Editor’s Note: We’re thrilled to welcome Eric Robinson to The Falcoholic! You’ve likely seen his Falcons and NFL work all over the interwebs, and now he’s here to deliver our first mock draft of the season.
If you’re still weeping over a Super Bowl that I will not mention in full, it’s okay. I think most of us are.
However, the Atlanta Falcons must turn their full attention to the interesting offseason that lies ahead. Progressing through the offseason means that the team will utilize the draft and free agency to fill holes and help take that next step to a possible Super Bowl Championship.
With head coach Dan Quinn’s philosophy and new faces in place in offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, it will also be interesting to see how the team approaches the draft. Thanks to improved play at key positions, Atlanta’s draft strategy has changed.
Besides, mock drafts are fun. I like them. Hopefully, you will enjoy this one also. Let’s get started.
Round 1, 31st Overall - Caleb Brantley, DT , Florida
The performance by defensive tackle Grady Jarrett in the Super Bowl was a slight surprise, and the three sacks by the interior lineman showed how important he can be moving forward on the defensive line. At times this season, lineman Ra’Shede Hageman also took a positive step in his development and will be a piece to the puzzle as well.
What the team needs is a third Musketeer. Someone who can come in and be a constant disruptor at the 3-tech defensive tackle position. With veteran Jonathan Babineaux eyeing retirement and the possibility of Tyson Jackson not returning, grabbing a prospect such as Brantley provides a stout tackle with the ability to be a terror next to Jarrett and/or Hageman. Brantley is powerful and has scary athleticism for a guy weighing roughly 315 lbs. The combination of Brantley, Jarrett, Hageman, and a possible free agent pickup can give Atlanta interior talent that will enhance the defense.
Round 2, 63rd Overall - Jordan Willis, DE , Kansas State
Edge rusher Vic Beasley led the league this past season with 15.5 sacks. The Falcons defense as a whole totaled 34 sacks. That’s a nice step up from the 19 sacks the defense equaled during the 2015 season.
Despite all that, the team saw key injuries to defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Derrick Shelby, which forced 36-year-old Dwight Freeney to see more snaps than the originally wanted from him. Beasley’s production soaked up almost half of the team sacks. An occurrence that Quinn and the defensive staff can not see in 2017.
So grabbing a 6’5 260 lbs defensive end in Willis gives the Falcons another key piece along their defensive line. Willis has a Michael Bennett-esque skill set with quality size, arm length, and very good stack-and-shed ability. Willis was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 with 52 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, and 11.5 sacks. He gives the team an actual buffer in case Shelby’s Achilles injury takes away from his overall skill (which is a possibility). The pass rusher will need a little time to develop but he has enough ability to give the Falcons another disruptor and take a little pressure off Beasley.
Round 3, 95th Overall - Dorian Johnson, G , Pittsburgh
The Falcons currently have a very good offensive line led by All-Pro center Alex Mack and left tackle Jake Matthews. During this offseason, the coaching staff and front office have a decision to make regarding their offensive line, even so.
Right guard Chris Chester is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and it’s quite possible he is not retained. The veteran is 34 years of age and retirement rumors have also popped up. While the line is overall solid, an upgrade at the guard position is very much conceivable.
Johnson is 6’5 315 lbs and brings solid athleticism at the position. One of his best qualities is his ability to get to the second level to take on defenders. Something that is a constant in the zone-blocking scheme that Sarkisian will continue to operate out of. He also is solid in pass protection and can be nice building block on a veteran offensive line.
Round 4, 135th Overall - Jonnu Smith, TE , Florida International
Tight end Austin Hooper was a nice addition via last year’s draft for the Falcons. Hooper started off deep in the depth chart but ended the season as the team’s top weapon at the position.
The Falcons only have two tight ends under contract next season in Hooper and raw second-year Joshua Perkins. Veteran tight ends Jacob Tamme and Levine Toilolo are unrestricted free agents this offseason. Neither is guaranteed to be on this roster for the regular season opener.
Smith is an athletic specimen with quality NFL size at 6’3 245 lbs. He was second on the Panthers in catches last season with 42 and has 178 career catches at FIU. Smith also provides solid blocking ability with room to grow in that department as well. Having Smith along with Hooper gives Atlanta two tight ends that can line out wide and create mismatches for an already explosive offense.
Round 5, 176th Overall - Steven Taylor, OLB , Houston
Also facing free agency is backup linebacker Phillip Wheeler. Wheeler manned the backup strong-side for the Falcons this past season. On occasion, Wheeler gave the team useable depth. While on other occasions...let’s just say the team can use an upgrade.
Taylor played considerable time with the Cougars at inside linebacker but his skill set would be a better fit filling the SAM position on the depth chart. He will need to bulk a little but his youthful injection and pass rushing ability adds a taste of versatility. This past season, Taylor totaled 12 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, and 74 total tackles. Taylor has a physical nature to his game that can be used as quality depth in Atlanta over time. Not to mention, he can be a nice piece on special teams.
Round 6, 215th Overall - Avery Gennesy, OL , Texas A&M (NOTE: This pick may be lost due to the Andy Levitre trade)
There is nothing wrong with added depth. Especially in the trenches. So the Falcons add more depth on an already good offensive line.
Gennesy has experience playing at both guard and offensive tackle but he may be best on the outside. He’s at a point in his development where he needs to work on his overall functional strength. Outside of that, Gennesy has enough qualities to shore up the backup left tackle position behind former A&M tackle Jake Matthews.
Round 7, 252nd Overall - Isaiah McKenzie, WR , Georgia
For the last pick in the draft, the Falcons add even more speed to the team by selecting the hometown dynamite in McKenzie.
McKenzie does not have a ton of size, but what he does have is rare speed and the ability to score at any given moment. McKenzie has experience in the return game, both kick and punt. The team employed veteran Eric Weems at the return positions but Weems is not necessarily the most reliable in that department. The team drafted receiver Devin Fuller last year in the same round for the same purpose. A preseason shoulder injury cancelled Fuller’s rookie season. So why not spice things up a little in the return department and create a training camp battle between two speedsters? McKenzie’s ability is worth taking a chance on at this point in the draft.