Falcons: Draft day first-round wish list

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Following the signings of Dante Fowler Jr. and Todd Gurley, the Falcons have minimal money available to spend for the remainder of free agency — even after restructuring the contracts of Jake Mathews, Matt Ryan, and Allen Bailey. They will likely fill the remainder of their roster with cheap options that possess some upside, like the recently signed Laquon Treadwell, meaning the rest of their holes — and there are several of them — will have to be patched up through April’s draft, which will presumably decide the fate of general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Atlanta is slated to select 16th in the first round, providing they stand pat, and there should be plenty of day-one impact players available for them.

5. Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma/Patrick Queen, Linebacker, LSU

Outside of Isaiah Simmons, who should be taken in the top five, there are two linebackers that I love in this draft — Kenneth Murray out of Oklahoma and Patrick Queen out of LSU. Both players are speedy, twitchy, and physical players that work sideline to sideline as well as anybody in this class. With De’Vondre Campbell heading west to Arizona, the Falcons have a gaping hole at linebacker that needs to be filled, and each of these guys would fit in perfectly next to Deion Jones. My reservations for a pick like this are mostly that 16th might be too high. There’s a chance one of these players is available with the Falcons second-round selection, or Atlanta could move back a little, snag one of them, and pick up some extra draft selections. However, in the Dan Quinn era, the team has shown no hesitation in taking a guy much higher than they are projected to go. If that’s the case with Queen or Murray, I would not complain.

4. C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida

Every cornerback in this year’s draft class has some flaws besides Jeff Okudah from Ohio State, and like Isaiah Simmons, he should be off the board in the top five selections. The Falcons aren’t going to make a trade into the top five; they have far too many needs, but C.J. Henderson should be available at pick 16 and could be a day-one starter across from Isaiah Oliver. The long corner has the ideal size that Dan Quinn covets and put on a clinic of athleticism at The Combine. My most significant concern with him was his lack of progression from 2018 to 2019 at Florida. He was a bit better two years ago, and some scouts even questioned his effort this past season. With that being said, I still think he’s a much better prospect than Kristian Fulton out of LSU, and Trevon Diggs or Cameron Dantzler feel like a reach at this spot. If the Falcons go corner with the 16th pick, C.J. Henderson should be their guy.

3. Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State

Noticing a trend? The Falcons first-round pick has to be on the defensive side of the ball. I wouldn’t mind them taking a top-ranked guard early, but not in the first round. Atlanta’s defense has to take a step forward in 2020, or Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn won’t be around for 2021. Even with the addition of Dante Fowler Jr., the Falcons could still use help on the edge, and Gross-Matos possesses the kind of versatility that would allow him to fit in perfectly. Here’s an excerpt from our recent draft profile on him:

Enter Yetur Gross-Matos, the (6-foot-5, 264 pounds) former Nittany Lion will be a shoo-in for a starting position on whichever team selects him, and the Atlanta Falcons, who are in dire need of someone who can create constant pressure, make perfect sense. Though he did not record more sacks than Epenesa or Young, he is far more disruptive in the run game than those two and could fill multiple voids on a defensive line that lacks playmakers (outside of Grady Jarrett).

Aside from his physical features, Gross-Matos is a versatile defender. He can play the 5-technique (if he added more weight), 3-technique, and even nose tackle. This quality is noteworthy because having your best pass rushers on the field at one time is most effective in obvious passing situations. He will play mainly on the edge where he is most comfortable, but he reserves the right to be kicked inside, gaining a favorable matchup against an offensive guard.

I suspect Gross-Matos will be available for the Falcons with the 16th pick, and they may even feel they can trade back a few spots and pick up an extra selection. Regardless, adding a talented and relentless player on the edge will be viewed as a plus in my eyes.

2. K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU

Don’t look at the stat sheet when trying to value Chaisson coming into the NFL draft. It will only underwhelm and fail to give the full picture of what this young man has to offer at the next level. He was expected to become a dominant pass-rushing force for the LSU defense as a sophomore in 2018 but tore his ACL in the first week of the season. The following year, Chaisson also dealt with some ankle issues that kept him sidelined and limited for several games. But by about midway through the season, he finally started to look healthy, becoming one of the most important players on the Tigers defense. Chaisson already has an array of pass-rushing moves, loves contact, and defends against the run — along with being a pure physical specimen with incredible athleticism. His ceiling is through the roof, and he would be a fantastic addition to Atlanta’s defense, especially if Takk McKinley does not return in 2021.

1. Javon Kinlaw, DL, South Carolina

I’m at the point where I’m pretty sure Kinlaw will be off the board by the time the Falcons select at 16, but he’s the type of prospect I wouldn’t mind if Thomas Dimitroff traded up a bit to snag. The 6’5″, 320-pound defensive tackle is an unbelievable athlete for his size with incredible strength. He graded out as an elite pass rusher, according to PFF, despite having a limited pass-rushing skill set at this point. The amount of potential Kinlaw possesses has scouts (and myself) salivating. The thought of pairing him with Grady Jarrett, while still having Dante Fowler Jr. and Takk McKinley rushing on the outside makes me giddy with excitement.


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