Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith have done a decent job over their respective tenures as general manager and head coach. It’s been far from perfect, but they also haven’t been given much to work with… until this offseason.
The Falcons finally got out from under a number of bloated contracts, and the new regime went to work, completely revamping the roster with the $60+ million they had available. Those free agents will be critical in the team’s success this season, but what will ultimately determine the fate of Fontenot and Smith is their ability to draft and develop young players.
That’s the only way to sustain success in the NFL, and so far, the new regime has had some promising selections. There have been some misses, but that’s to be expected. What can’t happen is a draft like the Falcons had in 2017, which spelled the beginning of the end for Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn.
Just like they did this year, the Falcons brought in six new faces via the NFL Draft in 2017, none of which are still currently on the roster.
Was the Falcons 2017 draft class one of the worst in NFL history? pic.twitter.com/IPsRopIg7J
— GSN (@GASportsNow) May 17, 2023
The disaster began in the first round when the Falcons traded up to take Takkarist McKinley. The UCLA product actually had some real talent and potential, which he flashed in his first couple of seasons, but from the moment he was drafted, it seemed like he couldn’t get out of his own way. What makes this selection even worse is that an All-Pro at the same position in T.J. Watt was taken just a few spots after by the Steelers.
Duke Riley was the Falcons next pick in the draft. He was taken in the third round, and in reality, he was over-drafted for the athletic ability that he flashed at the NFL Combine. He was never an elite player in college and didn’t develop into much more than a special teams contributor with the Falcons.
Sean Harlow was taken in the fourth round and only saw action in one game with the Falcons–a waste of a pick.
Damontae Kazee was undoubtedly the best selection of this entire draft for the team. He immediately became an impact player on the back end of the defense, starting in 33 of his 36 games played from 2018-2020 and recording 10 interceptions. If not for him, this very well may be the worst draft class of all time.
Brian Hill was mostly a reserve running back, but he did perform admirably for a fifth-round pick. Saubert was another player drafted for his athletic traits, but he only ended up spending two seasons in Atlanta, catching five passes for 48 yards.
The 2017 NFL Draft was the one following the Falcons magical Super Bowl run. They already had a special roster, but things fell off the tracks quickly, and it was because of mishaps like these. A couple of years later, Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff found themselves handing out their resumés, and if Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith ever deliver a class like this, they can expect to be doing the same sooner rather than later.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire
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