ESPN projects Falcons picking No. 5 overall in 2023 NFL draft

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Nobody is confusing the Falcons with a Super Bowl contender in 2022. The team is going through a transitory period (Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot don’t permit us to use the word rebuilding) after trading away Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, as well as cutting bait with a few other bloated contracts. When the new regime took over, everyone knew this stage was inevitable.

The Falcons are taking recond-amounts of dead cap on the chin to clear the books, and outside of Deion Jones, the front office has pretty much cleaned up Atlanta’s cap sheet. However, the roster still lacks difference-makers, starting-caliber players, and even depth. Given those circumstances, nobody expects the Falcons to pick outside the top ten in the 2023 NFL draft. Now, you can add ESPN to the ever-growing list.

Using their Football Power Index, Seth Walder projected the order of the first ten selections in next year’s draft. And the Falcons came in at No. 5 overall.

Chance at No. 1 pick: 8.6%
Chance at top 10: 56.6%

Why they are here: After two years without a start, ESPN’s FPI assumes quarterback Marcus Mariota is going to be a drag on the Atlanta offense. That’s fair. But there’s also not much to drag down. Tight end Kyle Pitts is the only real established star on that side of the ball. There’s more to like on defense with cornerback A.J. Terrell and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett leading the way, but having what our FPI expects will be the worst offense in football is too much to overcome. — Walder

How they outperform this projection: The Falcons have one of the most questionable quarterback situations in the league, with veteran Mariota or rookie Desmond Ridder set to start. But if rookies Drake London (wide receiver) and Tyler Allgeier (running back) play well, it could open things up for second-year coach Arthur Smith’s playcalling and allow him to innovate more on offense. Add in the potential for a stronger pass rush — again, the Falcons will need rookie edge rushers Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone to at least play up to expectations — and Atlanta could have the chance to overacheive. — Michael Rothstein

I will argue with Walder on a few different points. Cordarrelle Patterson, Chris Lindstrom, and Jake Matthews might not be ‘stars’ like Kyle Pitts, but they’re certainly more than serviceable players; in fact, I’d argue each of the aforementioned players are fringe Pro Bowlers. On the defensive side of the ball, Casey Hayward wasn’t even mentioned; he’s going to surprise some people this year.

Mike Rothstein hit the nail right on the head with how Atlanta can outperform expectations. It all comes down to the 2021 and 2022 draft classes. If Jalen Mayfield, Richie Grant, Ade Ogundeji, and Ta’Quon Graham progress like the coaching staff hopes, the Falcons might field a halfway decent team — certainly not one selecting in the first ten picks of the draft. However, nearly everything would have to go perfectly for the Falcons to somehow win the seven or so games it’d take to be picking outside the first ten selections.

Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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