NFL Mock Draft: Falcons select first CB off the board in Mel Kiper’s latest

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The NFL Combine is underway this week in Indianapolis, and the Falcons are sure to be heavily represented at Lucas Oil Stadium. Atlanta holds four top picks in the first 75 selections, with an opportunity to build the foundation for the future of this regime.

On Monday afternoon, Steve Wyche reported on NFL Network that the Falcons would be making several administrative moves to clear cap space to become “mid-market” spenders in free agency. This will effectively limit their ability to procure difference-makers, but Terry Fontenot did hit on Cordarrelle Patterson, so there’s a chance the front office finds a few diamonds in the rough.

Otherwise, the Falcons will be pretty dependent on the 2021 draft class and their eventual 2022 rookie class to make any kind of run at the division this upcoming season. Atlanta can’t have what happened last season happen again this season — little to no production from the rookies. Outside of Kyle Pitts, the 2021 class was pretty underwhelming.

In Mel Kiper’s latest ESPN mock draft, the draft pundit has the Falcons selecting a prospect who can have a similar effect as Pitts did through his first season. Kiper has the Falcons selecting the first cornerback off the board and A.J. Terrell‘s future running-mate, Sauce Gardner. Gardner will give the Falcons one of the most potent, young cornerback tandems in the league. Here’s what Kiper had to say about the pick:

I’m going to stick with the same position for the Falcons at No. 8 but switch the prospect. Gardner is rising since the second half of the season and has a great shot at being the top corner in April’s draft. He allowed just eight catches for 60 yards in 13 games.

Why Gardner over Derek Stingley Jr.? NFL scouts just haven’t seen Stingley playing to his 2019 level over the past two seasons. He has a high ceiling, but he played in just three games in 2021 and was so-so in 2020. Stingley won’t work out at the combine, but he will have a chance to rise again if he puts up excellent testing numbers at his pro day. Gardner is a safer prospect at this point. This also is a spot to watch for an edge rusher, and the Falcons have an extra second-round pick because of the Julio Jones trade with Tennessee.

I favor Stingley over Gardner, but I understand the hesitancy towards the former LSU Tiger. Seeing him play in person during the 2019 and 2020 seasons, I can attest to the worries over Stingley’s drop-off in production. However, his 2019 tape is absolutely mind-blowing, and I feel as if he can become one of the league’s premier lockdown corners. So, if it were me, I’d go with Stingley.

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