Cover 9@9: Which undrafted player is going to make the team?

Arkansas State's J.D. McKissic runs up field after breaking a tackle after a reception during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. McKissic caught a school record 15 receptions in their 41-19 loss to Missouri. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

Arkansas State’s J.D. McKissic runs up field after breaking a tackle after a reception during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. McKissic caught a school record 15 receptions in their 41-19 loss to Missouri. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

The COVER 9@9 is back every Wednesday at 9 a.m. The draft and the rookie minicamp is over. The Falcons are in the middle of their offseason training program and are set to start their organized team activities (OTAs) later this month. 

1. Meet J.D. McKissic. Falcons undrafted rookie J.D. McKissic, who played at Arkansas State, has been described as a wide receiver with running back skills by his former coach Gus Malzahn.

McKissic, 5-foot-11, 193 pounds, had a tremendously productive college receiver for the Red Wolves.

He played in 49 games and had 289 catches for 2,838 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also returned 54 kickoffs for 1,473 yards and had a 27.3 kickoff return average.

McKissic ranked first in the Sun Belt with a 26.5 yards per kick return average, and ranked 10th with 101.7 all-purpose yards per game in 2015.

McKissic, who recently completed the Falcons rookie minicamp, said that there are three things that fans need to know about him.

“The first thing is that I’ll do anything to get on the field,” McKissic said. “The second thing, is I can play special teams, offense or defense, it doesn’t matter. The third thing is that I do it for the love of the game.”

After his stellar career with the Red Wolves, the Phenix City, Alabama native was hoping to get drafted. Malzahn was his coach in 2012, but McKissic’s production dipped after Malzahn left to become Auburn’s head coach.

“God works in mysterious ways,” McKissic said. “I just try to be destined for greatness. I just work hard at my craft and try to be the best that I can be.

“I’ll try to get anywhere I can on the field. If it was meant for me to get drafted I would have gotten drafted. Therefore, it was meant for me to be a free agent and now, it’s time for me to come in and try to make the team.”

McKissic draws inspiration from his family, including his brother Bryant McKissic, who played safety at Troy.

“I just came up watching the game and I just tried to be like (him),” McKissic said. “Come to find out I have love for the game and just like competing.”

Last season, undrafted players running back Terron Ward, free safety Robenson Therezie and defensive tackle Joey Mbu spent time on the roster.

Falcons middle linebacker Paul Worrlow and right tackle Ryan Schraeder were undrafted players.

With only Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy appearing to be roster locks, perhaps the versatile McKissic can push through and make the roster.

McKISSIC’S CAREER RECEIVING STATISTICS

Year      No.       YDS      AVG.     TD        LG

2012     103       1,022    9.9        5          74

2013     82         662       8.1        4          40

2014      52         629       12.1      0           65

2015      52          535        10.1     2         49

Totals  289      2,848        9.8        11

2. Rating the safety position. The Falcons rated their safety position much differently than other teams. They don’t require their safety to cover wide receivers. In part, that explains the different ratings that teams and draft analysts had on first-round pick Keanu Neal.

Falcons rookie guard Wes Schweitzer in his three-point stance at rookie minicamp. (D. Orlando Ledbetter/dledbetter@ajc.com)

Falcons rookie guard Wes Schweitzer in his three-point stance at rookie minicamp. (D. Orlando Ledbetter/dledbetter@ajc.com)

“When you play a scheme where you feature the safety, which we do, it has a real impact on the ball game,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “That’s why we are thrilled to add Keanu into the mix. The physicality that goes along with the position is one that I have always had a really deep appreciation for and then having the ability to be able to use that for the cover element is a factor.”

Neal will move around in the Falcons’ scheme.

“This strong safety is going to play in the box,” Quinn said. “He’ll look like a linebacker at times. He’ll come up at the end of the line at times. He’ll blitz at times. It’s a different, hybrid guy for us.”

3. Is Jones big enough? Falcons linebacker Deion Jones, the team’s second-round pick, will play between 225 and 230 pounds. Traditionally, that’s a little light for a middle linebacker.

“You have to go way back, we did a big study on that,” Quinn said. “The era when (Derrick) Brooks and that crew came out, there was the 220-pound and 230-pound guy…I think (Jones) was light (during the pre-draft process) so that he would run fast. He’ll probably play between 225 and 230.”

Jones is not the traditional run-stuffing middle linebacker.

“So much of this game now is nickel,” Quinn said.  “You have to be in space and you have to be able to haul.”

4. Tall linebacker. The Falcons like fourth-round pick De’Vondre Campbell’s length at 6-foot-4.

“It’s what often times makes really good blitzers,” Quinn said. “Because you’re long enough to beat backs. Here’s a 5-9 back and I’m beating him with a swim move. I’m able to be in the quarterback’s face because of my length. I can bat a ball down because of my length whereas the smaller compact guys are really fast, but just being fast doesn’t make you a good blitzer. You have to be able to beat a guy.”

Devin Hester pays homage to Falcons Hall of Famer Deion Sander as he returns a punt 62-yards for a touchdown - marking his 20th return for a touchdown and breaking the all-time record set by Sanders. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Devin Hester pays homage to Falcons Hall of Famer Deion Sander as he returns a punt 62-yards for a touchdown – marking his 20th return for a touchdown and breaking the all-time record set by Sanders. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

5. Hester update: Falcons returner Devin Hester is attending the offseason program and receiving rehab treatments from trainer Marty Lauzon after offseason foot surgery.

The Falcons are hopeful that he can return over the offseason and before training camp.

“He’s able to do certain things, but he can’t fully do it all,” Quinn said. “I don’t know that I have a timeline for it, but we’re hopeful that it’s prior to camp. But as far as OTAs, I don’t know. That toe has got to be right and we’re not going to put him out there until it is.”

6. Coaching connections. UCLA wide receivers coach Eric Yarber was able to give the Falcons a trusted scouting report on seventh-round pick Devin Fuller. Yarber coached in the NFL for five seasons and was on Falcons assistant head coach Raheem Morris’ staff in Tampa Bay for two seasons.

7. Strongside, Leo crew. During one of the draft shows, Brooks Reed was inaccurately lumped with the Falcons’ middle linebackers.

Quinn noted that Reed is a SAM (strongside) or LEO (hybrid defensive end/weakside) player for the Falcons.

“The guys kind of playing those spots are Vic (Beasley), Brooks, (Adrian) Clayborn and (Courtney) Upshaw,” Quinn said. “(Philip) Wheeler is going to do some of that and Tyler Starr. That group of guys are guys we see playing on the end of the line, playing (defensive) end and in the nickel. We’re pumped about all of them.”

8. Position changes.  The Falcons have moved a few players to new positions.

North Dakota undrafted rookie Will Ratelle was a linebacker, but will get look at fullback for the Falcons.

He played in 40 games with 23 starts and recorded 266 total tackles. He earned first-team All-Big Sky honors after recording 110 total tackles and four sacks last season.

Also, C.J. Goodwin, who was on the practice squad as a wide receiver last season was moved to cornerback. He’s a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder, which is the same size of huge Seattle cornerback Brandon Browner.

Goodwin was used in practice at cornerback last season and went against star wide receiver Julio Jones.

“Guarding Julio Jones is not the easiest job on the planet,” Quinn said. “We said, ‘we might have something here.’ ”

Goodwin, who has ties to former Steeler great Mel Blount, was fine with the move.

“We talked to him after the season and said we wanted to go down this road,” Quinn said. “He wanted to do it. He’s going full-time at corner now. We’ll leave him there and see what it looks like. He’s got great ball skills. Can he play full speed and tackle? Those are things we’ll find out over the next few weeks.”

Goodwin, 26, played at California (Pa.) and was in camp with the Steelers. He also played two college seasons of basketball.

“He’s got ball skills, but now he’s got to back pedal,” Quinn said. “There are times when he looks great. Other times, we’re like, he’s still learning. We are trying to develop him. He’s totally worth looking at and looking into.”

Also, Josh Dawson, who played defensive end at Georgia, is listed as a linebacker by the Falcons.

9. Updated depth chart. Here’s  an updated — post- rookie minicamp — look at the projected Atlanta Falcons depth chart.

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 16 Justin Hardy, 17 Devin Hester, 87 Devin Fuller, 18 Jordan Leslie

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 76 Tom Compton

LG 67 Andy Levitre, 71 Wes Schweitzer, 64 Collin Rahrig, 79 Shabaz Ahmed

C   51 Alex Mack, 62 James Stone, 69 Jake Reed

RG 65 Chris Chester, 68 Mike Person, 63 Ben Garland

RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 72 Bryce Harris, 61 Cody Elenz

TE 83 Jacob Tamme, 80 Levine Toilolo, 81 Austin Hooper, 86 D.J. Tialavea, 82 Joshua Perkins

WR Mohamed Sanu, 14 Eric Weems, 15 Nick Williams, 19 Aldrick Robinson, 85 J.D. McKissic, 89 Daje Johnson, 7 David Glidden

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 12 Sean Renfree, 8 Matt Schaub, 1 Matt Simms

RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward, 35 Gus Johnson, 20 Brandon Wills

FB 42 Patrick DiMarco, 39 Will Ratelle

NICKEL DEFENSE (60 PERCENT)

RDE  99 Adrian Clayborn, 94 Tyson Jackson, 71 Brandon Williams

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jonathan Babineaux, 98 Cory Johnson

DT 90 Derrick Shelby, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 92 Joey Mbu, 74 Chris Mayes

LDE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 93 Malliciah Goodman, 52 Tyler Starr

OFFSEASON SPOTLIGHT ON VIC BEASLEY

LB 56 Sean Weatherspoon, 50 Brooks Reed, 41 Philip Wheeler, 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 46 Torrey Green,  48 Ivan McLennan

LB 55 Paul Worrilow, 45 Deion Jones, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 53 LaRoy Reynolds, 54 Josh Dawson

RCB 25 Akeem King, 32 Jalen Collins, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 33 Devonte Johnson, 38 David Mims II

OFFSEASON SPOTLIGHT ON JALEN COLLINS

NCB 23 Robert Alford, 43 DeMarcus Van Dyke, 34 Brian Poole

LCB 21 Desmond Trufant, 43 DeMarcus Van Dyke, 39 Jordan Sefon

FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Robenson Therezie, 20 Sharrod Neaseman

SS 22 Keanu Neal, 30 Charles Godfrey, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 40 Damian Parms

SPECIALISTS

K 3 Matt Bryant, 1 Nick Rose

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 17 Devin Hester, 14 Eric Weems

PR 17 Devin Hester, 14 Eric Weems

LS 47 Josh Harris

H 5 Matt Bosher

The AJC’s Jeff Schultz joins CineSport’s Noah Coslov to detail his recent conversation with Falcons owner Arthur Blank and to discuss whether or not he’s good for the franchise.


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