The Falcons defeated Tampa Bay Week 17, dropping their selection from 7th to 14th. While it’s always nicer to draft higher, this team showed great resolve finishing at 7-9. There are still plenty of talented players in this range. I’ll be providing a pick of what I think the team would do and my personal pick. Draft day trades are almost impossible to predict, so I won’t bother, but it is interesting to note that Atlanta is in the perfect position to trade down with a QB needy team. The Falcons are also sure to take a look at some smaller school guys in the later rounds, but these are extra hard and almost impossible to predict without combine/athletic testing results.
*Note, this draft is assuming that Grady Jarrett is re-signed and Vic Beasley is let go.
R1, Pick 14: EDGE Brian Burns, Florida State
It feels like it’s been ages since Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks in 2016. Keeping a guy who ranked 106th out of 106 Defensive Ends by PFF for almost $13 million would be a colossal mistake for Atlanta. This pick is going to hinge on the Falcons retaining Grady Jarrett. I think the Falcons pay him. The next biggest weaknesses on the team are guard and edge. Without a Quenton Nelson like prospect available here, focus on the pass rush. Brian Burns is a long, physical athlete at 6’5. He’ll have to add some weight, but he could be a fearsome rotational pass rusher in 2019 that takes over full time eventually. If Grady walks, look for Rashan Gary to be the pick.
Jake’s Pick: EDGE Jachai Polite, Florida
Ed Oliver is the choice that you’ve been reading in every mock draft since October, as the fit and draft position go hand in hand. It almost makes too much sense. However, Atlanta will likely be out of range for Ed Oliver, so I’m going to pivot to Jachai Polite. I have a severe draft crush on Jachai, he has almost unreal movement for a guy his size and plays his heart out on every play. Polite has exceptional speed after his first step and impressive bend, with proper coaching, he could become a Von Miller type threat on the edge. It would also benefit him greatly if Atlanta re-signs Bruce Irvin. If Atlanta can snag Polite at #14, he will immediately provide an edge to Atlanta’s pass rush.
Other Names to Watch:
EDGE Montez Sweat, Mississippi State
CB Byron Murphy, Washington
DT Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi State
DT Dexter Lawrence, Clemson
CB Trayvon Mullen, Clemson
R2, Pick 45: DL Christian Wilkins, Clemson
The Falcons add another Clemson DT to the roster, and Wilkins raised his draft stock mightily during the National Championship game. The former Freshman All-American came back to school to beat Alabama, and that’s exactly what he did. He has a lot of Grady Jarrett in his game, and his dedication to Clemson is something that Dan Quinn and co will undoubtedly approve of. He’s a versatile defensive lineman with good hands and solid pass rush moves. If he’s still available here, the Falcons will snatch him up. Another prospect to watch for here is Dexter Lawrence, Wilkins’ teammate who is a first-round talent but failed a drug test prior to the National Championship.
Jake’s Pick: OT David Edwards, Wisconsin
It’s no secret the Falcons are looking to fortify their offensive line. The question is, will they focus their attention on the guard position to slot in someone for Andy Levitre, or look to replace Ryan Schraeder who has been getting absolutely whipped this season. They can’t go wrong with either, but Edwards is the best player available in this scenario in terms of offensive lineman, and that’s generally the strategy the Falcons have used in the past. Edwards might not even be available at this point. Athlon named Edwards a first-team All American this season, and he is an absolute mauler in the run game. We’ve seen players like Jack Conklin and Lane Johnson make the transition. He’s described as very athletic for his 6’7 315-pound frame, but making an adjustment to an NFL zone run scheme may present challenges for him. Regardless, he’s a plug and play starter at a position with a dire need.
Other Names to Watch:
G Chris Lindstrom, Boston College
DE Austin Bryant, Clemson
CB Amani Oruwariye, Penn State
G Michael Jordan, Ohio State
DT Dre’Mont Jones, Ohio State
R3, Pick 79: G Erik McCoy, Texas A&M
McCoy plays center for the Aggies, but at 6’4 and 315, he projects as a guard with next level athleticism. He’s an excellent run blocker, which will significantly benefit a Falcons offense that ranked 27th in rushing. Brandon Fusco and Andy Levitre going down didn’t help, but Fusco is a replacement level player while Levitre is a 33-year-old free agent to be with injury issues. The Falcons have thrown a couple late round picks at guards Sean Harlow and Wes Schweitzer as of late; I think we see them heavily invest in the position here.
Jake’s Pick: DL Isaiah Buggs, Alabama
Even if Jarrett is retained, this is a position that the Falcons could look to get deeper, younger, and cheaper at: just like a cornerback. Terrell McClain, Grady Jarrett, and Derrick Shelby are all slated for free agency. Isaiah Buggs is a massive, physical run stopper who has served as an enforcer in the middle of Nick Saban’s defense. Alabama defensive lineman that have been taken in the later rounds have blossomed (Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson, Dalvin Tomlinson), so I think Buggs is worth serious consideration if he’s available here.
Other Names to Watch:
G Beau Benzschawel, Wisconsin
OLB De’Andre Walker, Georgia
G Darryl Williams, Mississippi State
G Martez Ivey, Florida
CB Rashad Robinson, James Madison
R4, Pick 110: OT Isaiah Prince, Ohio State
Prince is a solid athlete but will need to get tougher to be a competitor at the next level. He has good hands and light feet which will make him an asset in the passing game, and allow the team to move on from Ryan Schraeder on the right side. Prince comes with his warts. He’s been called “soft” by some, but he’s the best tackle prospect available at this point and can be coached up. You can’t coach athleticism.
Jake’s Pick: CB Kris Boyd, Texas
If Grady Jarrett does stay with Atlanta; Robert Alford, Brian Poole, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Justin Bethel, and Jordan Richards could all be shown the door. That’s a lot of secondary depth to replace. Isaiah Oliver has made strides in his first season but often looks lost. Atlanta needs to get bodies behind Neal, Allen, and Trufant. Boyd is excellent against the run but sometimes struggles with the deep ball. With Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen (hopefully) behind him, he’ll have ample time to develop.
Compensation Pick, R4: CB Damon Arnette, Ohio State
Arnette’s draft stock has taken a nosedive, and he’s a candidate to return to Ohio State for his senior season. However, with Urban Meyer leaving, Arnette could test the waters in the NFL. His pedigree as an Ohio State defensive back could boost his stock, but right now he’s a mid-round selection. He’s a fluid athlete with good length, but obviously isn’t playing to his potential. He’s still worth a gamble at this point in the draft, especially with Atlanta’s need at CB.
Jake’s Pick: G Bunchy Stallings, Kentucky
I think Stallings is an excellent value pick at this point. He’s a senior who was named 1st Team All American by The Athletic and only allowed 1.5 sacks while clearing lanes for Benny Snell Jr (More on him later). Stallings mostly played center in college but is projected as a right guard where he spent some time earlier in his career. He’s got good size and solid hands, but his arms are a little short which concerns some scouts. However, I think he’s a perfect value and fit at this point in the draft.
Other Names to Watch:
DT Lorenzo Neal, Purdue
G Garrett Brumfield, LSU
OT Michael Dieter, Wisconsin
LB Shaquille Quarterman, Miami
LB Cameron Smith, USC
R5, Pick 141: WR Terry Godwin, UGA
There is likely to be a mass exodus of Wide Receivers this offseason. Justin Hardy and Marvin Hall aren’t likely to take a discount, and Terry Godwin is a solid replacement at this junction.
Jake’s Pick: RB Benny Snell III, Kentucky
Benny Snell has been electric for his whole college career and is one of the most decorated players in Kentucky football history. Guiding them to their first ten-win season since 1977. Snell is a very productive college player, but he’s pretty low on draft boards because he has 711 career carries. Snell is a tenacious runner and is a candidate to fly up draft boards with a good combine. For now, he’s being projected in the 4th/5th rounds, and the Falcons would be wise to take the best player available. With Devonta Freeman rarely healthy these days, drafting another back with Tevin Coleman leaving is imperative.
Compensation Pick, R5: LB Christian Miller, Alabama
I’m not going to beat a dead horse. Duke Riley is not a contributor to an NFL team. It’s a tough decision to give up on a guy after two seasons, but it’s apparent that he’s lost out there. Christian Miller is excellent in pass rush, and comes from an Alabama program with a pedigree of solid NFL linebackers. Miller has struggled with injuries, but his role won’t be too heavy in his first season, allowing his body to catch up. It appears he suffered a hamstring injury during the Orange Bowl, which will likely drop his stock. I think based on talent alone, Miller is a steal at this junction.
Jake’s Pick: EDGE Sutton Smith, Northern Illinois
These middle rounds are when teams start paying less attention to need and more attention to best player available. Serious contributors on the NFL level can be found in this round, and teams usually look for guys who were outstanding players in college. Sutton Smith fits the bill perfectly. An All-American in 2017, Smith led the FBS in Sacks, TFL and QB Pressures. He’s the most prolific defensive player in Northern Illinois football history. The Falcons should target him here, and if not, look for them to choose a player who tests off the charts athletically.
Other Names to Watch:
OG Ben Powers, Oklahoma
S D’Cota Dixon, Wisconsin
DT DeMarcus Christmas, Florida State
OT Jackson Barton, Utah
OT Max Scharping, Northern Illinois
R6, Pick 172: RB Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma
Anderson was limited to two games this season after an ACL injury, but he’s still an explosive and dynamic back coming from Lincoln Riley’s Air Raid offense. He’s a very slippery runner with excellent vision, but his pass protection is absolutely abhorrent. Coming off of a torn ACL, he’s well worth a 6th round pick if he’s still available. He’d make an excellent third running back.
Jake’s Pick: WR DaMarkus Lodge, Ole Miss
This guy is my steal of the draft. He’s a potential riser and sure to be a combine warrior, but if he’s here, he would replace the production of Justin Hardy and Marvin Hall combined. Lodge has fantastic ball skills and separation at the line of scrimmage. He ran a lot of vertical routes at Ole Miss, so his route tree is limited, but he’s a super athlete with 4.3 – 4.4 potential. He’s had issues with injuries, but he could be the most dangerous 4th receiver on an NFL offense.
Other Names to Watch:
OLB CeCe Jefferson, Florida
DT Daniel Wise, Kansas
G Trevon Tate, Memphis
S Mook Reynolds, Virginia Tech
OT Koda Martin, Syracuse
R7, Pick 207: DE Byron Cowart, Maryland
If this name sounds familiar to you, it’s because Cowart was once a 5 star top recruit committed to Auburn. Will Muschamp’s departure along with some family problems led to Cowart’s exit, but he still shows flashes of a top prospect sometimes. Cowart is strong and fast, but his technique needs a lot of work, and he’s just not a very productive college player. If he declares and he’s available at this point, he’s worth a roll of the dice.
Jake’s Pick: DE Jonathan Ledbetter, Georgia
I originally had this pick pegged as Cole Tracy, the Kicker for LSU. However, it seems 43-year old “Money Matt” Bryant is going to play next season. I’m not very familiar with the smaller school prospects available in this round, so the Falcons should look to target a project defensive end coming from a productive defense. Ledbetter has a unique build, an impressive combination of length and size. His speed is pretty average, but he’s done an excellent job in college of overpowering tight ends and fullbacks.
Other Names to Watch:
OLB Joey Alfieri, Stanford
S Ken Webster, Ole Miss
K Cole Tracy, LSU
DT Olive Sagapolu, Wisconsin
G Iosua Opeta, Weber State
R1: EDGE Brian Burns, Florida State
R2: DL Christian Wilkins, Clemson
R3: G Erik McCoy, Texas A&M
R4: OT Isaiah Prince, Ohio State
R4: CB Damon Arnette, Ohio State
R5: WR Terry Godwin, Georgia
R5: LB Christian Miller, Alabama
R6: RB Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma
R7: DE Byron Cowart, Maryland
R1: EDGE Jachai Polite, Florida
R2: OT David Edwards, Wisconsin
R3: DT Isaiah Buggs, Alabama
R4: CB Kris Boyd, Texas
R4: G Bunchy Stallings, Kentucky
R5: RB Benny Snell III, Kentucky
R5: EDGE Sutton Smith, Northern Illinois
R6: WR DaMarkus Lodge, Ole Miss
R7: DE Jonathan Ledbetter, Georgia
Overall with my selections, I would have liked to have snagged another guard at some juncture, but there’s no point in reaching for such a volatile position in the NFL. Brandon Fusco could be returning, and there are a couple of guards in play if the Falcons want to go hunting in the bargain bin during free agency. If my choices are the haul Atlanta comes away with on draft night, I would be delighted with the balance of depth and improvements at the skill positions Dan Quinn and company would be working with.