The NFL draft has become the most important part to any successful NFL franchise. The Falcons have had unbelievable draft classes since Dan Quinn has arrived, and those began with two fantastic first round picks. Vic Beasley and Keanu Neal became the cornerstones of the defense this season. If the Falcons can land another player like Beasley or Neal in the first round again, Atlanta could be on the verge of establishing something really special for a long time.
With Atlanta having the 31st pick this season, it might not be as easy to find a star player. Atlanta has two major needs: the first being along the defensive line and the second being at offensive guard. The Falcons have drafted defense heavily in the last two seasons, and I do not expect that to change in this year’s draft. The guard position may addressed, but most likely in free agency or later in the draft. The 31st pick is going to be on the defensive side of the ball.
Several mock drafts have the Falcons taking corner Adoree Jackson with the 31st pick. Jackson is one of the most electrifying players in this year’s draft, as he played offense, defense and special teams for the Trojans this season and made a number of jaw-dropping plays. So this is no-disrespect to Jackson when I say, there is absolutely no way this happens. Atlanta is loaded at the corner position. They just re-signed Robert Alford long-term, who has come into his own as a terrific corner. Desmond Trufant is nearing a long-term contract extension with the team. Jalen Collins did a terrific job as a replacement for Trufant after he was placed on IR. The second-year corner out of LSU was a project coming out of college, and his progression in just two years shows he may be well on his way to becoming a fantastic corner. And even beyond that, undrafted free agent Brian Poole did a fantastic job as the nickel corner all of last season as a rookie. Adoree Jackson or any other cornerback will not be the 31st pick.
As for safety, the Falcons have been pleased as they should be with the combination of Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen. Allen may not be a long-term option for the team, but I do not see the 31st pick being a safety unless the uber-athletic Jabrill Peppers is still available. Quinn loves speed and Peppers would certainly bring more of it, but for argument’s sake Peppers is off the board by the time the Falcons pick. The 31st pick will not be a safety.
That leaves us with three types of players: linebackers, edge rushers and interior defensive lineman. The linebacker class is nothing special in the first round outside of Alabama’s Reuben Foster. Foster was sent home from the combine and reportedly interviewed terribly. These things will not help Foster’s draft stock, but with very few linebacker options at the top of this draft, Foster will certainly be gone by the time the Falcons pick. Atlanta will draft a linebacker, but it will be in the following rounds. The 31st pick will not be a linebacker.
Then there were two. The Falcons could really go either way here, but they have to address their defensive line in the first round. Given that the pass rushing class is extremely weak in free agency, there will be no opportunity for the Falcons to really bolster their pass rush until the draft. Atlanta will likely add an interior defensive lineman in free agency to add depth to the young combination of Grady Jarrett and Ra’Shede Hageman, and the pass rushing class in the draft is absolutely loaded with talent. With those two things in mind, the 31st pick will most likely be and edge rusher to pair with pro-bowler Vic Beasley.
The back end of the first-round of this draft is loaded with guys with huge potential as pass-rushers. A guy like Tim Williams out of Alabama could be available. His 9 sacks last season helped propel the Tide defense to one of the best of all-time. However, is off the field issues might drop this talented pass rusher out of the first-round. The Falcons pass on Williams.
The player that really stands out to me that should be available by the time the Falcons select T.J Watt out of Wisconsin. Yes he will be the third of the Watt brothers to enter the NFL when he is drafted, but T.J has the talent to make his own mark the league.
Watt first caught my eye as he dominated my LSU Tigers in week one of last season. His seven tackles led the way for the Badgers and his key stops on third and fourth downs were the difference in the ball game. He was a clear mismatch against a LSU line that rated as the best in college football according to Pro Football Focus.
Take a look at some of his highlights from that game.
Watt may not have the eye-popping speed many of the pass rushing specialists in the league possess, but he showed off his athleticism during the combine with his vertical and broad jump. Like his brother, T.J. has an endless motor and is always looking for ways to impact the game even if he cannot make the sack. He has very active hands, making him terrific at disengaging blockers and batting balls down at the line of scrimmage. Watt only played one full season of college football and is already creating first-round buzz. There is still tons of room for him to develop and he will continue to get bigger as he transitions to the NFL. Quinn has been terrific at selecting and developing defensive players, and Watt could be another outstanding addition to the brotherhood.