Of the nine rookies in the Falcons’ 2021 draft class, only a handful will play meaningful snaps in their first year. For some, adjusting to the NFL is not as difficult as it is for others. Transitioning can be challenging for various reasons. Some positions are generally easier to acclimate to at the professional level, but it is the coaching staff’s responsibility to refine the attributes of their players while accentuating what they do well by putting them in positions to succeed. In my opinion, there is a possibility for four rookies from this class to play significant snaps for the Falcons in 2021: Kyle Pitts, Richie Grant, Jalen Mayfield, and Drew Dalman.
The obvious answer is Kyle Pitts because of his ability to threaten defenses in so many different ways. Pitts fell into a near-perfect situation with Arthur Smith, a tight end guru who understands the flexibility the former Flordia Gator gives his offense. Pitts is also the only rookie who is guaranteed to start, in my opinion, but that doesn’t mean he will be the most important rookie who plays. The reason I believe that is because tight end isn’t an overly important position in football, nor are the Falcons hurting in that area with Hayden Hurst and Lee Smith behind Pitts.
There are questions to be answered on the offensive line and in the secondary. Not only are there more concerns in those two areas of the team, but they’re also arguably more important positions. That is why Grant, Mayfield, and Dalman could be the most impactful as rookies.
Beginning on the offensive line, the left guard and center positions will be vacant until two of Matt Hennessey, Josh Andrews, Matt Gono, Mayfield, or Dalman separate themselves from the pack. Arthur Smith’s offense will go as the offensive line goes because it’s predicated on establishing the run, then building the passing game off of it. Mayfield has a chance to fill the left guard vacancy, and Dalman has an opportunity to start at center. Given those positional values, there is a reality where the rookie linemen have a greater impact than the high-profile first-round pick.
Although safeties usually aren’t as impactful as other positions, when a defensive coordinator has a playmaker on the backend, it makes game planning much easier. Grant is a chess piece of a defender who can line up in any scheme or alignment Pees asks him to. He possesses elite instincts and can be a game-changing defender in a system like Pees, which tasks safeties with various responsibilities. Grant can make a difference dropping into coverage, supporting the run, and rushing the passer — something Atlanta has needed for quite some time on defense.
In my mind, there is a legitimate case to be made that one of the three rookies not named Kyle Pitts can contribute more to the Falcons in 2021. Though Pitts is guaranteed to impact the offensive side of the ball, the offensive line is more important to Arthur Smith’s system’s success. The defense is also a much bigger question mark than the offense, as a whole. If the team wants to reach the playoffs, the defense will have to improve dramatically… and Richie Grant could be a pivotal piece of that transition.