As they should have been, the Falcons were fully committed to the defensive side of the ball during the draft, spending four of their first five selections (the sixth was on a punter) on defense.
In the first round, they surprised many by taking A.J. Terrell out of Clemson. Now, whether you think this was a reach or not, several reports that came out after the draft have suggested he was not making it out of the first round, and this pick addressed the Falcons’ most glaring hole. Given the high selection, expect him to be starting on the outside from day one across from Isaiah Oliver, with Kendall Sheffield manning the nickel corner position.
While Terrell may turn out to be exactly what the Falcons needed coming into the draft, I wouldn’t have minded them doubling down on the position, which they didn’t do. You can never have too many cornerbacks in today’s pass-happy NFL, but Thomas Dimitroff hasn’t received the memo. Atlanta will have some dollars to spend once Desmond Trufant’s post-June 1st cut becomes official, and I’d like to see them add a veteran to this corner group, who at the very least, can mentor the younger players.
In the second round, the Falcons selected Marlon Davidson out of Auburn — my favorite pick of the draft. Primarily a defensive end in college, Davidson has added over twenty pounds since the end of his senior season, showing up to the combine weighing over 300 pounds. That tells me his plan is to play defensive tackle in the NFL, which is more natural for his body type. Next to Grady Jarrett, he should be able to utilize his quickness and explosiveness to push the pocket, completing the Falcons defensive line. I expect him to be a plug and play starter, with Tyeler Davison now being used as a rotational piece. However, Davidson also has the versatility to play on the edge in running situations, giving Dan Quinn even more options.
While I love the Davidson pick, I’m extremely disappointed the Falcons didn’t add more to their defensive line in this draft. They had two opportunities in the fourth round to pick up another edge defender like Bradlee Anae or Curtis Weaver, and they passed on them for Mykal Walker and Jaylinn Hawkins.
I understand the Mykal Walker pick. He filled the Falcons’ most significant need at the time with their first selection in the fourth-round. I don’t expect Walker to be an immediate starter, but I said the same thing about De’Vondre Campbell in 2016, who was also a fourth-round pick, and he quickly became a full-time starter and held the position for four years. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Falcons added some depth and competition at linebacker before the start of the season.
The Jaylinn Hawkins selection, however, was a head-scratcher, and the one that I graded the lowest in my knee-jerk reaction post-draft grades. Most scouts don’t believe he has the speed and coverage ability to ever become a starter in the NFL. And even if he did, he is slotted to be the fourth safety on the roster behind Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, and Damontae Kazee. With some quality defensive lineman still available at this juncture, I wish the Falcons had gone in that direction.
Because they didn’t, Atlanta still needs to add depth across their defensive line, particularly on the edge. Given they should have around $6 million in cap space once Desmond Trufant’s cut becomes official, and they sign their new draft class, they will have some options. The Falcons could also open up even more space before then by restructuring Julio Jones’ contract, which could save them up to about $8 million. I would say this is Atlanta’s most significant priority before the start of the season, and with several high-quality pass rushers still available, they should be able to fill that need with cap space to spare.
The Falcons did the right thing, focusing almost solely on defense during the draft, but there are still some holes to fill. However, with another addition or two — based on how this defense turned things around in the second half of last year — this will be a substantially better group in 2020.
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