With the NFL draft a couple of days away, buzz is building that Drake London will be the first receiver selected, and the feeling is it’ll be Atlanta who makes the pick. Todd McShay, Peter King, Matt Miller, and Charles Robinson are all on the record saying the feeling inside Flowery Branch is the Falcons love or want London. It makes sense too. Given Calvin Ridley’s suspension, Atlanta boasts the worst receiving core in football. Olamide Zaccheaus, Auden Tate and Damiere Byrd is a putrid three-receiver formation.
Even though the Falcons made Kyle Pitts the highest-drafted tight end a year ago and can line him up anywhere on the field, Marcus Mariota will struggle if he’s the only consistent threat. Defenses will roll coverages to Pitts, doubling him, bracketing him and just making life all around difficult for the former Florida Gator. Drafting a player like Drake London will relieve some of that pressure; however, I believe the Falcons WON’T draft London, Garrett Wilson, or any wideout with their eighth overall pick.
First and foremost, one thing I’ve learned watching the draft over the past decade is that nobody knows what these organizations are actually feeling or strategizing behind closed doors. Most of the time, these reporters are used as tools by teams for various reasons. Moreover, the Falcons aren’t like the Browns or Jaguars have been in past years, where draft pundits just wrote them in for quarterback year after year. Atlanta isn’t in a position where analysts can just pencil them in for a specific prospect, even if it’s an obvious need.
Much like last offseason, Terry Fontenot has approached this spring by signing a bevy of veteran free agents to short-term, team-friendly deals to fill the holes on the roster. Rounding out the roster before draft time will allow Fontenot to select the best player available instead of reaching for a need. Atlanta is in a true BPA scenario.
Fontenot has been adamant regarding this strategy. Instead of filling the team’s needs through the draft, most successful organizations select the highest-graded prospect on their big board, regardless of position. Ozzie Newsome made it mainstream during his time with the Ravens, which has been one of the most consistently successful franchises since he took over.
In the Falcons’ end-of-season presser, the former long-time Saints executive said BPA has a proven track record, and straying from this strategy is “how you make mistakes.” Every year, organizations will reach on prospects because they’re desperate for a player of that particular position; sometimes it works out, other times it doesn’t. The Falcons won’t make that mistake. Fontenot will select the highest graded prospect on their big board, regardless of the position. The first-time general manager is on record stating they won’t be afraid to add to a position of strength.
A selection this high in the draft is supposed to be a cornerstone of the rebuild. Finding a difference-making receiver in the later rounds shouldn’t be as difficult as finding a pass rusher or offensive linemen to build the team around. Nobody — no one successful, at least — constructs rosters around receivers. Many have described this class as deep, so, in theory, Atlanta should be able to find quality pass catchers with their other selections.
Now, saying all of this is pointless if the Falcons have London, Wilson, or any other receiver prospect ranked highly. If the front office does, then they’ll absolutely select one of them. I’m stating this because I don’t believe any wideout will be in the team’s top eight prospects. Aidan Hutchinson (long shot), Ikem Ekwonu, Evan Neal, Travon Walker (long shot), Sauce Gardner, Kyle Hamilton, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Jermaine Johnson II, and Derek Stingley Jr. should all be higher than London and Wilson.
That’s nine prospects I think should be graded higher than any receiver in this draft, which would mean the Falcons would have their choice between at least two of the aforementioned players. I think the Falcons are more likely to trade back from their eighth overall pick than use the selection on a receiver. However, the most likely scenario, in my eyes, is for Atlanta to select one of Neal, Ekwonu, Gardner, Stingley, Hamilton, Thibodeaux, or Johnson.
Photographer: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire