The NFL Draft is finally here. What does this mean for the Atlanta Falcons? For starters, a sense of direction.
Since the Falcons chose to trade the quarterback matt ryan to Indianapolis Colts, there have been differences over what Atlanta should do early on. Responding to the pass rush? Add Receiver #1? Find the quarterback of the future?
USC’s Drake London
Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson
Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder
All the right questions that only the CEO Terry Fontenot and trainer Arthur Smith can answer. The good news should all be addressed by the time Mr Irrelevant is selected on Saturday afternoon.
Who should the Falcons target early? Which players should be released in the intermediate rounds? Is there a good answer on who should be targeted early? Here’s an early indication of what the Falcons’ big picture entering Thursday night might look like.
Georgia EDGE Travon Walker
The biggest need on either side of the ball for Atlanta is the edge rusher. The Falcons finished dead last in sacks with 18 last season, and the top passing thrower was released before free agency began. Walker is a perfect fit for the style of defense that Dean Pees likes to run and can win at the point of attack when it comes to rushing.
A native of Thomaston, fans would like to keep the Bulldogs star defenseman in the Peach State a little longer.
Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux
In a dream scenario, Thibodeaux would be the safest option for Atlanta. He’s 6-foot-4, 254 pounds, has a relentless drive, and the brilliance to win in one-on-one matchups against offensive tackles. At the start of the college football season, he was widely seen as a lock for the top pick, but concerns about his attitude and love of the game knocked him off the totem pole.
It would be considered a steal for Atlanta if, two years from now, Thibodeaux showed the potential that was on display in the 2020 season.
North Carolina StateOL Ikem Ekwonu
The main difference between Ekwonu and Evan Neal of Alabama is the advantage inside the offensive line. The former Wolfpack has smooth footwork and plans to be an All-Pro guard if teams see him better on the inside. He is arguably the best run blocker in the class and can hold his own when it comes to pass protection.
The 6-4 and 310 pounds would give Atlanta options to mend their trenches. A battle between Kaleb McGary could help stabilize the good tackle position. Overall, there’s no offensive lineman with more multi-position upside than Ekwonu.
Florida State EDGE Jermaine Johnson III
From “Last Chance U” to first-round pick, Johnson has come a long way in five seasons. The move to Florida State was the best move he could have made, proving to scouts he can be a high-volume machine with the tools to play a variety of positions.
The 6-foot-5, 254-pound Johnson plays with a violent attitude and disruptive demeanor. Last season for the Seminoles, he had 40 pressures, 17.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. This would be the “worst case” scenario in terms of solving the pass rusher problem at No. 8.
Notre Dame Safety Kyle Hamilton
That’s not a weakness for the Falcons, but Fontenot in the past has been willing to take the ‘best player available’ approach. Hamilton is simply a playmaker who can do a bit of everything teams are looking for defensively. Coverage skills? Strong. To tackle ? Almost flawless? Vary? Turn on the Florida State game.
A “unicorn” prospect that will change the culture of a defense, Hamilton could be seen as a “safe” pick for the Falcons. No one in the building would complain if he reached his All-Pro cap a year after being a top-10 draft pick.
Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson
It’s no secret that the receiver is the Falcons’ biggest offensive need after this offseason. With Calvin Ridley suspended for the 2022 season, Atlanta needs an immediate No. 1 receiver. Wilson proved to be CJ Stroud’s top target at Ohio State, recording over 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last fall.
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Wilson isn’t quite as polished a road runner as Ridley, but his size, hands and speed almost reflect his edge. The 6-foot wide receiver has a bit of Stefon Diggs in his game and could end up being the top rookie receiver by midseason.
USC WR Drake London
If Atlanta is looking for size at receiver, London should be the first option. The 6-4 and 219 pounds would give the Falcons a big receiver on the perimeter to partner with second-year tight end Kyle Pitts on the inside.
London isn’t as polished with his road tree as Wilson, but he wins most battles 50/50 against man coverage. Last season, he led the FBS with 19 catches played in just nine games. London is also known for scoring in the red zone, a major hole in the Falcons’ offense from a season ago.
Alabama WR Jameson Williams
As parts come in Williams’ torn ACL shouldn’t delay his recovery time, would the Falcons be interested in making him the top potential receiver selected? A much more polished road runner than Wilson and London, Williams has the element of speed, but he can also win with his ability to change direction in an instant.
If he was healthy, there’s a shot Williams would have been the consensus top receiver. If Atlanta is willing to wait multiple games to find a home run threat for the next five seasons, drafting Alabama’s speedy receiver at No. 8 isn’t the worst idea.
Freedom QB Malik Willis
It may seem early to draft a quarterback with so many other needs on the board, but if Atlanta is sold long-term, he can get the most out of Willis, he’ll be in play at No. 8. All the tools are there. there for him to be a top quarterback in today’s NFL. Learning under Smith, who got the most out of struggling passers, is an added bonus.
From arm strength, mobility, pocket awareness, vision and other traits, Willis takes the cake as the best quarterback. He’s not ready to start Week 1, though, so landing in a situation like Atlanta where a quarterback is already in place might be the best-case scenario.
Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder
If Atlanta really thinks they can struggle in 2022, and if the leash is short on Marcus Mariota, Ridder could provide the best option to start mid-season in hopes of winning some football games. He was a four-year starter for the Bearcats and improved in almost every category during that time.
Wins may not be a college stat, but few quarterbacks have won as many games as Ridder (44) in their careers. He has the tools to be a functioning starter and needs little time to adjust to the NFL. Trading late in the first round with a pair of draft picks could be an option for Fontenot to secure his quarterback of the future landing.
George Pickens of Georgia
North Dakota State’s Christian Watson
UCLA’s Greg Dulcich
Insights from Day 2
Christian Watson, North Dakota State WR: Whatever type of receiver Atlanta wants in the first round, it also needs speed. Watson’s 4.36 40 times wowed scouts at the combine in March, but his Senior Bowl production as an upright option put him on the map. He’s raw, but the tools are there for Watson to be a home run threat. He is also a willing blocker in the running bracket.
Georgia WR George Pickens: Unlike a player like Watson, Pickens wins with size and physicality. He’s a relentless blocker in space and does a great job tracking balls through the air. Pickens also has excellent body control, allowing him to rarely drop passes on the pitch.
UConn DT Travis Jones: There is a rumor among league circles that Grady Jarrett could leave soon due to the defensive scheme. Atlanta is looking for a nose tackle and Jones fits the bill. The 6-4, 325-pounder excels in a two-hole look and uses his size to win battles down the middle as a passer.
Michigan EDGE David Ojabo: Atlanta was considered a favorite to land Ojabo at No. 8. Due to a torn Achilles, he could be an option on Day 2. A raw outside linebacker with the ability to show development as a run stopper, this could put Fontenot at risk in the 3-4 system of Pees. It adapts perfectly to the style of defense.
Penn State EDGE Arnold Ebiketie: Ebiketie only played in a four-man run, but his speed and agility could allow him to move to outside linebacker without too many setbacks. The turn and frame allow him to win at the line of scrimmage from a three-point position. If he can find success from a standing position, he is a Day 1 talent at a Day 2 value prize.
Trey McBride, Colorado State TE: Anyone familiar with the offensive style that worked at Tennessee understands that adding a tight end is essential for Smith. McBride might be the most well-rounded option in the class, showing growth both as a blocker on running games and as a high-end road runner in midcourt.