Falcons 2022 NFL draft picks and way-too-early grades

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In what many described as a critical juncture, the Falcons wrapped up the second draft under the new regime over the weekend. Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith‘s first rookie class was underwhelming. Other than Kyle Pitts, no other member of the 2021 draft class contributed in a significant way.

That isn’t to say the likes of Richie Grant, Ade Ogundeji, and Ta’Quon Graham can’t take massive leaps forward in 2022. Those three, in particular, showed flashes but just couldn’t put it all together in their first year. After trading away Matt Ryan, losing Calvin Ridley for the season, and watching in-house free agents sign elsewhere, the upcoming season looked like a total wash. The Falcons were well on their way to being within reach of one of the highly touted quarterback prospects of the 2023 draft class.

Well, the 2022 draft class has probably put an end to that dream. As it’s constructed, this team is a long way from a playoff game, but the front office added some terrific pieces. A lot of the 2022 rookie class should have an immediate impact, even if it is on special teams. Drake London, Atlanta’s first overall pick, will pair nicely with Kyle Pitts and give Marcus Mariota another big target. Arnold Ebiketie, who the Falcons traded up for, and DeAngelo Malone aren’t blue chip prospects but should provide a boost to the pass rush.

Fontenot also drafted Troy Anderson, an athletic freak with the physical tools to eventually become a three-down linebacker. He’ll at least be a special teams mainstay this season since the team signed Rashaan Evans, and Deion Jones is still under contract. The longtime Saints executive also nabbed a signal caller. Even though he likely won’t make an impact in 2022, Desmond Ridder was excellent value in the third round and gives the team a future under center.

It’s way too early to grade this class. It’ll be at least two or three seasons before we know if this was a successful draft or not. However, that hasn’t stopped the national pundits from dishing out their thoughts on each team’s selections. Below is a full list of the Falcons’ 2022 draft class as well as the biggest names in the game grading and analyzing Atlanta’s picks.

Round 1 • Pick 8 (8) • WR Drake London
Round 2 • Pick 6 (38) • EDGE Arnold Ebiketie
Round 2 • Pick 26 (58) • LB Troy Andersen
Round 3 • Pick 10 (74) • QB Desmond Ridder
Round 3 • Pick 18 (82) • EDGE DeAngelo Malone
Round 5 • Pick 8 (151) • RB Tyler Allgeier
Round 6 • Pick 11 (190) • G Justin Shaffer
Round 6 • Pick 35 (213) • TE John FitzPatrick

Conor Orr, Sports Illustrated — B-

 I think Drake London will be a really good NFL player, and maybe the Falcons have the capabilities to use him right now. Both Marcus Mariota and Ridder are on-time throwers who succeed more regularly with a defined system. But London can reward quarterbacks who can buy themselves time, re-set and throw the deep ball, which Mariota and Ridder can both do. Ridder was especially impressive in finding more time within tight spaces. The Falcons’ offensive skill position set reminds me a bit of the middle years of Cam Newton’s time with the Patriots. Most of the weapons are taller with a larger catch radius and can dominate mismatches. Ebiketie has a heavy first punch and while his own momentum can be used against him sometimes, he is an example of the depth of this edge-rushing class.

 

Pro Football Focus — A

Day 2: The Falcons ranked dead last in team pressure rate last season (21%). They needed to give Grady Jarrett some help along the defensive front, specifically off the edge. Ebiketie earned 88.0-plus PFF pass-rushing grades in each of his final two seasons at Penn State to go along with 80th-plus percentile finishes in every athletic testing drill, save the bench press. It’s not hard to see why the Falcons would make the move up for him.

Andersen can be a special player for Atlanta. He was recruited to Montana State to play linebacker but was forced to start at running back and quarterback his first and second years in college because he was the best option they had at both positions. He didn’t play in 2020 because of COVID-19 and then finally got the opportunity to play off-ball linebacker full-time in 2021. He’s a freaky athlete who is still learning the position, but he has as high a ceiling as any of the off-ball linebackers in the 2022 class.

Ridder was seen as a fringe first-round quarterback, but the NFL evidently doesn’t like this class. He is a steal at No. 74 overall. He has the best processing of any of this year’s quarterbacks and boasts legitimate speed and athleticism with a solid arm. His accuracy is an issue (adjusted completion rate of just 72% for his career), but he has real starting potential on a team with no long-term starter in place.

A massively experienced player with five seasons of college production under his belt, Malone can rush the passer and bring power to the table despite being undersized. He was impressive at the Senior Bowl and has added some bulk during the pre-draft process. He had 180 total pressures across five years in college, never grading lower than 74.8 overall.

 

The combination of London and Kyle Pitts should give a needed boost to the Falcons’ passing game. General manager Terry Fontenot addressed the team’s other major need on Day 2, strengthening a poor pass rush with Ebiketie and Malone, while also landing an athletic second-level defender in Andersen and smartly nabbing a potential future starter in Ridder.

Allgeier’s a solid pick but they could have met other needs with their first Day 3 selection. Shaffer lumbers a bit but can move the line of scrimmage. FitzPatrick wasn’t used enough at Georgia but has the potential to be a fine pass-catcher. Their defensive tackle group could use a strong undrafted free agent addition.

 

Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN — B+

That reset on offense starts with a new No. 1 receiver in Drake London (8), a 6-foot-4 weapon who will make life easier for his quarterback. I’m a big fan of London, who will be great in the red zone and is a sweet fit in the same offense as dynamic tight end Kyle Pitts. How are teams going to cover both in the red zone?

I thought the Falcons had one of the best Day 2s in the league. Quarterback Desmond Ridder (74) looked at times in college like a future All-Pro and at other times an undrafted free agent. He is my fourth-ranked signal-caller, but I thought he’d go in Round 2. I wouldn’t be surprised if he started a handful of games as a rookie and wrested the job away from Marcus MariotaArnold Ebiketie (38) is an underrated edge rusher. Troy Andersen (58) is a fit I projected to Atlanta in my two-round mock draft a few weeks ago. DeAngelo Malone (82) can get early third-down snaps as a situational edge rusher. On Day 3, running back Tyler Allgeier (151) doesn’t have a ton of straight-line speed, but I expect him to make the team because of his toughness.

Photographer: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

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