With very few holes on this Atlanta team, it is possible they go a number of different ways with their first pick in the draft. Drafting a defensive tackle is a must, but with many solid options available at the position in the second and third rounds, the Falcons could choose to hold off on picking a defensive tackle first. This could be a draft where Atlanta decides to reload on offense, as they could use another receiver, offensive guard and tight end. Maybe they use that first-round pick on a stud receiver like Calvin Ridley out of Alabama. One thing is for sure, though, Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff are no strangers to making “surprising” moves in the NFL draft.
Dimitroff has shown many times in the past that he is not shy to make a move up in the first-round and get the guy they want. That’s why when D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC mentioned on his podcast, the Bowtie Chronicles, the Falcons possibly trading to grab Da’Ron Payne it was far from a surprise. Payne is an absolute freak. Very few players come out at his size with such speed, strength, quickness along with great hands. He should provide the perfect Robin to Grady Jarrett‘s Batman, who has become one of the best defensive tackles in the league. The problem is, I do not see Payne sliding past 20, which would mean the Falcons would have to move up 6+ spots to snag him. That is just too much of an investment for a team that did not have a second rounder last year and is missing a fifth rounder already in this draft. The Falcons, possibly regrettably, miss out on the Payne sweepstakes.
Another defensive tackle that has been consistently mocked to the Falcons is Taven Bryan out of Florida. Bryan checks all the boxes of a Dan Quinn draft pick. He is fast, quick off the ball, athletic and plays with a toughness about him. There is no doubt he is still a very raw prospect but has the potential to develop into a terrific pass-rushing defensive tackle. If Bryan is there at pick #26, the Falcons certainly might select him. But once again, I suspect Bryan will also be off the board before the Falcons select. There is too much talent for 25 other teams to pass on him, so unless Atlanta tries to trade up and select him, Bryan will not be donning a Falcons uniform.
That leaves Maurice Hurst as really the last possible defensive tackle the Falcons could select with the 26th pick. Hurst is probably the best tackle in the draft. However, an irregular heart condition will see him fall and has several teams not even considering the Michigan star. ESPN’s Todd McShay reported that Hurst might even fall to day 3 in the draft. So it is safe to say, if the Falcons wanted to take a risk on Hurst, they probably would not have to do it in the first round.
If the Falcons fail to make a trade up to snag either Payne or Bryan, it is likely their search for Grady’s Jarrett’s counterpart will have to wait until a later round. Their focus would then likely turn to the offensive side of the ball to fill a hole at either guard, wide receiver, or possibly even tight end if they have fallen in love with a prospect. When looking at offensive prospects, there are two guys that really stand out to me as possible first-round selections.
The first is Isaiah Wynn out of Georgia, whose standout Senior bowl now has him in the conversation for a first-round selection. Wynn played tackle in his final years with Georgia, earning first-team All-SEC honors and second-team All-American honors last year. His versatility and athleticism will make him an appealing prospect for Atlanta. There is no doubt the Falcons are looking for a long-term option at guard. Neither Andy Levitre or Brandon Fusco fit that description. Wynn is an attractive option and could very well be available at pick #26.
The second is Calvin Ridley out of Alabama. Wide receiver is not the Falcons biggest need by any means, but they are one of the few teams that can truly focus on drafting the best player available. For whatever reason, Ridley has seen his draft stock fall. Maybe it was the lack of production out of the receivers in last year’s draft or his lack of explosive during his junior year at Alabama. Whatever it is, the Falcons should be thankful, because there is a real possibility he slips to them in this draft. Ridley is going to be a tremendous wide receiver in the NFL. You can see the amount of work he puts into his game with his route running ability and his attitude is second to none. He could easily play in the slot early in his career, providing a tremendous third option behind Jones and Sanu, and then move outside a few years down the road. It may not be the most glaring need, but with the 26th pick in the draft, the Falcons take the best player available, WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama.