Falcons trade up for QB Sam Howell in ESPN’s latest mock draft

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The Falcons have an obvious need for a long-term solution at quarterback after the team traded Matt Ryan to the Colts for a third-round pick. Atlanta seemingly found their stopgap signal caller in Marcus Mariota and signed the former Titan to a two-year deal. Even if the Falcons don’t take a prospect in this draft to develop behind Mariota, Atlanta can still draft a quarterback in the 2023 draft and have him sit for a year behind the former Heisman Trophy winner.

The Falcons will be attached to every quarterback prospect until they eventually take one, and though I don’t see any in this class being worth the 8th overall pick, I think there’s value in taking one in the later rounds. Instead of swinging big on a signal caller at #8, the Falcons could use a later pick on a QB, which would allow them to move him along at their pace. This is exactly what Todd McShay has the Falcons doing in his latest mock draft for ESPN (subscription required).

With the team’s first-round pick, McShay has the Falcons selecting Drake London, giving Mariota more than just Kyle Pitts to throw the ball to.

8. Atlanta Falcons

Drake London, WR, USC

The Falcons didn’t do a whole lot to clean up a lackluster receiver room in free agency. They are currently relying on Olamide Zaccheaus and Damiere Byrd as their top two targets for new quarterback Marcus Mariota. We’ve only seen teams use top-10 picks on pass-catchers in back-to-back drafts three times since 1967 (Atlanta took tight end Kyle Pitts at No. 4 last April), but London is a perfect pick here. He is a former basketball player who can box out defensive backs and make tough, contested catches. London is returning from a right ankle fracture but should be ready to go for training camp.

As for the quarterback conundrum, Atlanta could address the future there with one of four picks on Day 2, wait until a more exciting signal-caller class in 2023 or execute some combination of both paths.

Evan Neal was still on the board when McShay mocked London to the Falcons, which I can’t get behind. Neal is a top-five prospect in this class regardless of position, and the Falcons have a serious problem protecting the quarterback and producing yards before contact for their running backs. Neal seems like a surefire above-average starter in this league at a much more difficult position to get correct than receiver.

McShay had the Falcons taking Lewis Cine out of Georgia next, despite having two young safeties on the roster in Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins.

43. Atlanta Falcons

Lewis Cine, S, Georgia

Cine’s instincts and ability to read receivers’ routes from a single-high alignment stand out on tape. Atlanta allowed 6.7 yards per dropback last season (26th), and it lost Duron Harmon in free agency, opening up a spot in the secondary.

Cine would join a pretty crowded safety room with Hawkins, Grant, Erik Harris, and Dean Marlowe. However, Terry Fontenot has been adamant the Falcons will add to positions of strength because of their best player available draft strategy. Now, for the pick of the draft: McShay has the Falcons trading up with the Bears to select Sam Howell.

The Bears have only six 2022 picks and lack a first-rounder. So if Atlanta calls and offers a third-rounder (No. 82) to move up from No. 58 to No. 48, new GM Ryan Poles will be intrigued. Chicago needs a receiver, but the Day 2 pool of pass-catchers is deep. And the Falcons, with nine picks this year, have some room to operate if they want to move up to get someone. That’s especially true if that someone is a quarterback.

48. Atlanta Falcons (via mock trade with CHI/LAC)

Sam Howell, QB, UNC

Marcus Mariota isn’t a long-term answer — he might not even be the short-term one — and Howell is the last of five quarterbacks in this class with any real shot of developing into an NFL starter. Like Seattle with Matt Corral, this doesn’t mean the Falcons found their guy. Howell offers them another option as they reset the roster after the Matt Ryan trade. He needs to keep working on his footwork and anticipatory throwing, but he is very accurate on deep shots, has a quick release on shorter throws and brings a bit of mobility.

Here is a rundown of Howell from SportsTalkATL’s self-proclaimed quarterback guru Jake Gordon’s pre-combine big board.

6. Sam Howell — North Carolina

Sometimes Sam Howell flashes that he could be an NFL star, but sometimes he makes some very puzzling throws in an RPO-Heavy offense. I almost put Howell in the project quarterback division, because while he has good athleticism and a nice arm, he needs a lot of work before he’s ready to make the jump to the NFL. He can get off platform easily, and he doesn’t possess a lot of the nuance that the position requires when it comes to manipulating defensive backs with his eyes. Regardless, the physical tools are absolutely present, and he could develop into a Baker Mayfield type player that can get a good team to the playoffs.

I wouldn’t be against taking any of these quarterback prospects in the second round because the Falcons aren’t hitching their wagons to them. If he doesn’t pan out, investing a second-round pick isn’t the worst thing in the world. I love the idea of taking a flyer on a prospect that could potentially grow under Arthur Smith and behind Marcus Mariota.

Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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