With the first round of the draft three days away, the NFL world is going wild over what should be an exciting and unexpecting night. For the first time in many years, there is a consistent feeling that no single team has the same-looking big board. The Falcons, picking eighth, are reportedly in a true best player available mode. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, though; Terry Fontenot has been adamant in his messaging to the media about what their draft strategy will be.
Much like the new regime’s first offseason, Fontenot signed a bevy of veterans to short-term, team-friendly deals to fill the roster’s holes this year. That way, come draft time, the long-time Saints executive can remain flexible in selecting the best player available instead of reaching for a need, and national reporters seem to just be acknowledging that strategy, even though that’s all Fontenot has been saying.
So, when I saw Peter King’s Football Morning in America column, I came away stunned. In his highly regarded mock draft, the NBC reporter had the Falcons selecting Drake London — who Atlanta ‘loves’ — with their eighth overall pick and trading back into the first round to select Matt Corrall — who they ‘like’ — with the final selection on Thursday.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Drake London, wide receiver, USC
Kind of the first “they could do five things here” pick. I’m going with the receiver I hear they love. Some teams knocked London for not running a 40 in the runup to the draft after a late-October broken ankle caused him to miss USC’s last four games; he’s estimated at about 4.5, which is not top-end speed. Everything else about his game is top-end. His average game in 2021 (15 targets, 11 catches, 136 yards, one TD) was notable. Everyone knew the ball was coming to him, and his competitiveness in multiple coverages caught eyes. To keep up that level of production game after game is something that separates London from the other receivers in this crop. As for the Falcons’ need at wideout: When the guys in three-receiver formations look to be Olamide Zaccheaus, Auden Tate and Damiere Byrd … I rest my case.
*32. Atlanta Falcons: Matt Corral, quarterback, Ole Miss
*Projected Trade: Lions trade the 32nd pick to the Falcons for a second-round pick this year (43rd overall) and a second-round pick in 2023.
This is all about a team, Atlanta, believing in a quarterback this year, and investing a chunk of draft capital in him that isn’t cost-prohibitive. (I hear the Falcons like Corral.) If you think you might have a long-term quarterback and it costs you two second-round picks, is that really a major cost? No, it’s not. This pick is not something I’m convinced about. It’s more about the concept of it. If a team wants a quarterback but isn’t positive about this group, it can still invest in one. It’s a conservative investment, keeping in mind that quarterbacks don’t come cheap. If you really want Corral or Malik Willis or Desmond Ridder, wouldn’t you think a price of two second-round picks would be worth the risk?
If the Falcons are in a true best player available scenario and take London over Derek Stingley, I’ll have some real concerns about the Falcons front office. Never mind the fact that I think Jameson Williams is a better receiver prospect than London; neither are close to the blue-chip caliber Stingley. The lack of impressive outings after his freshman year shouldn’t steer away NFL teams. Stingley was an early enrollee at LSU, a 17-year-old kid locking up Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, two of the league’s best pass catchers, at spring practice in Baton Rouge. That should be enough to convince the Falcons to add to a position of strength, which Fontenot has said countless times, they’ll do.
Photographer: Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire
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