The Atlanta Falcons rookies add a solid mix of talent heading into training camp. After first round pick Takkarist McKinnley’s passionate speech, it was easy to overlook some of the rookies drafted and signed by the Falcons. With camp opening up at the end of the month, these are a few players to keep an eye on.
Takkarist McKinnley, DE, UCLA.
The first round pick for the Falcons is not short on character. One viral moment distracted the country from the fact McKinnley was a monster on the field at UCLA last season. The First-Team Pac-12 defensive end recorded 10 sacks his senior year. Fans hope to see him lined up on the opposite edge of Vic Beasley Week 1.
McKinnley is the obvious name to keep an eye on if he is ready for training camp. He did not participate in rookie mini-camps due to his recovery from shoulder surgery.
Duke Riley, LB, LSU.
Riley has a chance to be a steal. With former LSU teammate Deion Jones in the front seven, Riley can prove he belongs in the NFL just like Jones did last year.
Standing a little under 6-foot-1, Riley is shorter than Jones, but height should not scare Head Coach Dan Quinn. In last season’s Super Bowl, both teams had rookie linebackers starting, both undersized.
Riley led LSU with 93 tackles his senior year. Pay attention in training camp, because he might be all over the field making plays.
Damontae Kazee, DB, San Diego State.
One of the biggest holes left unfilled following the draft was the the lack of help at free safety. The Falcons rookies do not consist of any drafted safeties, but signed multiple as undrafted free agents.
Enter Kazee, who was drafted as a cornerback, but says the Falcons will play him at safety. The transition from college to the NFL is tough enough as it is, but now the Falcons’ fifth round selection must learn a new position his first year. He accumulated 15 interceptions in two seasons with San Diego State and was a team captain.
It is a “sink or swim” situation for Kazee deep in the secondary.
Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming.
The backfield is not too crowded for the Falcons. Hill’s downhill running style will make fans fall in love with his toughness.
When a fifth round pick describes his running style as “violent,” it is a head-turning statement. If Hill can get the snaps in training camp, it will be interesting to see if he can back up the talk.
Alek Torgersen, QB, Penn.
Quarterbacks are never not interesting to watch in training camp. For the Falcons, they signed an Ivy League quarterback, making the quaterback depth chart fascinating.
Stiff competition with Matt Schaub and Matt Simms fighting for the back-up role, undrafted Torgersen could be a wild card to make the roster.
Sean Harlow, OG, Oregon State.
Right guard was the biggest need for the Falcons in the draft. This is not a sexy position, but Harlow needs to show how productive he can be in training camp to ease quarterback Matt Ryan’s mind.
Quincy Mauger, S, Georgia.
Refer back to Kazee’s section. A safety is a top need for the Falcons, and undrafted safety Mauger could offer some competition.
Of the 21 undrafted free agents signed by the Falcons, Mauger might have the highest profile with his seven interceptions out of Georgia. Expect him to duke it out with Kazee for a roster spot.
Eric Saubert, TE, Drake.
Saubert was an odd pick at the end of the fifth round, especially with Austin Hooper and Levine Toiolo returning. A quick look at Saubert’s production is enough to get excited.
10 touchdowns last season, and 21 total in his career at Drake. In four years, he racked in 190 catches for 2253 yards.
His 6-foot-5 frame will work well on redzone plays in training camp.
Tyler Renew, FB, Citidel.
With the loss of veteran fullback Patrick DiMarco, an undrafted rookie has a shot at the empty slot.
The Falcons signed former Seattle Seahawk Derrick Coleman and free agent veteran Soma Vainuku. Tough competition, but Renew’s fresh legs may give him an advantage.
Renew is a tough lead blocker who can be physical inside. Nothing is set in stone, so he could steal a roster spot from his fellow backs.
Andreas Knappe, OT, Connecticut.
Knappe is a can’t miss prospect. Not in terms of skill, in literal terms of size. The 26-year-old Danish tackle stands at 6-foot-8, the tallest rookie on the squad.
Whether he can make it past roster cuts is unknown, but it will be interesting to see his large frame go against other rookies competing for roster spots.
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