I know you're all sick to death of mock drafts, but this one has a twist: It's mine.
My goal with this mock draft was to balance players who the Falcons may be interested in with the talent I believe can make a major difference for Atlanta. To that end, I focused on addressing two major defensive needs with terrific young players early, moved to addressing the real holes at running back and receiver with the next two, and then sought to finish this class with a mix of players who can contribute right away and projects who Dan Quinn and his coaching staff can try to develop this season. Ultimately, I do believe this group of players would make the Falcons better in 2015 and potentially much better down the line.
This is my one and only mock draft, so don't expect me to change anything between now and next Thursday night. As always, I welcome your comments and/or abuse below.
Round 1, Pick #8: Randy Gregory, DE/LB, Nebraska
Ever since Randy Gregory's stock went from "clear top five selection" to "probably hanging around at #8 or later," I've been in the first class section of his bandwagon. That hasn't changed much over the last month, despite the failed drug test, rumors that he's not interviewing well and reported weight loss.
Gregory will be a controversial choice for those reasons, and there are plenty of draft analysts who watch his tape and don't come away thinking he's an amazing player. I'm not one of those people, though, and I think Gregory's dinged stock gives him a legitimate chance to wind up in Atlanta.
Simply put, this is the best pure pass rusher the Falcons are likely to get in this draft, and a man with tremendous upside. You do have to wonder about his decision-making and the fact that he's checking in a little light is a legitimate concern. The question becomes whether you believe this coaching staff has the acumen to coax his best play out of him, whether Gregory himself will mature, work hard and blossom in a good system and whether he can be a top-shelf pass rusher in the NFL. My answer to all three of those is yes, so I stand firm on this selection.
Round 2, Pick #42: Eric Rowe, DB, Utah
I wrestled with going linebacker here, because even with all their additions, the Falcons could still use one, and have been heavily linked to a few draft-eligible players. I have to believe they're going to whiff on Stevie Brown, however, and they're clearly shopping for a new free safety in 2015.
A free agent stopgap's a legitimate option and can't be ruled out, but Rowe gives the Falcons an athletic, rangy safety who can be left on an island. Drafting him allows the Dezmen Southward-to-cornerback conversion to continue apace, it gives the team young competition for Charles Godfrey and tees up a player I firmly believe could be a terrific starting safety in this league as soon as 2016. Rowe's ability to play both cornerback and safety is intriguing, but ideally, he'd lock down free safety for years to come.
Round 3, Pick #73: Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami
I know I'm going to earn some heat for projecting a pair of offensive players back-to-back here, but I love Dorsett and I think he's an ideal fit for the Falcons here.
At his best, Dorsett brings to mind dynamic slot receivers like Randall Cobb and Percy Harvin. He's had some issues with drops, but he has amazing wheels, is a quality route runner and is absolutely lethal in space. The Falcons have Julio Jones, Leonard Hankerson and Roddy White to play the outside, but a guy like Dorsett creates new possibilities for the offense and should quickly become one of Matt Ryan's favorite weapons.
Dorsett should be able to take over return duties when Devin Hester inevitably retires or moves on from the Falcons, as well, which further adds to his value.
Round 4, Pick #107: David Cobb, RB, Minnesota
The Falcons could use an effective goal line back with power, someone who can split carries with Devonta Freeman, add a totally different dimension to the offense and be effective in short yardage. I think David Cobb could easily be that player.
Cobb is a straight up bruiser with decent straight line speed. He's not particularly evasive and his hands need some work, but he's got the frame to be a useful blocking back, the power that this roster is currently lacking and potential to be a quality part of the committee.
Round 5, Pick #146: Martrell Spaight, LB, Arkansas
The Falcons return to defense with another linebacker. The team is loaded up with options at the position at the moment, but realistically, many of those options will be on the cutting block in August. A player like Spaight has a real opportunity to stick around.
Spaight is a quick, aggressive player who displays excellent hand usage, sniffs out the ball effectively and can make plays at the line of scrimmage. He tackles well, which I know we're all looking for, and projects to be a useful special teamer in the NFL. He strikes me as a useful jack-of-all-trades linebacker who might become a better version of Malcolm Smith, a player Quinn utilized pretty well in Seattle.
He isn't likely to be a asset in coverage, at least right away, and it's fair to wonder whether he has all the tools necessary to stick at outside linebacker or whether he'll be a better fit in the middle. Either way, he's an intriguing player.
Round 6, Pick #185: Tray Walker, CB, Texas Southern
Walker is such an obvious fit for what Dan Quinn likes at cornerback that this pick feels like a jinx. He's a 6'2" press cornerback who excels at jamming his man at the line and making plays on the ball.
Walker would likely need to sit for a year, learn the system and work on some of his weaknesses, because he's a fairly raw player. His physicality, size and aggressiveness makes him an intriguing player for 2016 and beyond, however.
Round 7, Pick #225: Antoine Everett, T/G, McNeese State
This is not going to please a lot of you who believe a guard should be a top priority, and I understand that. I'm of the opinion that the Falcons are going to try to paper over left guard in 2015 with what they have in-house, whether that's Sam Baker, James Stone, Mike Person, Harland Gunn or even Peter Konz. Everett would be a project to add to the mix.
Everett played primarily tackle in college, but in my eyes projects as a guard in the NFL. He has quick feet, powerful hands (copyright Malliciah Goodman, even if his are more violent) and pretty good technique out of the box. He's not a great run blocking lineman today, however, and can be knocked off balance by powerful defenders, so the Falcons will need to tinker with him for a bit before he has a shot to be a legitimate contributor. In the seventh round, though, I think he's excellent value as a useful reserve in the new zone blocking scheme.
Round 7, Pick #249: James Vaughters, DE, Stanford
Vaughters looks like the second coming of Cliff Matthews in some ways, as a big, physical end who can set the edge. He'll be listed as an outside linebacker coming out of college and would need to bulk up a bit to fit that role, but he's not ticketed for linebacker duties over the long haul, in my humble opinion. Closer to the line, he's got the strength to push his way through and harass the quarterback, though he's unlikely to be more than a decent pass rusher at the next level.
Like Walker, Vaughters would need some work and could be a practice squad stash or gameday inactive. I would envision him as a rotational defensive end who has the potential to be very effective against the run down the line.
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