Which rookies will start for Falcons in 2022?

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The Falcons 2021 draft class had a pretty underwhelming impact outside of Kyle Pitts. Of course, the rookie phenom out of Florida set a bevy of franchise records on his way to the Pro Bowl — the first to do so since Jeremey Shockey in 2002. However, outside of him, things were rather bleak.

Atlanta’s second-round pick, Richie Grant, hardly made it on the field due to a lack of knowledge of the playbook and understanding of NFL offenses as a whole. The Falcons’ third-round pick, Jalen Mayfield, played nearly every snap, but one could argue the Falcons would’ve been better off with him on the bench like Grant. They just didn’t have a better option, unfortunately.

Darren HallAvery WilliamsDrew Dalman, Ade Ogundeji, Ta’Quon Graham, and Frank Darby, many of whom had very little impact, rounded out the rest of Fontenot’s first draft class. Williams, Ogundeji, and Graham probably had the most influence of those players, but they weren’t anywhere close to significant. Fontenot knows they struggled too. “Rookies, you’re gonna take lumps, and there’s gonna be ups and downs. What I love about this rookie class is the mindset of the group. I believe they have competitive guys that fight and compete, and it’s gonna be a challenge for them to continue to develop coming into this next year,” the Falcons general manager said in his end-of-the-season press conference.

So, will the Falcons’ 2022 draft class fare differently? My immediate reaction says “yes.”

Atlanta added the top pass catcher on many boards, though not on mine, in Drake London. I’d feel safe in saying Falcons fans can expect a Kyle Pitts-esque rookie season from the big-bodied receiver out of USC. He’s an ideal scheme fit and is already the top dog in the wideout room. It won’t be long before everyone’s excited about this young man.

On Day 2, the Falcons quickly nabbed Arnold Ebiketie out of Penn State, who also has a clear path to starting. Outside of Lorenzo Carter, the Falcons don’t have much experience among edge defenders. Ebiketie has all the tools to become a productive pass rusher in this league, and Ade Ogundeji is the only thing standing in his way to being a starter in 2022.

The Falcons’ second pick in the second round was a bit of a shocker, as Atlanta took elite athlete Troy Andersen over some other pretty notable names. However, given the outlook at off-ball linebacker, it made more sense. The Falcons could still part ways with Deion Jones, which undoubtedly improves Andersen’s chances of earning starting reps. Still, the likelihood is that the Montana State product contributes in the third phase of the game. Rashaan Evans, Nick Kwiatkoski, and Mykal Walker will be pretty difficult to leapfrog alone, so if Jones remains a Falcon, consider Andersen’s chances of starting close to zero.

The Falcons’ cleaned up on Day 2. With their first selection in the third round, Atlanta landed Desmond Ridder. Anyone’s guess is as good as mine, but I believe Marcus Mariota will start Week 1; however, there’s a decent chance Ridder starts at some point in the season. Either Mariota will inevitably get hurt, or the coaching staff will thrust Ridder into play to see what they have in the rookie out of Cincinnati.

The Falcons wrapped up the second day of the draft by doubling up at edge (thank god). The “Doctor of Pass Rush” DeAngelo Malone was the American Player of the Game at the Senior Bowl, and everyone’s been raving about his upside. There is definitely a chance he earns starting reps, but in his first season, don’t be surprised if he’s relegated to obvious passing downs.

The Falcons kicked off their Day 3 by selecting BYU running back Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round. And he actually has a decent shot of starting a few games. Cordarrelle Patterson will be the team’s starting running back, but Allgeier could certainly make a push to play later in the season as he better grasps the playbook. He’s a tough runner and could supplement the run game, like Mike Davis a year ago.

Moving on to the Falcons’ pair of sixth-rounders out of UGA. First, Justin Shaffer is the quintessential bully of a guard, a road grader in the run game with some concerns about his pass sets. For a late-round pick, there might not be an easier path to starting. Jalen Mayfield was downright awful in 2021, and the coaching staff can’t be satisfied with how the season turned out for him. If Atlanta doesn’t add a starting-caliber veteran, Shaffer could earn the starting role in a training-camp upset.

John FitzPatrick was the Falcons’ second sixth-rounder and their last pick of the 2022 draft. He’ll likely never amount to anything more than a sixth offensive lineman, but the value of that role can’t be overstated. Lee Smith was useful for Arthur Smith and FitzPatrick will be too. The former Dawg likely won’t earn starting reps but should be able to find his niche quickly.

To begin the season, I think London and Ebiketie will be the only rookies who are full-time starters. But there are a few others who could draw starts at some points throughout the season, namely Ridder, Allgeier, and Andersen. However, looking further down the road to 2023, at least five members of the 2022 rookie class should be full-time starters.

The Falcons didn’t play many rookies in 2021, so don’t be surprised if your favorite pick from the 2022 draft class is struggling to get playing time this coming year.

Photographer: Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire

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