The proof is now in the pudding that draft grades posted immediately after the event cannot be taken seriously. There simply is no way to evaluate a draft class before it has played a snap at the NFL level. Sure, pundits can critique where a team selected or player or why it made a trade. What they can’t do is go inside the mind of the front office who selected that player to understand how a player fits into a teams specific scheme.
The Falcons 2016 draft class was one of controversy in the media. Many pundits were critical and skeptical about the Falcons selecting Keanu Neal with the 17th overall pick. They believed Neal provided better value in the second round, because he wasn’t a safe bet to develop into a starter. They aren’t Dan Quinn, and they could not have understood how Quinn planned to use Neal as a critical piece in his defense.
Mel Kiper of ESPN was one of those critics. After the draft, he slapped the Falcons with a “B-” draft grade because they “reached” for Neal and did not select a pass rusher. Fast forward almost a full year later, and the tune has changed quite a bit. Kiper recently released his re-draft grades, where he gave the Falcons an A.
“This is a home run so far, with an undrafted player a part of the equation. It’s good enough when rookies start, and it’s even better when they start and help a team make the Super Bowl, said Kiper. “Keanu Neal was out until Week 3 but started through the Super Bowl and was on my All-Rookie Team. So was Deion Jones, who piled up 126 tackles. De’Vondre Campbell piled up 10 starts and did so in the playoffs as well. That group really changes the defense — they’re just a faster unit, period,” added Kiper.
Any time a team adds four different starters in one draft, it’s going to be a franchise changer. The Falcons had suffered with a slower and softer defense that held them back from reaching the Super Bowl. In one draft, Neal, Jones, Campbell and Brian Poole turned the Falcons defense from a weak unit to a fast and physical unit. This unit is only getting started and is going to be a joy to watch for many NFL seasons to come.
Josh Schultz is a staff writer for Pro Football Spot’s Atlanta Falcons Coverage. Follow Josh on twitter @draftblackboard and on his Facebook page: Josh Schultz, Pro Football Spot.