Falcons have recent draft history of LSU defensive players

Atlanta has selected a LSU defender is each of the past three drafts
LSU’s Arden Key is one of the top edge rushers in the draft, but has red flags that will cause him to drop in the draft.

Credit: Chris Graythen

Credit: Chris Graythen

LSU’s Arden Key is one of the top edge rushers in the draft, but has red flags that will cause him to drop in the draft.

Since head coach Dan Quinn was hired in 2015, the Falcons have selected a player from LSU in each of those past three NFL drafts.

The Falcons will have a few more LSU players on their board this year for the draft, which starts Thursday and runs through Saturday in Arlington, Texas.

“It’s the tradition of the LSU defense,” said Falcons linebacker Deion Jones, taken in the second round in 2016 out of the school. “The best way I can put it, is that there are a lot of guys that love ball and love to run around. Love to hit and they are going to leave it all out there. That’s part of the whole program. That is just the culture and the tradition of LSU.”

In 2015, the Falcons took a gamble on LSU cornerback Jalen Collins in the second round of the draft. Last season, the Falcons pulled linebacker Duke Riley’s name off their draft board in the third round.

Collins had a bumpy stay with the team that included two suspensions before the team cut ties with him. In 2016, he made strides after a bumpy rookie season. He started down the stretch and in Super Bowl LI. He appeared headed for a long career until he was suspended again for 10 games. The Falcons released him and he’s since been suspended again.

Jones, who was thought to be under-sized at 222 pounds, blossomed into a Pro Bowl first-team alternate in his second season. He led the Falcons with 138 tackles and three interceptions last season.

Riley opened last season as the starter at weakside linebacker. He played well at times, but missed too many tackles in space before suffering a knee injury that required surgery. Upon on his return, he played mostly on special teams.

Jones believes the style of play is what attracts the Falcons to LSU defenders.

“We love running and hitting,” Jones said. “We’ve got fast guys who love to get after the ball. I kind of see that over here. (We have) guys that run and hit and have that attitude about their games. There are a lot of guys at LSU that are the same.”

Jones said there wasn’t much carryover from LSU’s scheme to the Falcons’ defense and he noted that the terminology is different.

LSU’s top defensive player this season is edge rusher Arden Key, who starred at Martin Luther King Jr. High in Lithonia before academic issues forced him to finish his high school career at Hapeville Charter. LSU also has speedy cornerback Donte Jackson. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds at the NFL scouting combine, tying for the fastest time.

“Arden has a motor,” Jones said. “Donte, he’s fast and scrappy out on that island. I liked him when he was there fighting for us out on that Island.”

LSU linebacker Donnie Alexander is 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds and rangy cornerback Kevin Toliver (6-2, 192), is a former five-star recruit, who probably should have returned for his senior season.

“Donnie is a running linebacker,” Jones said. “Toliver is a scrappy guy. He’s scrappy and fast. He gets after it on that Island.”

The Falcons, who must replace Dontari Poe, have heavily scouted the defensive tackle position. LSU has four defensive tackles Greg Gilmore (6-4, 318), Frank Herron (6-4, 290), Chrisitan LaCouture (6-4, 290) and Travonte Valentine (6-3, 355) in the draft.

“They are dogs down there,” Jones said. “They all have some polishing off to do. With the right coaching and right system, just maybe the right coaching because they already have that mentality and nastiness about themselves. I feel that they are going to do really good.”

Key is the most intriguing of the LSU prospects. But he left the program and ballooned to 280 pounds at one point.

“There are a significant number of players with character and medical concerns every year,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “Arden Key is one of the main guys on the character side. I would tell you from an athletic perspective, if he was clean off the field, he'd be a first-round edge rusher.”

Questions about dedication and discipline will cause Key to drop in the draft. He elected not to address his issues with the media at the combine. When asked why he left the program he said, “no comment.”

NFL teams know why he left the program and are concerned.

“As it is now, if he went in the third round, I wouldn't be surprised,” Mayock said. “If he went in the fourth or fifth round, that's probably what it will be. I think what it is, is mitigating risk, both financially and with your owner and your fan base. You take a guy in the first three rounds, it's a significant commitment, and this kid has had a lot of issues.”

The Falcons may believe that their close-knit locker room could help Key make the transition to the NFL.

“So at the end of the day, you've got to provide an environment and infrastructure to try and get him in daily, day-by-day, over the next four or five years, and that's asking a lot,” Mayock said.

Taven Bryan, DT, Florida Will Clapp, C, LSU Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama Rashaan Gaulden, DB, Tennessee Derrius Guice, RB, LSU Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama Jeff Holland, OLB, Auburn Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina Donte Jackson, CB, LSU Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn John Kelly, RB, Tennessee Arden Key, DE, LSU (from Atlanta) Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M Kahlil McKenzie, DT, Tennessee Da'Ron Payne, DE, Alabama Kamryn Pettway, RB, Auburn Eddy Pineiro, K, Florida Calvin Ridley, WR