FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – In 2016, the Falcons became the first team in NFL history to start four rookies on defense in the Super Bowl. In 2017, they were much less reliant on their first-year players.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Falcons' rookies played the fewest number of combined offensive and defensive snaps of any team in the league last season.
Defensive end Takkarist McKinley led all Falcons rookies with 464 snaps in 2017, and he made the most of those snaps by registering six sacks to finish one shy of tying the team's rookie sack record. He was also one sack short of the total registered by Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Outside of McKinley, the Falcons didn't need to call upon their rookies too often, allowing them to gain a year of experience and become better equipped to make an impact down the road. Here are the total snaps played by each member of the Falcons' 2017 draft class on either offense or defense, including the postseason:
- Takk McKinley: 464
- Duke Riley: 245
- Damontae Kazee: 164
- Eric Saubert: 30
- Brian Hill: 0
- Sean Harlow: 0
The Falcons were in good company near the bottom of that particular list, as each of the bottom four teams made the postseason in 2017. Atlanta's spot at the bottom also speaks in part to the strength of the roster. With a strong corps of defenders acquired in 2016's draft, the Falcons didn't have glaring needs that they needed to address with rookies.
Speaking of the Falcons' 2016 draft class, they played the fourth-most snaps of any class in the league as rookies in 2016.
According to Pro Football Reference, the Falcons' 2016 rookie class played a total of 3,090 snaps, but that's including only the players who were drafted. Here are their snap count totals:
- Keanu Neal: 920 on defense, 52 on special teams
- Deion Jones: 897 on defense, 54 on special teams
- Austin Hooper: 405 on offense, 181 on special teams
- De'Vondre Campbell: 547 on defense, 34 on special teams
- Wes Schweitzer: 0
- Devin Fuller: 0
If Brian Poole's numbers are added -- 834 on defense and 209 on special teams -- that overall number jumps to 4,133 snaps, according to Pro Football Reference.
The growth and development of players like Jones, Neal, Brian Poole and De'Vondre Campbell from their first to their second year, in which they became legitimate starters and, in the case of Jones and Neal, stars, is part of the reason the Falcons made such a drastic change in this list.