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2016 NFL mock drafts: Expect Jaylon Smith to be a popular pick for Atlanta, but don't expect them to select him

He's probably the best linebacker in the draft, but his injury should keep Atlanta away from him.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The lovely and talented Dan Kadar at Mocking The Draft does a terrific job of matching up team needs with quality players, which is why his latest pick for the Falcons is worth paying attention to. He has the Falcons landing arguably the best linebacker in the draft, with a caveat.

17. Atlanta Falcons:  Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame

This is risky because we don't know exactly how healthy Smith will be or when exactly he'll be able to play again. But when he's healthy he's a top-10 pick. For Atlanta, he could shape the linebacker unit as a three-down player with few weaknesses.

Other options: Robert Nkemdiche (DT, Ole Miss), Kenny Clark (DT, UCLA)

Let's set aside Nkemdiche and Clark, who may well be options, but don't seem like the likeliest picks. On paper, Smith is exactly the kind of player the Falcons should be trying to land. He's a potentially elite talent at a huge position of need, and as soon as 2017, he could be absolutely wrecking opposing offenses as part of a revamped Falcons defense. It's a logical pick, and it's one we're going to see a lot over the next couple of months.

Yet I don't think it's going to happen, even so. The Falcons urgently need talent right now, and we know next to nothing about just how serious Smith's injury is and how long his recovery will take. If he's on the field to start the season in the Falcons' new stadium, he's likely worth it, but if his injury hampers him badly in 2017 or even beyond, it's fair to wonder whether he's worth the #17 pick. This isn't the strongest draft class, but it seems likely a quality player who fits the team's need is going to be available there, and it's going to be a tough pill for the organization and its fans to swallow to be patient for another year after three straight mediocre seasons.

If Smith can be back at full strength in 2017, the Falcons feel great about that, and they're willing to absorb the criticism and 2016 costs associated with drafting him, maybe this will happen. He is a tremendous player, and I'd love to have a health Jaylon Smith wrecking the Saints twice a year. As I said, though, I view it as a very unlikely scenario.

How about you?