The Falcons came away with arguably the best non-quarterback prospect in the first round of last night’s draft in Kyle Pitts. Still, the simple fact remains the easiest way to get to the playoffs has been and always will be winning one’s division. Atlanta finished last a year ago in the NFC South, so the first step to any measure of success is beating division rivals. The Falcons were the only team in the division to select an offensive player, ironically too, since Atlanta had the worst defense in the division a season ago — narrowly edged out by the Panthers in points per game. So as an NFC South recap, we will analyze each of the Falcons’ division rival’s first-round picks.
With the eighth overall pick in the draft, Scott Fitterer selected South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn as the team continues the defensive rebuild started a season ago, adding a dynamic starter at a position of need. Patrick Surtain II was the favorite to be the first defensive player selected in last night’s first round, but Horn has a higher ceiling than Surtain. In a division with Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mike Evans, Carolina bolstered their defensive back room. Even though there were attempts to trade up, the Panthers stood pat.
“We fielded calls, but there wasn’t anything that really kind of matched moving away from, Jaycee, who was top player on our board at that time,” general manager Scott Fitterer said. “He was just too good a fit for us. The offers didn’t match walking away from Jaycee, and that’s why we didn’t do it.”
New Orleans Saints
Unlike the Panthers, who addressed a position of need, the Saints decided to draft defensive end Payton Turner out of Houston. New Orleans had major holes at linebacker and corner, so the decision to draft Turner is mind-boggling. He’s an extremely raw prospect, similar to Marcus Davenport, but has all the physical measurables an NFL team could want. With Trey Hendrickson leaving in free agency, Turner is a clear replacement, and a true edge defender with ridiculously long arms (35.38”) and great agility for a 6-foot-6, 270-pound man. The Saints never had an issue getting after Matt Ryan, and now, they have a prospect who might be able to terrorize the Falcons’ quarterback for another decade.
Tampa Bay Buccanneers
Like the Saints, the Buccanneers selected a pass rusher in Joe Tyron out of the University of Washington, whose considered to be a raw talent. He couldn’t have gone to a better situation either, where he can learn behind Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul. “I’m going to be a sponge,” Tryon said via the Tampa Bay Times. “Those dudes are some really big-time players, they’ve been doing it, playing at a high level for the past decade, so I can’t wait to soak all that in and just learn from them. It’s a big-time opportunity.” Instead of expecting a rookie, like the Falcons and Panthers are, to come in from day one and contribute, Tyron can take his time developing.
The Falcons drafting the only offensive player in the first round is a bit worrisome, but realize there are eight more picks in the 2021 draft for Atlanta — plenty of time to sure up the defense.