Falcons fans finally got their wish in Mel Kiper’s latest mock draft. The ESPN pundit has Atlanta landing a pair of hometown favorites, bolstering the defense, selecting Nolan Smith with their 8th overall pick and Kelee Ringo with the team’s second-rounder. The Falcons passed on Christian Gonzalez and Tyree Wilson in Kiper’s mock to land the Georgia Bulldogs defender:
8. Atlanta Falcons
Nolan Smith, OLB, Georgia
It’s edge rusher or cornerback here, as the Falcons have clear needs at both positions, even after all their signings in free agency. They had just 21 sacks last season, which ranked second-to-last in the league. While Smith would fit better in a 3-4 defense, I see new coordinator Ryan Nielsen — who came over from New Orleans — figuring out ways to get him on the field to rush passers. Nielsen could vary his fronts. Smith is an explosive player with a ton of upside, and people in the league rave about his leadership ability.
The former Dawg stands 6-2 and weighs 238 pounds, which is extremely small for his position. It’s not exactly a perfect scheme fit for Ryan Nielsen’s 4-3 base he sported in New Orleans. Still, coordinators are tasked with getting the most out of their players.
What Smith lacks in size, he makes up for in athleticism. He lit the NFL Combine on fire, running a 4.39 40-yard dash with a 1.52 10-yard split. He certainly has a track record the Falcons are looking for — 11.5 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss, and 78 quarterback pressures in 46 games for the Bulldogs.
Moreover, Nolan Smith is Georgia grown and a fan favorite, given most Dawgs are also Falcons fans. Smith expressed to Maria Martin of 11AliveNews how much he’d value staying home. “I’m a hometown kid and it’d just mean a lot to me,” he said. “It just seems like they see a future in me and that they really want to keep me home.”
44. Atlanta Falcons
Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
Ringo looked at times like a potential top-10 pick in 2021, when he was starting as a redshirt freshman for the national champs. He took a step backward last season, however. He was inconsistent in coverage and too often got beat on double moves. He has a great frame (6-foot-2) and is incredibly fast (4.36 40-yard dash at the combine), but he can’t rely on his physical tools to get him by. He needs to clean up his technique. In Atlanta, he could stay local — this means I’m projecting the Falcons to get two Georgia guys in this mock — and compete for the No. 2 job opposite A.J. Terrell.
Kelee Ringo isn’t my favorite selection here, especially with B.J. Ojulari still on the board. Still, I could get excited about Ringo. He’s a physical freak with a special combination of size and speed. He’s physical at the point of attack and is a willing, productive tackler. However, the concern about his fluidity and twitch in short-area situations is valid. That’s why he’s mocked to fall out of the first round. Nevertheless, bolstering two levels of the defense would greatly benefit the Falcons.
Photographer: Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire
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