Falcons: Initial targets with the 8th pick in the NFL Draft

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For the third year in a row, the Falcons will be picking inside the top 10, and for the second year in a row, they will be selecting 8th in the NFL Draft. Combine that with the over $60 million the team has in cap space, and Atlanta will look like a much different team in 2023. The draft is over three months away, so a lot will change between now and then, whether it’s fair or not. I’ll also be watching more tape on the prospects I’m not as familiar with, but for now, here’s who I have my eye on that could potentially be available at #8.

* I won’t be including prospects who have next to no chance of falling to the Falcons. I’m sorry, Jalen Carter isn’t going #8, and neither is Will Anderson Jr. This is also my personal preference; I don’t care where current mock drafts have these players going, and neither do general managers. 

C.J. Stroud

Arthur Smith has been non-committal about whether or not Desmond Ridder will be the guy in 2023. I think he will, but he did nothing over the last four games to cement his status as the next franchise quarterback in Atlanta. I have a difficult time believing Stroud will fall all the way to the Falcons at #8, but I wouldn’t count out Terry Fontenot trading up for him if he believes he could be a star. Until the Falcons find their next franchise QB, this will always be at the forefront of the offseason.

Will Levis

I could pretty much copy and paste here what I put for Stroud. I’m no quarterback guru. It’s the most difficult position in professional sports to project. Both Stroud and Levis have unbelievable talent, but 90% of the position is above the neck. It’s up to the Falcons staff to figure out if one of these two young men has what it takes to put the weight of the city on their shoulders.

Tyree Wilson

Arthur Smith has reiterated the pass rush will be a focus this offseason, and it’s about time. The Falcons have been embarrassing at rushing the passer over the last two seasons, recording less than 40 sacks, which is 20 fewer than the next worst team. It’s almost mind-blowing how pathetic they’ve been at getting after the quarterback. They need to add multiple players across the defensive front, and Wilson would be a good start. He’s a long physical specimen that can play inside-out, recording 14 sacks over the last two seasons for the Red Raiders.

Brian Branch

Brian Branch is a player I watched a lot this year at Alabama, where he was the most impactful player on the defense. His teammate Will Anderson Jr. will deservedly go higher in the draft, but it was actually Branch who I came away more impressed with every time I saw him. He’s a physical corner that can do just about everything — a true game changer. The Falcons need help at all three levels on defense, and I think Branch is a prospect that will go much higher than people expect.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba

Another pass catcher in the first round? If the Falcons draft Smith-Njigba come April 27th, the fan base might blow a gasket. This team is desperate for an influx of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but there are more holes than just that, and Terry Fontenot has maintained they will continue selecting the best player available. The Falcons need a #2 wide receiver, and Smith-Njigba is the best option in the draft. Many mock drafts are down on him right now because he only played in three games in 2022 due to injury, but none of that matters. When healthy, Smith-Njigba has the talent to be one of the best receivers in football. Pairing him with Drake London, Kyle Pitts, and the Falcons already potent rushing attack would give Desmond Ridder everything he needs to be successful if he is indeed the starting quarterback going into 2023.

Quentin Johnston

If Smith-Njigba isn’t the consensus top receiver come April, it’s because of this guy. Johnston became a star for the Horned Frogs this season, recording over 1,000 yards receiving. He’s a vertical threat that would pair well with Drake London, and we know how much this coaching staff loves their big receivers. Johnston stands at 6-4, weighing around 200 pounds. He should be a problem at the next level that would complete a deadly Falcons receiving core.

Bryan Breese

The Falcons need help across the defensive line, not just on the edge. Adding Breese would free things up for Grady Jarrett on the interior, which would in turn make life easier for the pass rushers on the outside. Breese is a strong defensive tackle that is twitchy for a player his size. He can stuff the run and get after the passer. Adding him to the defensive unit would move the Falcons one step closer to developing a competent pass rush.

Photo: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire


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