In the wake of Arthur Smith being hired by the Atlanta Falcons, I don’t think that quarterback is as much of a pressing need anymore. The Falcons do need to think towards the future, but Smith’s scheme allows for Atlanta to have a lot more flexibility in this upcoming draft. Trading down with Smith at the helm makes so much sense — this team has multiple holes. If you’d like to check out my last Mock Draft, I made two trades down. However, for Smith to succeed on both sides of the ball, Atlanta has to nail this draft. I’ll be considering a 3-4 scheme, something I’ve been advocating for and the base that rumored defensive coordinator Dean Pees employs.
6. Interior Defensive Line
A 3-4 defense can work to Atlanta’s benefit in this draft. I selected Alabama IDL Christian Barmore with my first pick in the mock linked above, but he was the best player available to me. Even without Barmore, Deadrin Senat may get a shot to prove himself. I expect Tyeler Davison to be cut, and in a 3-4, we could see Grady Jarrett and Marlon Davidson play some defensive end. I think both of them will move all over the line. Either way, the interior of this defensive line needs some bolstering.
AJ Terrell was an excellent pick for the Falcons in the 2020 draft, and although he struggled against Tampa Bay twice and Kansas City to finish the season, he was PFF’s top-graded rookie corner coming down the stretch. It seems like Isaiah Oliver is going to get one more ride to prove he belongs, and while Darqueze Dennard was immensely valuable on a $990k contract — he is a free agent. Kendall Sheffield got eaten alive this season, so a slot corner will be the biggest need over a boundary guy.
Still, if an elite boundary corner is available — don’t hesitate. Patrick Surtain II, Caleb Farley, and Jaycee Horn are interesting choices in a trade down situation, but I like guys like Paulson Adebo, Eric Stokes, Asante Samuel Jr. Tyson Campbell, and Shaun Wade (as a slot specialist only) later on in the draft. With the draft capital Atlanta has invested recently at the position, corner can take a minor backseat, but it will still need to be addressed.
4. Interior Offensive Line
I’ve written about how the offensive line will need to be addressed in the 2021 NFL Draft, and while that could happen with the Falcons first pick, it isn’t that easy. If Atlanta takes Penei Sewell, Jake Matthews or Kaleb McGary might have to slide over to guard, but that is a massive question mark. Drafting Sewell to play guard with the 4th pick would be foolish. I expect James Carpenter to be cut, but Matt Hennessy struggled mightily at guard and center as a rookie. In his defense, he didn’t get an offseason.
With Alex Mack gone, there are potential holes at guard and center that need to be addressed. In the mock I linked above, I had Atlanta selecting USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker. On Day 2: Creed Humphrey, Wyatt Davis, and Landon Dickerson should be in play for the Falcons. It’s a position they probably can’t afford to address in free agency, so they need to nail this pick. For Arthur Smith’s offensive scheme to work, Atlanta has to get better in the trenches — something they’ve struggled with during the Matt Ryan era.
3. Running Back
Speaking of making Arthur Smith’s scheme work, taking pressure off of Matt Ryan is a must. Ryan Tannehill was fantastic with Arthur Smith, but I’m sure a big part of that was the 2,000-yard monster he was handing the ball off to. While Travis Etienne and Najee Harris would have Falcons fans jumping for joy, I think Javonte Williams makes a lot of sense as well.
Running backs can be found all over the board, and the Falcons need a couple of them. They were at their best in 2016-2017 when Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were mixing up looks and giving defenses headaches every week. However, while the Falcons need to add to their running back room, the sheer wealth at the position will allow them to focus elsewhere in the early rounds.
Safety isn’t a premium position, and while I’m normally not too concerned with grabbing one early — Atlanta could be losing three this offseason. Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee may very well walk in free agency, and Ricardo Allen is an obvious cut candidate. That would leave rookie Jaylinn Hawkins, who only played 76 snaps in 2020. Thankfully, it seems Arthur Smith is targeting a lot of secondary coaches for his defensive staff. As with all of my mock drafts, I’ve heavily targeted guys like Andre Cisco, Jevon Holland, Paris Ford, and others — even doubling up on safety with extra picks from trading down. Cheap veteran options can be picked up in free agency, but Atlanta needs more than a band-aid at the position.
Yeah, was this obvious enough? Outside of Vic Beasley‘s outlier 15.5-sack season, Atlanta hasn’t had a consistent pass rush since John Abraham was in town. 3-4 defenses can crumble quickly without consistent pressure; look at the 2020 Titans. Takk McKinley headlined a horrific 2017 draft class that, along with Dirk Koetter’s coaching, sunk Dan Quinn’s ship. Atlanta has had problems getting to the quarterback for a long time, and not that it’s easy to draft a stud EDGE, but they need to take multiple swings at the position in this draft.
I have Atlanta selecting four after trading down in my last mock, so I’m very eager to get some help. I think Jaelan Phillips could be a good fit at the top of the second round. Ditto for Patrick Jones. EDGE is what makes the whole defense click. Grady Jarrett can get a push, but as of now, that’s about it. If you can create pressure rushing linebackers and penetrating up the middle, the talented WILL linebackers on Atlanta’s defense have more time to smother underneath routes, while the secondary doesn’t have to spend as much time in coverage. Getting a consistent pass rush should be priority number one for the Falcons in the 2021 NFL draft. Then again, we’ve been saying that for almost 15 years now.