Falcons go heavy on defense in Fox Sports 7-round mock draft

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 28 Georgia vs Florida

With the bulk of free agency in the rearview mirror, all eyes are on the NFL Draft at the end of the month. The current state of the Falcons roster is in good, not great shape, with the defense looking a lot like the ones that trotted onto the field when Matt Ryan was under center in Atlanta. If things don’t change, the Falcons are going to be in a helluva lot of shootouts in 2024, which is why Greg Auman of Fox Sports has Terry Fontenot heavily favoring the defensive side of the ball in his latest seven-round mock draft for the Dirty Birds.

First round, No. 8: OLB Dallas Turner, Alabama

Quick trivia question: Who was the last Falcons player to have 10 sacks in a season? It’s been a while. Atlanta hasn’t even had an eight-sack season since 2019, and to get double digits, you have to go back to Vic Beasley in 2016. That’s the longest drought of any NFL team — 27 of 32 teams have had a 10-sack season in the past three years. Atlanta has put just one first-round pick into an edge rusher in that span, taking Takk McKinley with the 26th pick in 2017. So this has been a neglected position recently for the Falcons.

Is Turner the guy to end that streak? He’s set up well for it. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year had 10 sacks last year and has a lean 6-foot-3, 247-pound frame and freak athletic skills, running the 40 in 4.46 seconds and showing off a 40.5-inch vertical leap.

Auman’s trivia question to begin his dialogue encapsulates perfectly the struggles the Falcons have had at getting after the quarterback in recent years. However, the problem has existed for much longer than that. The Falcons haven’t had a consistent double digit sack guy off the edge in well over a decade, since John Abraham was wearing the red and black, and you have to go back even further to find a guy the Falcons have actually drafted that has produced sacks at a high rate.

Every organization seems to have a blind eye when it comes to at least one position. For the Falcons, it’s pass rushers. Could Dallas Turner change that narrative? He certainly has the athletic profile to become a star off the EDGE, but it’s going to take high quality coaching to help him reach his full potential.

Second round, No. 43: CB Kamari Lassiter, Georgia

The Falcons could go corner or safety here, with uncertain starters at each position opposite two stars in safety Jessie Bates and corner A.J. Terrell. We’ll go with corner, arguably the more important position, likely falling to 2023 fourth-round pick Clark Phillips as it stands. Lassiter had only one interception in three seasons at Georgia, but he’s physical and confident, with 8.5 tackles for loss in his last two seasons to go with solid overall pass coverage.

Could Atlanta look for more of a ballhawk? Perhaps. The Falcons totaled eight interceptions last year — only the Packers (7) and Titans (6) had fewer. And of those eight picks, zero came from corners, with six coming from Bates. That void could perhaps push Atlanta toward a prospect with better ball skills, like Missouri‘s Kris Abrams-Draine, who had four interceptions last year and seven overall in college.

Georgia fans will love this one, and Falcons fans should as well. Atlanta’s two most glaring needs right now exist on the EDGE and at cornerback. In this mock draft, they address both in a big way with their first two picks. Lassiter has the type of collegiate production that would typically garner first-round consideration; however, a 4.6 40-yard dash time at Georgia’s Pro-Day likely takes him out of that conversation. Slow corners generally don’t turn out to be All-Pros, but Lassiter is a gamer that has the versatility to occupy several different roles in a defense.

Third round, No. 74: OT Kiran Amegadjie, Yale

Amegadjie (pronounced “ah-meh-gah-G”) is a super-intriguing prospect, not just for the Ivy League background, but because both of his parents were born in Africa. He was limited to just four games last season by a quad injury, but he’s 6-foot-5, 323, with a ridiculous 85-inch wingpan and athleticism to match. The Falcons don’t need a starting tackle immediately, but Jake Matthews is 32 and Kaleb McGary has no guaranteed money left in his contract after this season, so this could be a path toward developing a 2025 starter.

Taking a gamble on Amegadjie’s unbelievable size in the third round shouldn’t bother anyone. The Falcons could use more depth across the offensive line, and their pair of starting tackles are not going to be around forever. Kaleb McGary is coming off one of his better seasons, but consistency has been an issue, and Jake Matthews could be nearing the end of his career.

Third round, No. 79: WR Roman Wilson, Michigan

This pick was acquired from the Jaguars in the Calvin Ridley trade, so it’s easy to look at receivers here, between the strong depth of this year’s class and the Falcons’ overall lack of depth behind London. They’ve traded for Rondale Mooreand signed Darnell Mooney this offseason, but Wilson would upgrade that group nicely, with 12 touchdown catches last season and 4.39 speed in the 40. Cousins has shown he can hit it off with a rookie receiver, throwing seven touchdowns to Jordan Addison in the first eight games last season in Minnesota.

Wide receiver remains a sneaky need for the Falcons, even after adding Darnell Mooney in free agency and Rondale Moore in a trade with the Cardinals. Roman Wilson is one of my favorite receivers that could potentially be available at this spot. He’s got tremendous speed and was J.J. McCarthy’s most reliable target at Michigan. The Wolverines offense wasn’t the type to throw it around the yard much, which caused McCarthy and Wilson’s numbers too look underwhelming, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have success at the next level.

Fourth round, No. 109: DT Mekhi Wingo, LSU

As a die-hard LSU fan, this is another pick that would be a slam dunk at this point in the draft. Mekhi Wingo is on the shorter side and doesn’t pop off the page athletically. There also isn’t an area of his game where I would say he is excellent, but the dude is a straight-up gamer when the whistle blows. He reminds me of Grady Jarrett in a lot of ways, who was taken in the fifth round by the Falcons in the 2016 draft, and we all know how that turned out.

Fifth round, No. 143: RB Isaac Guerendo, Louisville

The Falcons will add to their running back room following the departure of Cordarrelle Patterson, and Guerendo could be a nice change of pace option. However, this might be a position that is filled after the draft by an undrafted free agent. Bijan Robinson is going to be the focal point of the offense, and Tyler Allgeier should be getting whatever is left.

Sixth round, No. 187: LB Edefuan Ulofoshio, Washington

At this point in the draft, positional value is completely tossed out the window. The Falcons just hope to land a contributor of some kind, probably one that is most valuable on special teams.

Sixth round, No. 197: S Jaylin Simpson, Auburn

The Falcons had some luck late in last year’s draft when they took Alabama’s DeMarcco Hellams in the seventh round, who supplanted Richie Grant as the starter late in the season. Perhaps lighting could strike twice with another safety from the state of Alabama.

Photo: David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire

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