The Falcons are set to pick 8th in April’s draft, and have an excellent opportunity to add an elite-caliber player. Given the roster’s deficiencies at most positions, the Falcons really can’t go wrong by selecting the best player available. More than likely, whichever prospect the Falcons take with their first-round pick will address a need somewhere because the roster has so many holes.
This draft will be atypical too. There isn’t a consensus first overall pick like there has been in past years. Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow, Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, and Andrew Luck were all considered locks to be the first player taken in their respective drafts. That isn’t the case in 2022, which means it’s difficult to predict which prospects will be available when the Falcons are on the clock. So I decided to compile a list of the players that will be in Terry Fontenot’s sights for the 8th overall pick.
Evan Neal (OT) – Alabama
Neal started at guard as a freshman before sliding to right tackle in 2020, before finally ending up at left tackle this past season. He’s arguably the best prospect in the draft, making him a long shot to fall all the way to the Falcons. Neal is great in most facets of offensive line play, and at worst, he’s average in a select few areas.
Kyle Hamilton (S) – Notre Dame
Hamilton is similar to Derwin James in that he’s incredibly versatile. He has excellent size, great closing speed, and a high football IQ. Hamilton played all over the Irish defense in 2021, lining up deep in coverage, in the slot, and in the box as a linebacker. He can cover tight ends while also supporting the run defense with the best of them. Hamilton would be a home-run pick if he fell to Atlanta.
Ikem Ekwonu (G/OT) – NC State
Ekwonu is the best run-blocker in this class. He’s a mean, punch-you-in-the-mouth lineman that regularly knocks defenders off the ball—a straight mauler. Ekwonu carries over that aggression into pass sets as well, which sometimes results in him oversetting and lunging. Still, he can play guard or tackle at the next level, which has to intrigue the Falcons, who could use upgrades at both positions.
Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner (CB) – Cincinnati
Gardner is a menace at the line of scrimmage. He engulfs receivers with his long frame, but he also has great recognition skills in zone coverage. Sauce didn’t allow a single touchdown in 14 games last season. The tandem of A.J. Terrell and Gardner is enticing; it’ll give Dean Pees flexibility to bring exotic pressures.
Nakobe Dean (ILB) – Georgia
Dean is a mechanical engineer, and that intelligence translates to the field. His physical gifts are apparent; Dean has the speed, range, and coverage ability to be an impact player on any defense as a rookie. Still, his instincts are second to none in this linebacker class. Dean has also improved as a pass rusher, so there aren’t many areas he struggles in. In 2021, Dean had 73 tackles, 6.0 sacks, ten tackles for loss, five passes broken up, three forced fumbles, and two interceptions—including a pick-six.
Kayvon Thibodeaux (EDGE) – Oregon
Thibodeaux is a great pass rusher with the quintessential body type for a premier edge rusher. He’s pretty good across the board—initial quickness and punch, closing speed, bend, and he’s versatile enough to kick inside. His hands need the most work, but every pass rusher not named Bosa needs to improve their hands coming out of college.
Derek Stingley Jr. (CB) – LSU
Stingley was penciled in as a top-three pick as a freshman in 2019, but recent reports suggest he’ll slide and might not even be the first corner taken come April. He’s flashed the length, speed, and physicality that shutdown corners in the league possess; Stingley can play press-man, off-coverage, and pretty much anything else his defensive coordinator asks of him. He’s incredibly fluid in the hips and has the instincts to match all those physical gifts.
David Ojabo (EDGE) – Michigan
Ojabo posted 11 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 39 pressures, and five forced fumbles (second in the country) last season for the Wolverines. He possesses a quick first step with excellent bend to get around offensive tackles. He’s reliable against the run, but his high ceiling is what has scouts raving.
Jermaine Johnson II (EDGE) – Florida State
Johnson may have been the biggest winner in Mobile at the Senior Bowl. He showed his relentless motor and competitiveness while displaying the smooth movement that notched him 12 sacks, 45 pressures, and 23 tackles for loss. Johnson may be a little rich for some at the 8th pick, but I don’t feel that way at all.
Charles Cross (OT) – Mississippi State
Standing at 6’5″, Cross is long, but manages to have unbelievable quickness. He’s also got incredible agility for a 300+ pound left tackle, rivalling Evan Neal in that aspect. Cross is a natural pass blocker with the balance and patience to handle double moves, speed rushers, and blitzes. His run-blocking skills need refining, specifically his lower body strength, but he is still reliable in that area.
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