Falcons' rookie class going through growing pains

Rookie safety Keanu Neal's hitting ability has translated into the NFL. Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

The Atlanta Falcons went into the 2016 season figuring their rookie class would see a lot of action, and that has been the case.

Three of the top four picks -- first-rounder Keanu Neal, second-rounder Deion Jones and fourth-rounder De'Vondre Campbell -- are starters on defense. Third-rounder Austin Hooper has become a more important part of the offense at tight end with veteran Jacob Tamme on injured reserve following shoulder surgery.

The class still has significant strides to make to close out the season, but collectively the group has shown signs of promise.

Grade: C+

Best rookie: Neal. The first-rounder from Florida brought his heavy-hitting reputation to the league and showed the ability to force fumbles. It's the type of intimidation factor the Falcons needed at strong safety. Neal just has to be careful not to cross the line after being fined for one defenseless hit. Neal also showed the ability to cover tight ends early in the season, although he still has strides to make in that category after some struggles against the Chiefs.

Most improved rookie: Campbell. The starting weakside linebacker got off to a slow start after suffering a serious ankle sprain in practice leading into the Week 2 game at Oakland. Campbell missed four games but started to get his legs back under him in Week 7. His coverage abilities started to show up after that, and he's made some physical plays against the run. His length and speed make him an asset.

Most disappointing rookie: Offensive guard Wes Schweitzer, the sixth-round pick from San Jose State, only because he's been inactive for every game this season. Coming into the season, there was talk of Schweitzer competing for a role at right guard. That never materialized. That's not to say Schweitzer is a bust. You'll see him working hard before every game trying to perfect his footwork and technique. There's no reason to give up on him already.

The jury is still out on...: Jones. The middle linebacker could easily be tabbed the best rookie of the class, particularly after he started the season as the NFC Defensive Player of the Month, returning an interception for a touchdown against the Saints in his homecoming to New Orleans. However, Jones ran into the rookie wall while struggling with his physicality against the run, which led to sharing some reps with LaRoy Reynolds. Jones continues to adjust to the responsibilities of being the primary communicator on defense. He'll be fine with more time.

Hooper could also be added to this category because he's slowly starting to get more opportunities. Hooper said he needs to work on his blocking to become a complete NFL tight end.

And finally, seventh-round draft pick Devin Fuller, a wide receiver from UCLA, remains a question mark because he was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a shoulder injury. Fuller has return ability, but he won't be able to show it until next season.

Undrafted rookie check-in: Brian Poole has emerged as the team's primary nickelback after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Florida. And Poole has been steady in his role, making impact plays and showing solid coverage skills. He's been a great find. Safety Sharrod Neasman was promoted from the practice squad but hasn't been active for a game yet.