The 2019 NFL season has come to a close, and luckily for the Falcons, it is time to turn the page. The NFL Combine is in about three weeks; free agency is just six weeks away, and shortly after, it will be the NFL Draft. Before we know it, we will have a good idea of what the personnel will look like going into next fall. However, a lot changes — as far as player stock goes — over these next couple of months.
Round 1, Pick 16: EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU
I’ll be very transparent: this mock is designed to fix the Falcons’ pass-rushing woes, especially now that they have confirmed they will allow Vic Beasley to walk. Atlanta will be too tight against the cap to pay one in free agency, so they will go with not only a perfect fit at number 16 but the best player available in K’Lavon Chaisson. Chaisson’s most significant question was his pass-rushing production coming into this season after he tore his ACL as a sophomore. He’s only racked up 6.5 sacks on the season but had 13.5 tackles for loss as well. Before you get too critical, remember that former LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter only had 4.5 career sacks for the Tigers. This is about the overall skillset. He was the primary point of emphasis for opposing offenses and showed elite athleticism along with versatility, possessing explosiveness off the edge and could be one signature pass-rush move away from being a star.
Round 2, Pick 47: EDGE Bradlee Anae, Utah
Yep, I am doubling down at pass rusher. Bradlee Anae is the University of Utah’s all-time leading pass rusher, and showed scouts it was far from a fluke with his recent performance in the Senior Bowl. Coming off a 13 sack year for the Utes, Anae had three sacks, one forced interception, and was in the opposing backfield all day long. His stock is rising fast, and I would not hesitate to take him in the second round. Anae is a perfect fit for a 4-3 defense and has natural pass-rushing ability. Pairing him with Chaisson could be deadly.
Round 2, Pick 55: RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
With there being a ton of uncertainty about whether or not there will be Post-June 1 cuts in the final year of the CBA, the Falcons are now more likely to hold onto Devonta Freeman for another season. But regardless of whether he is back with the team this year, the clock is ticking, and it’s time to find another back. If the Falcons can pull off taking Jonathan Taylor in the second round, it would be an absolute steal. No other running back in college rivaled Taylor’s production as he was the focal point of Wisconsin’s offense. Honestly, mileage is the only thing you can criticize about his game. He is an excellent receiver out of the backfield as well and adds another playmaker to the Falcons’ offense. Taylor will be a lead back in the NFL for a long time, and if the Falcons can get him here, it would be courtesy of the New England Patriots.
Round 3, Pick 78: EDGE Anfernee Jennings, Alabama
Yea, I went there. Three pass rushers. That’s the route I think the Falcons should go. This has been a problem for way too long that, at this point, I am willing to play the law of large numbers. But Jennings is also projected to be the best player available around this spot. Jennings is coming off an excellent final season for the Crimson Tide in which he racked up eight sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. He does not have the explosiveness of the other two rushers above but is a big player who can rely on his strength and technique to get past opposing linemen. In a situation as such, Jennings could step into a rotation on day one and contribute.
Round 4, Pick 116: TE Harrison Bryant, FAU
The Falcons have a critical decision to make with Austin Hooper this offseason, and I think it is 50-50 that he returns. Regardless of whether he does or not, it makes a ton of sense to draft a tight end here, especially one so talented. Bryant is coming off a 1,000-yard season as a tight end for FAU, an uncommon stat line in college. Many have compared him to former Ravens TE Dennis Pitta, and his receiving ability is unquestioned. The biggest question mark surrounding Bryant is his blocking, but he made some nasty blocks in the Senior Bowl, showing this is an area he can improve upon. Bryant is going to be an outstanding NFL player, and while it is hard to rely on rookie tight ends for production, he would undoubtedly be a step up from the Falcons’ internal options if Hooper walks.
Round 5, Pick 158: QB Anthony Gordon, Wash. State
While I did theoretically fix the Falcons’ pass-rushing woes with this mock, I admittedly did want to add some more defensive depth in the later rounds. However, Anthony Gordon is too good a talent to pass up, and bringing him on board would open up an extra $2 million by cutting Matt Schaub. Last year, I wrote the Falcons should draft another former Mike Leach quarterback in Gardner Minshew in the fifth round. He ended up being as good as it gets as a rookie backup for Jacksonville and has a bright future ahead of him. Gordon was close to beating out Minshew the year before, per Leach. He responded this year by tossing 5,579 yards, 48 TDs, and 18 picks. Leach QB’s don’t have the best track records in the NFL, but with more and more teams gravitating to spread offenses, times have changed. Matt Ryan is still 34, and it is not quite time for the Falcons to spend high draft equity on a QB. But they will be hard-pressed to find a 5th round QB with more upside, and I am higher on him than Jordan Love, a guy who may very well be a first-rounder.
Round 7, Pick 229: ATH Malcolm Perry, Navy
At the end of the 7th round, this is all about taking the best athlete possible. There is no way that Malcolm Perry will play QB at the next level, but he may be worth experimenting with as a receiver or running back after he rushed for over 2,000 yards as a QB. This did not go well for former Navy QB Keenan Reynolds, but Perry may be able to cut it as a playmaker, and in the 7th round, why not?