The Falcons were at an important crossroads in the second draft of the new regime. The entire 2021 rookie class, outside of Kyle Pitts, didn’t make an impact last season other than on special teams. If Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith want to compete past the regular season, they’ll need their first draft class to take substantial steps forward in 2022.
Additionally, the Falcons needed to find some foundational pieces in the 2022 draft class, or this rebuild would look stagnant. Thankfully, it seems Atlanta found impactful prospects throughout the draft — some at critical positions of need. Let’s check out how the incoming rookie class affects the depth chart.
Round 1 • Pick 8 (8) • WR Drake London
Many fans wanted an EDGE defender or offensive lineman with the eighth overall pick; however, the board just didn’t fall that way. The Falcons ended up with the highest-rated prospect left on their big board in Drake London, who is the betting favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Atlanta found their prototypical X receiver who should have an immediate impact this season.
London, similar to Pitts, will line up all over the field for the Falcons. He’ll be placed in condensed formations, in the slot, and on the boundary while running a variety of routes. He’ll be a focal point of Arthur Smith’s offense going forward and should have a similar influence as Pitts did his rookie year.
Round 2 • Pick 6 (38) • EDGE Arnold Ebiketie
The Falcons ended up parting ways with their No. 43 and No. 114 picks for the self-proclaimed “doctor of pass rushing” — Arnold Ebiketie. The former Nittany Lion has the perfect frame as a pass rusher in the NFL, standing 6’2” and weighing 250 pounds. He’s an explosive athlete and had a ton of production for the Penn State defense in 2021 — 18.0 TFL and 9.5 sacks in just 12 games.
The Falcons signed Lorenzo Carter, who should be the defense’s top pass rusher, earlier this offseason; however, Ebiketie possesses all the traits needed to get on the field immediately — gap integrity, good use of hands, a variety of pass rush moves, as well as a willingness to exert maximum effort defending the run as well as getting after the passer.
Ade Ogundeji came along nicely last season and will undoubtedly compete for snaps with the Falcons’ second-rounder, but fans should expect a healthy rotation at the EDGE position.
Round 2 • Pick 26 (58) • LB Troy Andersen
Andersen might give Marcus Mariota a run for his money as the team’s signal caller after making an impact at Montana State as a running back, quarterback, and linebacker. Jokes aside, Anderson’s path to the field is less clear than the previous two draft picks.
The Falcons still have Deion Jones under contract, who might be traded with a post-June 1 designation but will start if he’s on the roster. They also signed Rashaan Evans, who likely projects as the other starter next to Debo since he’s got the experience and familiarity with Dean Pees’ defense.
Mykal Walker might be the player who sees his snap count affected most by the Andersen selection. Andersen could compete with Walker for the other starting linebacker position if the team does part ways with Jones; however, both will be special team contributors in 2022 if the depth chart remains the same.
Once the team moves on from Evans or Jones, it’ll be Andersen’s job to lose if he can mentally develop, because he’s physically ready to be a three-down linebacker in this league.
Round 3 • Pick 10 (74) • QB Desmond Ridder
The Falcons found their potential quarterback of the future in the third round after selecting Desmond Ridder. One of the more pro-ready prospects, the former Cincinnati signal caller is surely set to compete for the starting job with Marcus Mariota this summer. I fully expect Arthur Smith to label it as an ‘open competition.’
However, Mariota will end up being named the starter because of his familiarity and execution of Arthur Smith’s playbook. Ridder will likely serve as the team’s backup option with the opportunity to take the reins next year. He might wrestle away a few snaps later in the season just so the staff can get a better idea of where he’s at in terms of development, but it’ll be Mariota as the team’s starter for 2021.
Round 3 • Pick 18 (82) • EDGE DeAngelo Malone
Two EDGE defenders in one draft?!? The Falcons finally addressed what has been the team’s biggest need for as long as I can remember with some premium selections. Standing 6’4” and weighing 250 pounds, Malone is a pass rush specialist who wins with speed and great footwork. He totaled 33 sacks and 59 TFL during his time at Western Kentucky. He’ll more than likely be competing with James Vaughters for snaps behind Lorenzo Carter, Ade Ogundeji, and Arnold Ebiketie.
Round 5 • Pick 8 (151) • RB Tyler Allgeier
The Falcons released Mike Davis Monday morning, saving the team $2.5 million against the cap. The move was prompted by the selection of Allgeier, who led the nation in touchdowns and set a single-season rushing record at BYU. The former Cougar has said he models his game after the physical running styles of Marshawn Lynch and Nick Chubb.
With the Falcons re-signing Cordarrelle Patterson and bringing in Damien Williams, Atlanta’s running back stable was flush with bodies, so the decision to part ways with Davis in favor of Allgeier shouldn’t surprise anyone. If he can prove he’s reliable in pass protection, Allgeier should assume most of Davis’s touches. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if Qadree Ollison and Williams took up the bulk of those opportunities. Still, the Falcons found the future at the position in Allgeier.
Round 6 • Pick 11 (190) • G Justin Shaffer
Schaffer played 15 games at left guard for Georgia on their way to a National Championship last season. Only allowing five sacks and 30 pressures during his time with the Dawgs, Schaffer’s 6’3” and 326-pound frame should translate well to the next level.
He has heavy hands and plays with a mean streak but is limited athletically, which makes the scheme fit a bit wonky; Schaffer is probably more suitable for a gap scheme rather than a zone scheme. He certainly has parts of his game to work on, but Schaffer has the makeup to compete with Jalen Mayfield for the starting left guard position.
Typically, sixth-rounders aren’t competing for a starting spot, but Mayfield was so bad his rookie season, I’d expect Atlanta to have a true open competition between him, Schaffer, Colby Gossett, and Drew Dalman.
Round 6 • Pick 35 (213) • TE John FitzPatrick
The Falcons’ tight end room is well-rounded. Atlanta obviously boasts one of the best players at the position in Kyle Pitts, but also signed Anthony Firkser — reliable as both a receiver and blocker — to be the de facto TE2. They also have veterans at the position in Parker Hesse and Ryan Becker, both known for their blocking more than anything else.
So it was a bit surprising to see the Falcons draft FitzPatrick. He doesn’t have the gaudy stats that other tight ends do, but he’s a Lee Smith-esque prospect that can be relied upon heavily as a blocker. I’d expect him to compete with Hesse and Becker for the team’s TE3 and TE4 slots, but FitzPatrick will likely have a leg up since the team drafted him.
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