A look at the Falcons’ 2017 rookie draft class

Atlanta Falcons defensive end Takkarist McKinley (98) looks on from the bench during exhibition against the Miami Dolphins Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Fla.
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Atlanta Falcons defensive end Takkarist McKinley (98) looks on from the bench during exhibition against the Miami Dolphins Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Credit: Logan Bowles

Credit: Logan Bowles

The Falcons are set to play their second exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at 4 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Field.

The Falcons received major contributions from the 2016 rookie class on their way to the Super Bowl last season. The draft class had four starters on defense in strong safety Keanu Neal, nickel back Brian Poole, middle linebacker Deion Jones and weakside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and a major contributor on offense in tight end Austin Hooper.

Here’s how the 2017 rookies are doing:

Explore1st rounder: Meet defensive end Takkarist McKinley

In limited practice repetitions, McKinley has been simply dazzling. The Falcons are being careful not to rush him back too fast from reconstructive shoulder surgery.

“Not yet,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said, when asked if decided when McKinley would make his debut. “We are going to go through a couple of days to see where the guys are. Takk is close to full participation for us so we’ll see how the week goes.”

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Falcons first-round draft pick defensive end Takkarist McKinley discusses his first live action in 11-on-11 action on Tuesday. Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter

Explore3rd rounder: Meet linebacker Duke Riley 

While McKinley was held out of the exhibition opener against the Dolphins, Riley played well in the opening 23-20 loss.

“He looked really aware in the system,” Quinn said of Riley. “Some of the time, you are looking for those first-year player mistakes, and he didn’t have a lot of those. ... He looked real comfortable in the system.”

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Falcons rookie linebacker Duke Riley runs a drill during rookie minicamp Friday. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Falcons rookie linebacker Duke Riley runs a drill during rookie minicamp Friday. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
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Falcons rookie linebacker Duke Riley runs a drill during rookie minicamp Friday. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Explore4th rounder: Meet offensive guard Sean Harlow

Harlow played 52 snaps at offensive lineman against the Dolphins, which was second on the team behind backup center Cornelius Edison.

Explore5th rounder: Meet defensive back Damontae Kazee

Kazee had a strong game against the Dolphins and came up strong in run sport on outside runs. He likes to hit.

Explore5th rounder: Meet running back Brian Hill

Hill rushed for just 10 yards on nine carries and was dancing in the hole.

“For us, when we play running back here we have a real style of how we do it,” Quinn said. “We call it ‘on our tracks.’ We are one cut and vertical. When we stutter on those or don’t aggressively hit it ... that’s a real emphasis for Brian this week to make sure our tracks are correct.”

The Falcons like the authority that Hill ran with in college. Once he speeds things up, he should be fine.

“In training camp, the improvement I saw from him was with ball security,” Quinn said. “I saw him better as a pass catcher and in blitz protection he has been on point. That part was the improvement I like to see. He’s excited to get out here for the next opportunity.”

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Falcons tight end Eric Saubert runs an agility drill during the first day of mini-camp on Tuesday, June 13, 2017, in Flowery Branch.

Falcons tight end Eric Saubert runs an agility drill during the first day of mini-camp on Tuesday, June 13, 2017, in Flowery Branch.
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Falcons tight end Eric Saubert runs an agility drill during the first day of mini-camp on Tuesday, June 13, 2017, in Flowery Branch.

Explore5th rounder: Meet tight end Eric Saubert

Saubert has flashed his pass catching hands throughout training camp.

He played 36 offensive snaps and 19 plays on special teams. He caught a pass for minus-1 yard and had a holding penalty that eliminated Reggie Davis’ dazzling punt return.

“After this past game there’s a lot of stuff on tape, and I have to get back to the drawing board and work on those things that I may have made a mistake on,” Saubert said. “There’s a lot of work to do this week, and I’m excited to get back out here.”

Saubert is trying to make the jump from Drake to the NFL.

“Obviously, it’s way faster,” Saubert said “Everybody is really good. You really have to rely on your technique and your coaching.

“Sometimes when the speed of the game gets to you, you fall back to some bad tendencies. So, I’m trying to reinforce good coaching and good technique this week.”

Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo were helping Saubert from the sideline against the Dolphins.

He received some coaching pointers on his open-field blocking, too.

“It’s a learning point,” Saubert said. “All you have to do is learn. The ref said he got outside of me. I just had to watch it on tape. I just have to know when to back off there. It was a learning moment.”

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