The Atlanta Falcons are wrapping up their private meeting with draft prospects this week so I thought I would take my first shot at mocking their draft picks. I have decided to limit my choices to players the Falcons have met with or coached during the Senior Bowl. I'll also be referring the draft day cheat sheet I posted earlier in the week. I am going to attempt to balance my own preferences against what I expect Falcons to do and strike some middle ground between the two.
The first big question to answer before we dive in is whether or not the Falcons are going to trade up for Jadeveon Clowney. Most of the second and third round players the Falcons have met with are pass rushers and there is a conspicuous lack of offensive tackles. That could mean that the Falcons either plan to take a tackle at six and a pass rusher in the second or trade up for Clowney and include their second pick in the compensation. If forced to make a prediction on whether they trade up I'd probably just flip a coin. Originally I planned on only mocking up a scenario where the Falcons stayed at six because that is what I would prefer. Unfortunately no amount of complaining will change the fact that trading up is not only possible, it could be very probable so I'm going to cover both scenarios.
Scenario 1: The Trade Up
The obvious worry here is that the Falcons will have to overpay to get Clowney. I am convinced the Texans are taking Clowney if they cannot find a trade partner so if Atlanta wants him they are going to have to move to the top. The popular opinion on what the Falcons would have to give up is their first and second this year and their first next year. I would prefer to hang on to the second round this year and offer a third this year and next instead but I'm going to go with the crowd on this one.
(#1) DE - Jadeveon Clowney South Carolina
We have all debated him to death so I will not bother with pro's and con's. If motivated he can be the versatile, dynamic pass rusher the Falcons have sorely needed for a very long time.
(#68) - OT Cameron Fleming Stanford
It may be a little optimistic to expect Fleming to still be on the board here but Jack Mewhort would be a suitable plan B. Fleming has great size (6'5, 323lbs) and was a three year starter at right tackle for Stanford. He has been praised for being a smart, hard working player and he could immediately challenge for a starting spot at right tackle. He probably is not athletic enough to play the left side but potential starters at tackle on either side are hard to find this late in the draft and Fleming is just that.
(#103) RB - Devonta Freeman Florida State
Freeman is a tough, decisive runner who is also effective as a blocker and receiver. He is not the biggest or fastest of the group but he is just as NFL ready as any of the backs in this class. He won't blow anyone away with his athleticism but he has more than adequate speed, short area quickness, vision, and power and has potential to be an every down back. He also did not miss any time to injury at Florida State so durability shouldn't be a concern.
(#139) ILB - Preston Brown Louisville
The Falcons do not have a prototypical 3-4 inside linebacker on their roster and Preston Brown will rectify that. He is a 251 pound thumper that should have no problem taking on blocks from NFL linemen. He is a bit limited athletically and would come off the field on third down but he a promising run-stuffer.
(#147) S/CB - Antone Exum Virginia Tech
Exum is recent addition to the visit list and would be a solid selection in the fifth as a safety. He has ideal size and athleticism to match up with big tight ends and is a strong open field tackler. At the absolute worst he can compete for a starting job at safety and be a valuable special teams player while he adjusts to a new position.
(#182) TE - Richard Rodgers California
He is a long armed, soft handed receiver but an adequate at best blocker. He can't fill the role of a traditional in-line tight end but he has enough quickness off the line of scrimmage to create mismatches in the passing game.
(#220) DT -Zack Kerr Delaware
Atlanta does not have a clear back-up to Paul Soliai at nose tackle and Kerr could fill that role. He won't probably ever be a dynamic pass rusher but with his size he could solidly anchor the defensive line in a 3-4 defensive look.
(#253) TE/FB - Gator Hoskins Marshall
I can't go three posts without mentioning Hoskins so seeing him here shouldn't surprise anyone. I've already done a fanpost on him and with the uncertainty the Falcons face at fullback and tight end he would be a fantastic choice here. The Falcons staff coached him in the Senior Bowl and his versatility and productivity at Marshall have to be intriguing to the Falcons staff.
(#255) OLB - Brandon Watts Georgia Tech
His athleticism and ability to play both inside and out make him worth spending a pick on rather than targeting him in free agency.
Scenario #2: Standing Ground
This is the approach I would prefer. I think fixing the offensive line should be the team's top priority.
(#6) OT - Jake Matthews Texas A&M
I think he is the safest pick in the draft and should be a potential Pro Bowl tackle for the next decade.
(#37) OLB - Marcus Smith Louisville
Some may think this is a reach but I think his stock has been steadily rising. He has a great blend of size and speed and was used all over the field at Louisville. Versatility is a trait the Falcons value highly so Smith is a natural fit. The Falcons coached him in the Senior Bowl and have met with him privately so there is definite interest there.
(#68) WR - Jordan Matthews Vanderbilt
This probably won't be a popular choice but the Falcons have brought in several early-to-mid round wide receivers to visit and I think they are going to pull the trigger on one in either the third or fourth round. Matthews is a tall, long-armed receiver with adequate speed that has the potential to be a productive starter on the outside. Bruce Ellington is another candidate here as he is the only receiver the Falcons have met with twice. I like Matthews size more than Ellingtons speed so I choose him.
(#103) S - Kenny Ladler Vanderbilt
While he may not be overly athletic Kenny Ladler has a knack for finding the ball and forcing turnovers (5FF, 5 INTs last season). He will need to clean up his tackling a little but he would compete for a starting role in training camp.
(#139) DE - Josh Mauro Stanford
Mauro is a big bodied defensive end that could be a solid reserve behind Tyson Jackson. He isn't flashy and won't be a dynamic pass rusher but he is a high motor five-technique and there aren't many pure five techniques on the Falcons roster.
(#147) RB - De'Anthony Thomas Oregon
Thomas would add an explosive element to the Falcons backfield. He would be a valuable third down back and be a back-up plan for Hester in the return game.
(#182) ILB - Yawin Smallwood Connecticut
Smallwood fits the role of a 3-4 ILB better than anyone already on the roster and would at the very least add solid depth to the linebacking corps. He didn't look quite as physical as Louisville's Preston Brown but he has more upside athletically. He could challenge for a starting role earlier than late. His stock has been quietly on the rise as well so I might be thinking a bit optimistically here.
(#220) DT - Zack Kerr Delaware
(#253) TE/FB - Gator Hoskins Marshall
(#255) TE - Justin Jones East Carolina
He is a small school prospect with character concerns but he's also 6'8 and 280lbs.
So what do you guys think? I know I've taken my turn nit-picking the other mocks I've seen posted so here's your chance to tell me how you'd do it different.