What was the riskiest pick the Falcons made in the 2021 draft?

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Draft picks don’t always pan out as NFL franchises hope they do for any number of reasons, but no general manager spends a third-round pick on a prospect in anticipation they won’t one day become an everyday starter. The drop off in talent between the third and fourth rounds is immense, but successful organizations can find productive players in those middle rounds.

However, most of the time, those mid-round prospects need refining because if they didn’t, they would’ve been second or even first-round picks. This is the case with the Falcons’ third-round selection, Jalen Mayfield, which many outlets have drubbed as a “below average” selection.

“Mayfield was garnering first-round consideration at one point. That might paint this as a value pick, but Mayfield’s 144th ranking on PFF’s Big Board still shows it as a reach. Mayfield’s upside was supposed to be his physical tools. However, his Pro Day didn’t show much in the way of that to get excited about. Mayfield will likely compete for the starting left guard spot in Atlanta — the lone hole on the team’s line right now.”

The most important coach to an offense’s success is the offensive line coach, and the Falcons have one of the best in the business, Dwayne Ledford. After the second day of the draft, Arthur Smith spoke with members of the media and immediately said the staff is confident in the development plan put together for Mayfield.

Mayfield plays well-balanced in his pass sets, and his initial quickness off the ball helps him as a run blocker. His punch is slow-developing, but once he gets his hands on a defender… he finishes with a nasty attitude. Mayfield has all the intangibles to become a reliable starting guard in this league, but his strength needs improving, which will inherently make it easier to handle power rushers with his lack of anchor.

The reason why it is such a risky pick is that it felt like there were more pro-ready prospects like Wyatt Davis and Quinn Meinerz available when the Falcons selected Mayfield. It will be up to Ledford and Smith to develop their third-round pick, but in a press conference today, the former pointed out what he wants from his group.

Pride in protecting Matt Ryan, attitude in the run game, quickness of the ball, toughness, and finishing blocks were all things Ledford mentioned…  basically describing Mayfield, who excels in each area his new position coach values. There is a reason the staff seems high on the Michigan tackle; they believe he can develop into a quality starting guard, but it is a risky pick because of the much-needed improvement to get to that point.


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