The new regime’s first draft class took place in 2021, as Falcons fans were excited about what the new front office could do with the #4 overall selection and eight total draft picks. Every draft class deserves at least 2-3 years before it can really be evaluated, but we are at the point with the rookies that came inside the building in 2021, and the results have been anything but encouraging.
Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up, beginning with Frank Darby, who was a sixth-round selection. The fiery wide receiver was released in the preseason with an injury designation. However, sixth-round picks failing to make an impact isn’t exactly abnormal in this league, and the Falcons did find some success in the fifth round.
Avery Williams was taken with pick #183 and quickly established himself as a special teams ace. Unfortunately, a non-contact injury during the offseason will keep him out all of 2023, but there’s still some hope that he can contribute next year.
Right before Williams, with pick #182, the Falcons selected Ade Ogundeji, who was also placed on IR; however, that might be the last we see of him in Atlanta. He had plenty of opportunities to prove himself in his first two seasons and did not look the part of an NFL defensive lineman.
With pick #148, the Falcons selected Ta’Quon Graham out of Texas, who really carved out a nice role for himself next to Grady Jarrett last season before his season ended with an injury. Given all the Falcons added to the defensive line this past offseason, Graham has been used in more of a reserve role this season, but for a fifth-round pick, he’s provided some value, especially when looking at the rest of this class.
This is where things begin to look really ugly. The Falcons used their fourth-round pick on cornerback Darren Hall, who failed to make the 53-man roster this season. They then used their third-round selection on Jaylen Mayfield, one of the worst draft picks of my lifetime. Not only has he already been released, but I would be shocked if he ever played in the NFL again, a disgusting early wart on the new regime’s resumé, and it might not even be their worst decision of the 2021 draft.
In the second round, the Falcons drafted safety Richie Grant, who assumed a starter’s role in 2022. To this point, he’s experienced a lot of ups and downs, but I’m not ready to qualify him as a bust just yet. He will have to show improvement eventually. If it doesn’t happen this season, it may never happen in Atlanta.
However, perhaps the biggest mistake of the entire 2021 NFL Draft could be the decision to make Kyle Pitts the highest-drafted tight end of all time, and there are several reasons for this.
Coming out of college, there was no questioning Pitts’ talent, and that was incredibly apparent as a rookie. With Matt Ryan, he was breaking records and looked like he was well on his way to being the next premier tight end in the league. But since then, his production has plummeted.
Whether it’s the quarterback play, the play-calling itself, or injuries, Pitts has not lived up to the billing that comes with the 4th overall pick. That’s not to say he can’t in the future, but contrary to Arthur Smith’s beliefs, it’s not just fantasy football owners that are concerned.
I don’t play fantasy football much and I don’t have Kyle Pitts on the one team that I do have, but I am a Falcons fan, and I am concerned with the way he’s being utilized. I’m also concerned with his health; he just doesn’t look like he has the same extra gear that he had when he burst onto the scene as a rookie.
This is now year three, and it doesn’t look like Arthur Smith has any idea how to make a player they drafted fourth overall more involved in the offense. I would love to say I expect it to change, but am I confident in that happening? No, not this year at least.
What could also make the selection of Kyle Pitts look even worse in the future is all of the studs that were drafted right behind him. Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Patrick Surtain II, Penei Sewell, and Micah Parsons were all drafted within eight picks of Pitts. Those are five All-Pro caliber players the Falcons passed up on at positions of need in favor of a tight end that they are not properly utilizing.
It’s way too early to call Kyle Pitts a bust, but it’s not too early to look at the Falcons 2021 NFL Draft class and be disgusted. This was a draft the new regime would have loved to nail, and they didn’t come close.
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