Falcons 2021 draft class is making strides

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The Falcons have started the second year under Arthur Smith the same way they did last season, dropping their first two games. However, there is a crucial difference; the team has remained competitive in each loss. Atlanta dominated New Orleans for three quarters in the season opener before folding in the fourth quarter, surrendering a 16-point lead. Then, the club fought all the way back from a 28-3 deficit to pull within one score of the defending Super Bowl champion Rams, only to fall in the final minutes following a Marcus Mariota red zone interception. It might not be the victories the fan base wants, but it’s still progress. Moreover, the new regime’s first draft class is making noticeable strides.

Kyle Pitts was the headliner of the 2022 draft class, the highest drafted tight end in league history. The NFL world already knows what he’s capable of doing to defenses, a rookie Pro Bowler who broke multiple league and franchise records last year. This season hasn’t been as kind to the phenom, only recording two receptions and 19 yards in each of the Falcons first two games. However, nobody should be worried about the production of Pitts; he and Arthur Smith will eventually figure it out.

The team’s second-round pick from a year ago, Richie Grant, played sparingly in 2021 as he could not mentally grasp Dean Pees’ complex defensive scheme. Not this year, though. The UCF product has been a mainstay through two weeks and has come as advertised — making the most of his versatility. Grant has spent time all over Pees’ defense — single and two high, in the box, near the line of scrimmage, in the slot, etc. He’s currently the leading tackler on the team, with 16 total through two games to go along with a pass defended.

Jalen Mayfield, a third-rounder, has been relegated to a reserve role after losing the starting left guard spot to Elijah Wilkinson, who has been a tremendous improvement for the Falcons’ offensive line. So, we just will skip over that one.

Darren Hall hadn’t played much but was thrust into a prominent role when AJ Terrell went down with a head injury on Sunday. Hall was burnt a couple of times, but he came up with a tide-turning play. After being beat like a stepchild by Cooper Kupp, Hall never gave up on the play and made his best Peanut Tillman impression, punching the ball out and giving the Falcons’ offense a chance to take the lead — something Marcus Mariota squandered away.

Drew Dalman was selected after Hall but has started both games for the Falcons this season. He had a rough go at it against the Rams with penalties and miscues on snaps, which he will have to figure out. However, his performance against the Saints was better than anything I saw from Matt Hennessy a year ago; that’s what I call progress.

The Falcons’ pair of fifth-round defenders will be fantastic pieces for Pees in the future. Ta’Quon Graham looked phenomenal against the Saints and has totaled three quarterback hits through two weeks. At the same time, Ade Ogundeji has notched a sack and nine total tackles this season. The Falcons have to continue to build the trenches and can improve both of these positions, but as fifth-rounders, they’re doing well.

Avery Williams has switched positions from corner to running back and been a pleasant surprise. He certainly hasn’t impacted games like the rest of the members of the 2021 draft class, but he’s helped out in many different ways. The Boise State product has totaled 21 yards on four offensive touches and 42 yards on three punt returns.

The best NFL teams consistently develop in-house talent and then build around that core through free agency. It’s far too early to tell, but it seems the Falcons are inching closer to building a competent roster.

David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

 

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