In one of their first playoff-implicating games in December in a long time, the Falcons immediately ended any hope at making the postseason after being dominated by the 49ers on Sunday. Atlanta lost 31-13, and their playoff aspirations emulate that gut-wrenching score. The Falcons now have the worst point differential (-126) in their conference as they sit two games under .500 at 6-8.
Atlanta has a chance to get into the postseason, 2% according to FiveThirtyEight. They’d need to win out, which would include beating the Saints, who are chomping at the chance to beat their most-hated rival and the Bills in Buffalo. They would also have to beat a Lions team at home that has shown some life lately. Essentially, the Falcons are out of the playoff race; mathematically, there is a possibility.
For all intents and purposes, it is draft season for Falcons fans. Everyone’s attention has now shifted to evaluating the current roster while fantasizing about potential free agents and draft prospects for next season. The Falcons will have an extra second-round pick they received from Tennessee in the Julio Jones trade. Terry Fontenot won’t have ample cap space to improve the roster, much like he did last offseason; however, there are ways for the Falcons to create some breathing room — restructuring, extending, trading the contracts of Matt Ryan, Grady Jarrett, and Deion Jones.
Though our attention should be on the Falcons’ remaining three games, it is hard not to look forward. Without knowing exactly how much the Falcons will have in cap space, it is challenging to predict free agent signings, making it difficult to mock who they’ll select in the draft. Atlanta could bolster the edge position through free agency, which would make it lower on the to-do list in the draft. As it stands, the Falcons will have a premium pick in the 2022 draft, so they’ll have another chance to add a difference-maker to an overall underwhelming roster.
Jake Gordon has regularly been posting his mock drafts with the Falcons picking around the same position as they are now; here are his scenarios:
Round 1, Pick 9: S Kyle Hamilton – Notre Dame
I know what everyone will say after the 49ers game — the Falcons need help in the trenches. However, this team has invested a ton of early-round picks into the offensive and defensive lines with little to show for it. I think there’s depth in this draft in the trenches, and whatever the team does have in free agency should go towards the interior of the offensive line and EDGE. Anyways, on to Hamilton. We’ve seen the Falcons take impact players at a less premium position like Kyle Pitts, and it wouldn’t shock me if they fell in love with Hamilton. The Notre Dame product can really do it all; he can play in the box to support against the run, he can rush the passer, and he can drop into coverage as a high safety. He has incredible instincts and ball skills, both of which the Falcons badly need on defense. Right now, the Falcons just need good football players. Hamilton may be the best of the bunch.
Round 1, Pick 8 — CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
This is an incredible cornerback class, and Stingley may just be the best of the bunch. If you read my draft analysis, it’s no secret I love Sauce Gardner’s fit with the Falcons. However, Stingley’s talent is way too intriguing to pass up on here. This is a simple case of taking the best player available at a huge position of need. A Stingley-Terrell tandem would be a scary sight for any Offensive Coordinator. Stingley is a physical and suffocating man-to-man corner at the line of scrimmage, and he excels at disrupting route timing. He can jam almost any receiver at the line. He also has some of the best ball skills in college football. As talented as he is, he still has a ton of upside. He would be a slam dunk pick at 8th overall.
Round 1, Pick 9: CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
How about another lockdown Clemson corner to pair with AJ Terrell? This is an incredibly talented cornerback class, and the Georgia native Booth my be the best one. Andrew Booth has been one of the most impressive defensive players in college football, a rare combination of a sticky man corner with good zone instincts and top tier ball skills. Booth can take away a team’s best receiver, and with AJ Terrell playing like an All Pro — you’re looking at a franchise duo at cornerback. If Isaiah Oliver can come back healthy in 2022 and play the slot as well as he was to start 2021, the Falcons secondary will be looking much better.
Round 1, Pick 19: CB Sauce Gardner, Cincinnati
You’d know I was all about Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome II if you followed me during the last draft cycle. So far, Newsome has been excellent for the Browns, as he’s already one of the best rookies in the entire NFL. Like Newsome, Gardner is a sticky coverage corner with ideal size and athleticism. Over his career (as of October 21st), Gardner has 863 coverage snaps. He has never allowed a touchdown, and he has allowed a 30.4 passer rating. With AJ Terrell looking like an elite corner and Isaiah Oliver hopefully continuing his encouraging play in the slot in 2022, Gardner could create a seriously potent young secondary core for the Falcons, something they haven’t had in a while. Right now, Gardner is challenging Derek Stingley for CB1 on my board.
Round 1, Pick 17: EDGE George Karlaftis, Purdue
We went with Jordan Davis out of Athens, Georgia in my Mock Draft 3.0, so today, I’ll be taking the big and freaky athlete George Karlaftis out of Athens…Greece. At 6’4 and 275 pounds, Karlaftis moves like a guy half that size. Not only does he have terrific get-off and strength, but Karlaftis is also technically sound. Considering the need for Atlanta and defensive line coach Gary Emanuel’s connection to Purdue, this pick makes even more sense for the Falcons. With the way Karlaftis eats up double teams, game planning around him and Grady Jarrett should prove difficult for opposing offenses. He draws a lot of comparison to another Purdue product — Ryan Kerrigan.
Round 1, Pick 8: IDL Jordan Davis, Georgia
Putting Jordan Davis next to Grady Jarrett would be a scary sight for any defense. Even though he’s 6’7 and 340 pounds, Davis moves like a player half that size. His rare combination of size, strength, and athleticism should appeal to the Falcons, who badly need help on the defensive front. Davis has the potential to play all across the defensive front. His raw gifts and inside-out ability could seriously get him some top-ten consideration.
Round 1, Pick 5: CB Kaiir Elam, Florida
Elam is a rare specimen at cornerback; he possesses the size and athleticism that not many guys have. Even at 6’2 and almost 200 pounds, he has excellent technique and can shut down half of the field. Elam would give the Falcons two potential shutdown corners alongside AJ Terrell. Atlanta has long been starving for corners; Elam makes a lot of sense — even with bigger needs left on the board.
Round 1, Pick 3: EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
While I’m not opposed to taking a quarterback in round one, Kayvon Thibodeaux is WAY too talented to pass on if the Falcons can get him. You can probably make that same argument for Evan Neal, Derek Stingley Jr., and Kyle Hamilton. It may be a different story if this was a stronger quarterback class, but Falcons fans have been starved from having a premier EDGE for so long, you can’t pass on Thibodeaux here.