FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Training camp is rapidly approaching, and there are some exciting new players joining the Brotherhood. With practices about to get underway, now is the perfect opportunity to analyze the Falcons' 2017 rookie class and what they bring to the team.
We begin this series with Atlanta's first-round draft pick, Takkarist McKinley.
Coach Dan Quinn has made a concerted effort to bring a “fast and physical” mentality to the Falcons' defense since joining the organization in 2015. For the third year in a row, Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff used the team's first-round pick to select a defender who fits that philosophy.
McKinley has several qualities that Quinn values in a defender, and it should be interesting to see him demonstrate those skills on the field. Once he's cleared to play -- the Falcons' top pick had shoulder surgery -- McKinley should benefit playing opposite of Vic Beasley and in the same rotation as Dontari Poe, Jack Crawford, Grady Jarrett and Co.
Barring any type of setback, however, McKinley should see the field this fall and could become a nice asset down the stretch.
Let's look at the Falcons' newest first-rounder and what he brings to the club.
UCLA stats (three seasons):
- 102 tackles
- 29 tackles for lost
- 17 sacks
- Six forced fumbles
- 10 passes defended
McKinley consistently improved in each of his three seasons at UCLA. His sack numbers reflected that development -- increasing from 2.5 sacks in 2014, to 4.5 in 2015 and culminating in 10 sacks in 2016 -- and he still has some room to grow. According to Pro Football Focus, McKinley recorded pressure on 14.4 percent of his pass-rushing snaps, which was 15th among players in the draft class.
Fans need to look no further than UCLA's 52-45 loss against Utah in 2016 to see the type of impact McKinley can have. Against the Utes, he recorded three sacks and five tackles for a loss, including the strip-sack shown below.
As a senior, McKinley recorded 61 tackles and 18 tackles for a loss, indicating he should also hold his own against the run. The advanced stats back up that notion. McKinley made a stop on 8.2 percent of his snaps against the run, placing him 18th in the 2017 class, according to PFF.
McKinley's greatest asset is his natural physical ability. He doesn't have freakish size -- he's 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds -- but McKinley has long arms and his 4.59 40-yard dash time was third among defensive linemen. What truly stood out about McKinley's 40-yard dash, though, was his 10-yard split of 1.61, which was faster than Myles Garrett, Derek Barnett and Charles Harris. A relentless motor helps McKinley make the most of his incredible athleticism.
Below, McKinley (No. 98, left DE spot) demonstrates the ability to beat an offensive lineman off the snap, and his willingness to chase down a ball carrier to make a play downfield.
This motor was quantified by PFF, which noted that McKinley recorded pressure on 26.2 percent of dropbacks that lasted longer than 2.6 seconds -- the fifth-highest percentage in the class. McKinley also was effective in setting the edge on run defense, and he had success fighting through blocks to make the tackle.
While physically gifted, McKinley's technique is arguably raw. One note on his NFL.com draft profile was that he often made plays because of his determination rather than a superior pass-rushing move. McKinley shows some hand usage but not to the level that will be effective at the next level.
What to watch for in camp
McKinley has played in both a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme and has experience standing up or putting his hand in the dirt. To start, the Falcons rookie will likely be utilized off the edge in passing downs. He could also be used as a strong-side linebacker in base packages and move to defensive end in nickel.
With Vic Beasley, the NFL's returning sack leader, drawing attention on one side, McKinley's motor should help him win some battles if the quarterback is flushed to his side. It's easy to see why McKinley's single-minded pursuit of the ball captured Quinn's attention. Technique and control can be taught, but effort comes from within a player.