The Falcons did a terrific job filling vacancies at tight end, running back, and EDGE rusher shortly after the new league year began. Now, they will look for answers at cornerback, interior offensive line/defensive line, and linebacker as well as depth as a whole with the virtual NFL Draft approaching.
It is almost a foregone conclusion that Atlanta will select a corner in the first or second round. While there are still a handful of complementary veterans that could help Atlanta bolster it’s secondary, the answer will take a lot more than that, given the Falcons have less than $2 million in cap space following the signing of Todd Gurley.
The positive news is one of Atlanta’s other primary needs can be addressed later in the draft, with this being a strong and deep offensive line class. Atlanta needs to find a steady replacement at left guard to fill out their group up front, and John Simpson out of Clemson is worth a look.
We saw the Falcons invest heavily in their interior line last season by adding Chris Lindstrom 14th overall, and while it is highly unlikely they would draft another interior lineman so high, having two premier prospects sandwiching Alex Mack could be the recipe Atlanta needs to get their offense, as well as Todd Gurley, back on track to elite production.
Simpson can help the Falcons do just that. The question is, will Atlanta take a look at him as early as 47th overall, or do they have the luxury of waiting to select him around 78th overall? This is something I cannot answer, but Simpson certainly has a chance to start day one for Atlanta. I’m just not sure he’s a prospect I would reach for.
A four-star prospect in high school — Simpson chose to attend Clemson over the likes of Florida and Alabama. He paid his dues for two seasons, eventually earning the starting job once Taylor Hearn moved on to the NFL. Believe it or not, despite all of Clemson’s success under head coach Dabo Swinney, the team has not had an offensive lineman drafted in five seasons and have not had one selected in the top 90 picks since 1979. Simpson is now all but a lock to buck these trends after his last two seasons as a starter.
He has all the size and strength you can ask for at 6’5″, 330 lbs, posting the third-most bench press reps at The Combine among offensive lineman with 34. The Falcons need to re-establish their running game and are trying to do so by upgrading from Devonta Freeman to Todd Gurley. If they are looking for a power run blocker in Dirk Koetter’s scheme, that is what Simpson brought to the table in college.
His efforts in his Junior and Senior seasons were enough to have him named a third-team All-ACC selection in 2018 and a first-team All-ACC pick as well as a second-team Associated Press All-American in 2019. Simpson is a natural anchor that creates massive gaps in the run game and is best fit in a west coast offense that runs gap and power schemes. Koetter has not had success with running the ball in the past, but Simpson would help change that in Atlanta. The addition of him and a healthy Gurley could revive the run game into one of the best in the NFL. Simpson won’t be a fit for every team, but Atlanta seems like an ideal match. Scouts have raved about his intangibles as well.
While Simpson possesses all the strength and meanness you can ask for in the run game, he is not a perfect prospect. He will have to improve his pass blocking at the next level to have a long career as an NFL starter. Simpson is a little stiff, which is understandable for his size, but a concern nonetheless. His footwork could use some work as well.
There is a place in the NFL for Simpson, and Atlanta could be a perfect marriage if he falls to the third round, but the second round may be a little high. I am much higher on interior line prospects such as Damien Lewis, Lloyd Cushenberry, Tyler Biadasz, and Matt Hennessey.