The 2017 NFL Draft was one of the deepest in recent memory. Teams like the 49ers, Colts, Bears, Saints, and Chiefs all killed this one, and it’s built their foundation for success today. New Orleans came away with Marshon Lattimore, Alvin Kamara, Alex Anzalone, Ryan Ramczyk, and Marcus Williams. The Chiefs selected Patrick Mahomes and Kareem Hunt, among others. As phenomenal as the talent was, looking back, this was the worst draft for the Falcons in a long time, and it’s a primary reason as to why this team is 1-5, and everyone in the building is on the hot seat. Let’s take a look at the most crucial points, and where it all went wrong. Life is full of what-ifs, but this roster could look completely different if talent were appropriately evaluated. Coming off a devastating Super Bowl loss, we had to nail this draft, and we did the opposite.
Drafting Brian Hill over Aaron Jones
Aaron Jones was picked a whole round after Brian Hill, seven picks after Eric Saubert and is currently leading the NFL in rushing TDs. Hill has 31 NFL carries in 4 years (11 came for Cincinnati after being waived by Atlanta after one season). Jones has been an absolute force in Green Bay and would have softened the blow of Devonta Freeman’s decline and Tevin Coleman leaving for San Francisco. Once a position of strength for Atlanta, poor drafting has left it very thin and a sore spot going into the 2020 draft. Chris Carson was also chosen in the 7th round, while Matt Breida and Austin Ekeler went undrafted.
Taking C Sean Harlow in the 4th round and Eric Saubert in the 7th
This one irks me. Harlow filled a need at the time. However, he was a project from the start and hasn’t even seen the field in his Falcons career outside of the preseason. As thin as this team is at OL, it’s a disaster he hasn’t played a snap. The Falcons were also looking for a second tight end to compliment Austin Hooper at the time. Not only did they waste a 7th rounder on Eric Saubert before trading him to New England, George Kittle, one of the best tight ends in the NFL, went nine picks after Harlow. Could you imagine this offense with Aaron Jones, Julio Jones, Sanu, Ridley, Hooper, and George Kittle?
Wasting a 3rd Round Pick on Duke Riley
We’ve all had our fun with Duke Riley. After 2 1/4 god awful seasons, the Falcons shipped him off to Philly for Johnathan Cyprien (IR), and a swap of 6th and 7th round picks. Talk about a horrid return on investment. Legal issues aside, Kareem Hunt went nine picks later, and Eddie Jackson, John Johnson, James Conner, and Tarik Cohen were all chosen before the Falcons picked again. And aside from Johnson, who sealed the NFC Championship with an Interception, these guys are all pro bowlers. I understand the concept of drafting for need, but Riley’s low football IQ and sub-par tackling should have been a red flag from the beginning. This is a team that took Calvin Ridley 26th overall when they already had Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. If their focus was on the best players available, there were plenty of more talented options on the board than Riley.
Trading Up For Takk McKinley over T.J. Watt, Ryan Ramczyk
This one hurts me the most. The Falcons traded up five spots to #26 to choose Takk McKinley out of UCLA. I was SCREAMING at my TV to draft now Pro Bowler T.J. Watt, who went three picks later to the Steelers. After his odd on-stage rant, McKinley’s had his moments in Atlanta, but he’s currently sitting at 0.5 sacks with 14 tackles and seems to care almost as little as Vic Beasley about his pitiful play this season. Not only did he cost this team in terms of draft capital, but we’re also still searching for answers at defensive end, and McKinley has only notched 13.5 career sacks compared to Watt’s 24. His questionable attitude, combined with his underwhelming on the field play, sums up this draft pretty well. Not to mention, Ryan Ramczyk went five picks later to the rival Saints and has been consistently one of the best right tackles in the league. Atlanta had to give up even more draft capital this season to trade into the first round for Kaleb McGary. Shoutout to Damontae Kazee for being the only one in this draft class who doesn’t make my stomach turn.