Our series “32 NFL Mock Drafts in 32 Days” heads south to focus on the Atlanta Falcons. Technically, the Falcons should have had at least a record of 8-8. In reality, Atlanta squandered half a dozen leads that ultimately led to a loss. They lost a total of eight games by seven or fewer points. Say what you want, but “28-3” at Super Bowl 51 seems more like a curse set upon this team.
There’s no reason this roster should warrant a 4-12 record. The passing game with former MVP quarterback Matt Ryan was one of the best as always. Wide receiver Julio Jones missed most of the season despite the offense’s success, putting his future in limbo at the moment. Calvin Ridley stepped up to the plate with 1,374 receiving yards (5th overall in the NFL) and nine TDs. Russell Gage, a 2018 6th round pick, is paying off well having 786 yards himself. The issue didn’t lie within the pass but rather the run.
RB Todd Gurley was signed to hopefully rejuvenate his career after the LA Rams. Instead, he continued to be a former shell of his prime and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry for a season total of 678. He wasn’t much of a factor as a receiver either. Gurley wasn’t the only bust from 2020 though. TE Hayden Hurst, who the Falcons had traded for from Baltimore, was set up to be the TE1 they hadn’t had since Tony Gonzalez. While he did average over 10 yards per reception, he wasn’t the same playmaker he was with the Ravens.
On defense, it was almost a complete flip of the script. The secondary was porous and allowed the most passing yards and third-most passing TDs. It could be linked to a mixture of poor performances and a carousel of starters, many of who aren’t on the roster anymore (Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Darqueze Dennard). Safety Keanu Neal was one of the highlights in the secondary but he decided Atlanta wasn’t a contender anymore and signed with Dallas. Rookie AJ Terrell was outstanding but he couldn’t do it alone. Most NFL teams have at least two star receivers these days, perhaps the Falcons get another in this NFL mock draft.
Against the run, Atlanta was able to find some success, allowing just the sixth-fewest rushing yards. DT Grady Jarrett earned a Pro Bowl nomination from his performance on the trenches. They were able to bring the heat to opposing quarterbacks, having 71 QB hurries and 61 knockdowns. There was just little closure on those pressures with just 29 sacks.
The biggest dilemma facing this team is the cap. The Atlanta Falcons sit about $2.4 million under the cap, which currently is not enough to pay their current draft selections. There is a need to free up money in the next few days alone and they already have less than 58 players under contract. Part of that issue is Julio Jones’ three-year extension in 2019 that has a current cap hit of $23 million this year.
Matt Ryan has a cap hit of almost $30 million this year as well. Jones would likely be let go first to free up space but the team can really only do that after June 1st. Prior to June 1st, getting rid of Jones leaves $23.25 million in dead money. After the first of the month, it’s only $7.75 million in dead money and a savings of over $15 million. Unfortunately, money and players have to be moved around unless the Falcons plan on trading most of their picks for 2022 picks.
We are going to assume that they can get squared away and are able to pay their current draft picks. That leaves them with 9 picks in total with glaring needs throughout this roster. Their biggest needs are at cornerback, safety, edge rusher, offensive line, running back, quarterback, and wide receiver. If done right, there’s a chance Atlanta could pull off a playoff berth next year. First, they would do well to follow this NFL mock draft.
Atlanta Falcons NFL Mock Draft: Day 1
1.4 | Kyle Pitts | TE | Florida
First up in this NFL mock draft is one of the most gifted players to play at college. Julio Jones could be shipped out in order to actually have a future and Kyle Pitts is a dynamic playmaker who can replace him. Hayden Hurst is more of a TE2 anyways and Pitts can line up everywhere to contribute. Trey Lance or Mac Jones could still be available here and could be an heir to Matt Ryan, but Ryan is still playing well and has a huge contract. Jones is likely the one out the door and this easily keeps that offense powerful.
Atlanta Falcons NFL Mock Draft: Day 2
2.35 | Asante Samuel Jr | CB | Florida State
The spot opposite of AJ Terrell is up for grabs and there will be an intense battle for it. Asante Samuel Jr would be a fan-favorite here as his father was a Falcon. He’s a bit undersized but makes up for it by being a natural talent in man coverage. His skill set also includes being strong against the run and a sound tackler. His coverage in the zone could develop but he’s similar to Denzel Ward in that he can line up outside or at nickel. In a jump ball situation, he’s not the best attacker but is still aggressive.
3.68 | Joseph Ossai | EDGE | Texas
Joseph Ossai could be a steal in the third round with his pure athleticism and impact as an edge rusher. The Falcons were able to pressure quarterbacks and make them move out of the pocket but were unable to pull the trigger and record the sack. Ossai brings speed and the ability to create a turnover to boost the stat sheets. Hopefully, his versatility as an edge rusher, defensive end, and linebacker can help get the defense off the field and allow the offense to retain the leads for more wins in 2021.
Atlanta Falcons NFL Mock Draft: Day 3
4.108 | Wyatt Davis | OG | Ohio State
Chris Lindstrom is the current starting right guard and has done a great job in that role. Wyatt Davis best fits as a right guard but Atlanta will at least try him out at left guard. Worst case, the offensive line still needs depth and Davis can be a great plug-and-play guard. He was a multi-year starter with Justin Fields behind him and a physical brute.
5.148 | Shi Smith | WR |South Carolina
Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage will move up as starters with Julio Jones gone. That leaves Cordarrelle Patterson as the backup slot and that scares me…in a bad way. Patterson is one of the better return specialists in the league and should focus on special teams and let Shi Smith take the role at slot. Despite poor quarterback play, Smith was still able to be productive as a smaller wide receiver. His release and speed are his main weapons as he could develop more with route-running and adding strength.
5.182 | Sam Ehlinger | QB | Texas
Sam Ehlinger isn’t a real threat to Matt Ryan like Trey Lance or Mac Jones would be. There’s just no other quarterback on the roster and Ehlinger can be a contributor behind Ryan. He can be incorporated in special packages and run plays early on. His arm strength isn’t pretty but can be a field manager and clipboard leader.
5.183 | Damar Hamlin | S | Pittsburgh
Atlanta will miss Keanu Neal greatly but Damar Hamlin could be a late-round starter. He’s quite reactive with good range and ball skills as a safety. He comes up and is solid against the run. His tackling technique could be more consistent and needs to be more physical. His instincts are good and he has the tools to develop into a ball hawk.
6.187 | Jermar Jefferson | RB | Oregon State
The Falcons brought in the hot FA running back Mike Davis who will be the starter going into camp. It’s still unknown if Davis can continue his success filling in for Christian McCaffery but Jermar Jefferson can be a nice safety net and change of pace. He’s excellent as a receiver out of the backfield and is a tough runner with great vision. If he can transition his second-level success to the NFL, this will be a great backfield for a change.
6.219 | Landon Young | OT | Kentucky
The offensive line has no depth and Landon Young is at least a very physical tackle with a great college resume with Kentucky.
Atlanta Falcons 2021 NFL Mock Draft Recap
Pitts is a generational talent that will be the new cornerstone of the offense. Davis and Shi Smith can easily develop into starters in due time. Atlanta drafts some needed depth in key areas and could have snagged two late steals in Jefferson and Hamlin. It was a decent draft overall and did the job.
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