The Falcons will more than likely carry at least nine rookies, which would make up the team’s 2021 draft class. Rarely ever do rookies come into the NFL and dominate the moment they step on the field. It happens, but more often than not, there is a steep learning curve. Most players don’t really start to contribute until year two or three because of this tough transition, and it’s not always black and white.
Certain positions translate to the NFL easier. Coaches’ development plans and positional competition also affect a rookie’s production. I already named the four rookies — Kyle Pitts, Richie Grant, Jalen Mayfield, and Drew Dalman — that most likely will play significant snaps for the Falcons in 2021, but I’d like to go through and find fans at least one thing they can expect from each of the nine rookies in the Falcons’ draft class.
The expectations couldn’t be higher for fourth overall pick Kyle Pitts, as he’s one of the most interesting prospects in some time. His dynamic athleticism, vast catch radius, and jaw-dropping measurements have already raised the bar much higher than every rookie not named Trevor Lawrence. A few things fans can expect: Arthur Smith will align Pitts on the boundary, in the slot, in the backfield, and in line with and without his hand in the dirt. His run-blocking skills will also continue to improve, and he will be the Falcons premier threat in the red-zone.
As we descend on this list, the expectations should follow, but I have high hopes for Richie Grant. Much like Pitts, Grant has immense positional flexibility — able to play in a split safety look, single-high, in the slot, or in the box. Dean Pees has a history of deploying some eye-popping schemes, and Grant is the perfect Swiss Army knife for his defense. Falcons fans can expect Grant to record at least one forced fumble and one interception, but also miss a handful of tackles due to the tenacity and overaggressiveness he plays with.
Mayfield is athletic for a guard; his lateral movement and body control in space make him a scheme fit in Arthur Smith’s zone rushing attack. Since the competition for left guard is open, the only thing I can tell Falcons’ fans to expect is for the former Michigan Wolverine to be one of the finalists for the job. I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts the first week of the season.
He might not start immediately, but Hall should compete for snaps at nickel, barring any injuries to the secondary. He is well-rounded and can play a safety-corner role in Dean Pees’ defense. Falcons fans can expect to see Hall in a limited capacity on defense, but he will play a significant role on special teams his rookie year and lead by example — a team captain in college.
Dalman may have been picked after Hall, but he has the opportunity to start immediately. His athleticism, intelligence, cultural and scheme fit make him a threat to Matt Hennessey for the starting center position. Though his size isn’t ideal for the NFL, his understanding of leverage and body positioning makes up for it. Expect Dalman to compete with Hennessey for the starting center position.
The former Texas Longhorn is a tweener, able to line up anywhere along the line of scrimmage. Graham is elite against the run and can play any interior position all the way down to a five-technique across the defensive line. Expect Graham to push Marlon Davidson, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, and John Cominksy for snaps — likely limited to early-down situations given his inability rushing the passer.
Ogundeji is similar to Graham in his positional flexibility. He can stand up on the edge in three-man fronts and put his hand in the dirt in four-man fronts. His pass-rushing repertoire needs refining, but Falcons fans can expect him to play on early downs — if at all — as he’s better against the run. He will contribute on special teams and was a vocal captain in college, but rookies tend to stay quiet until they get their feet underneath them.
With the second-to-last draft pick, the Falcons selected Avery Williams, an excellent athlete who struggles as a defensive back. But that’s not where fans should expect him to contribute early. Williams is a special teamer through and through, and I expect him to compete to return punts from day one.
Darby’s role depends on the Falcons’ decision around Julio Jones, but even if Jones is dealt, he will see limited snaps on offense. Expect Darby to be energetic and a leader from the moment he steps on the field, even if it’s in a depth role.