Falcons 2024 Draft Class Grade: “D is for dumbfounding”

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Most media pundits have taken their turn using the Falcons as a verbal punching bag this offseason, most recently over their decision to draft Michael Penix with their top pick.

Gennaro Filice of NFL.com is the latest, giving Atlanta the lowest grade of the league’s draft cycle. Typically, I wouldn’t continue to highlight these negative reviews, but I think Filice nailed the biggest issues with the entire situation, finishing with the one-liner of the offseason.

The NFC South is there for the taking right now. The Bucs held the throne with a 9-8 record last season and an 8-9 mark in 2022. When Cousins signed with the Falcons, they immediately vaulted to the top of divisional odds. Sure feels like it’s GO TIME. If it’s not? Then Atlanta shouldn’t have given a soon-to-be 36-year-old quarterback $100 million guaranteed in the first place. If it is? Don’t you think this roster could use a closer off the edge? Well, on that front …

I’d go even further and say not only is the division up for grabs but the conference as a whole is as well. The Falcons signaled to the rest of the league they believed they could be contenders with Kirk Cousins then followed it up by taking his successor with their most valuable draft pick.

Cousins is one of the five best quarterbacks in the NFC. When you have that, you have a chance. The Falcons’ one-foot-in, one-foot-out/make-it-up-as-they-go philosophy is what’s so frustrating, not the Michael Penix pick.

The curse of John Abraham is alive and well. Since Atlanta released Abraham in March of 2013, exactly one Falcon has posted double-digit sacks (Vic Beasley in 2016). Fontenot and Co. had their pick of the pass-rushing litter in this draft, but they opted for a backup passer. Consequently, Atlanta’s edge-rushing unit is headlined by Arnold Ebiketie, Lorenzo Carter, Zach Harrison and rookie third-rounder Bralen Trice. Damn you, Abraham!!!

The Falcons have neglected their pass rush with premier draft capital and top end free agents. Much like the Michael Penix and Kirk Cousins situation, the Falcons decision to bolster the pass rush with Day 2 and 3 draft picks is risky. With no additions to a secondary that needed them, the pass rush was once again neglected this offseason as it was every year prior.

This draft class does include some potential developmental quarterbacks — SEE: 21-year-old J.J. McCarthy, selected two slots after Atlanta’s pick — who could be well-served by a redshirt year or two. Penix … is not that. This man has 45 college starts under his belt and is days away from his 24th birthday. Even if the Flacons still view him as something of a developmental quarterback, spending the No. 8 overall selection on a developmental quarterback is the definition of a luxury pick, but Atlanta hasn’t had the luxury of a winning season since 2017. So all comparisons to Green Bay’s approach with Jordan Love or Kansas City’s top-10 selection of Patrick Mahomes just ring hollow.

The biggest difference between Green Bay and Kansas City compared to Atlanta is cache. Kirk Cousins has absolutely none in the city, within Flowery Branch, or anywhere else connected to the Falcons.

The headline in this story is Filice’s last point, which concluded with his D grade.

This grade will make people think I’m disparaging Penix. I’m not. In college football’s national semifinals, he artfully cooked a loaded Texas team that just set a program record with 11 players drafted. I was in awe of that performance, just like everyone else. What I’m disparaging here is the process. I didn’t understand it on draft night, I don’t understand it today and I’m unlikely to understand it for at least a few years, if ever. When such a bold decision is made with SUCH a premium pick, it acutely trumps everything else in the draft class. Thus, in the admittedly shortsighted, unfair exercise of instant draft grading, I’m forced to hand out a D. And in this instance, the D is for dumbfounding.

D is for dumbfounding got a chuckle out of me. The Falcons will be laughed at unless Michael Penix turns into a productive starter in this league, and even then, they still might be the butt of the NFL’s jokes.

Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

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