.
Pick 47, Marlon Davidson
Dimitroff spent a second-round pick on former Auburn defensive lineman Marlon Davidson. The sample size has been limited, only playing in three games so far, missing games due to injury, and being on the reserve/ COVID-19 list. Although the Falcons run defense on paper seems to be effective, opposing offenses simply revert back to passing due to the easy success it brings. But it can be said that when healthy, Davidson seems to negatively affect opposing offenses’ rushing efforts. It is too early to tell, but he looks like a sure-fire starter next year.
Pick 78, Matt Hennessy
Similar to Davidson, Hennessy’s production has been limited due to the few opportunities he has been given. He has only played 76 offensive snaps this year. Prior to the season, it was reported Hennessy was competing for the starting left guard position, but due to an injury, he would be edged out by James Carpenter. Hennessy has been splitting snaps with Carpenter through the season, giving him valuable experience for when he inevitably becomes a starter somewhere on the offensive line. He has only surrendered one sack, which came against Green Bay’s Za’Darius Smith — one of the most productive interior rushers a season ago. It is clear that Hennessy is expected to start at center next season as Alex Mack‘s contract expires this offseason. With such a small sample size, it is impossible to predict whether or not Hennessy is ready, but his play has been encouraging.
Pick 119, Mykal Walker
Mykal Walker — like many of his fellow draft classmates — was viewed as a reach by Dimitroff. However, he has quickly silenced those talking heads who spoke on his potential outweighing his immediate impact. Instead of being a ‘project,’ Walker has shown his worth in limited opportunities. He played his best game against the Bears — Foye Oluokun missed the game with a hamstring injury — leading the team with eight tackles. He has been better than advertised and makes the linebackers the strongest position group on defense.
Pick 134, Jaylinn Hawkins
Jaylinn Hawkins has played in a limited role most of the season, almost entirely on special teams, but played major snaps on defense against the Packers and Bears. He eventually left the Green Bay game after a head injury, which was later deemed a concussion. In those two outings, Hawkins had great plays and appalling plays. A pass breakup, then a total-blown coverage, then a tone-setting hit is exactly what Hawkins did in those two weeks. Due to all of the injuries in the Falcons secondary, Hawkins has seen an increase in playing time. The results have been wishy-washy, but he seems to be trending upwards.
Pick 228, Sterling Hofrichter
Sterling Hofrichter has been below average compared to the rest of the NFL punters. He is dead last — among qualifying punters — in average punt yards, 40.7 yards — good for 29th in the league. His net punt yards are better (24th with 38.5 net punt yards), but this stat is predicated more so on the punt coverage team, not Hofrichter. He has pinned opposing offenses inside the 20-yard line nine times, which is 20th in the league. Punters are important; they can win and lose games for teams. Hofrichter has not been a weapon like Johnny Hekker and Michael Dickson are for their teams. But he is a rookie, so there is a universal understanding he still has time to develop his leg.
Overall, this draft class cannot be completely evaluated due to their limited sample sizes, but the majority of the 2020 draftees seem to be trending upwards.
Overall Grade: C-
Photo: David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire