We’re full-steam ahead into draft season, with the NFL Combine only a little over a week away. The draft class is beginning to take shape and the top players are beginning to distance themselves. While there’s still plenty of movement to come—particularly after the Combine testing and free agency—we’re starting to get a clearer picture of who some interesting targets might be for the Falcons.
This week’s mock draft focuses on improving the trenches with some starters and depth pieces. If the draft were to shake out this way, Atlanta would have several new contributors along both the offensive and defensive lines.
For these 7-round mock drafts, I’ll be using Fanspeak’s “On the Clock” mock draft simulator (which is a ton of fun, if you haven’t played around with it before). For this mock I used the Inside the Pylon big board, and the Fanspeak team needs.
Now, without further adieu, let’s dive into this mock draft.
Round 1, Pick 31 - DT Jaleel Johnson, Iowa
The Falcons clearly need to revamp their interior defensive line, as outside of Jarrett and Hageman there isn’t much there—enter Jaleel Johnson. I’m sure you’re all very familiar with Johnson, the impressive Iowa defensive lineman. If you aren’t, check out Charles’ excellent piece, where he breaks down Johnson’s game.
In short, Johnson is a versatile and athletic DT that can play 3T and 1T effectively. What separates him from other DTs in this class is his stellar technique and high football IQ. He’s an excellent fit for Quinn’s defense, and his well-rounded game would help bolster both the run and pass defense. His stock seems to be highly variable at the moment, but he’d be an excellent value with the 31st pick.
Round 2, Pick 63 - G Dorian Johnson, Pittsburgh
Turning to the other side of the ball, the Falcons actually have the makings of a very good offensive line again in 2017. The only question mark is RG Chris Chester, who may consider retirement. Even if he doesn’t, the time is now to start planning for his replacement.
Dorian Johnson from Pitt is an excellent, scheme-diverse guard. He’s got ideal size (6’5, 315), good lateral movement and ability in space, and enough strength to hold up in pass protection and move defenders off the ball in the running game. Johnson’s football character and IQ are both excellent, and he’s a tough, durable player. While he doesn’t have many “wow” attributes, Johnson is incredibly solid all-around. He’s a plug-and-play starter in the NFL.
Round 3, Pick 95 - S Justin Evans, Texas A&M
First, let me make this clear: I think Ricardo Allen is a solid starter at FS, and the Falcons don’t necessarily need to go out of their way to upgrade him. However, that doesn’t mean you should pass up an opportunity to do so when a terrific prospect falls into your lap.
Justin Evans (6’0, 193) is an athletic, rangy safety prospect who has a knack for coming up with the ball. He’s versatile and capable of playing in the box, or in single-high looks. Evans is a bit undersized—he will likely need to add some bulk at the NFL level—but he makes up for it by being a big, physical hitter. That style of play makes him prone to missing tackles at times, but he’s a passionate player with great football character.
He’s capable of coming in and starting immediately, but could likely benefit from spending a season behind Allen as he adjusts to the NFL game.
Round 4, Pick 135 - OLB Joe Mathis, Washington
At this point in the draft, it’s difficult to find starting talent. But, with a bit of creativity, I believe the Falcons can do so. That’s where Washington’s Joe Mathis comes in. As a player that’s undersized for the EDGE role that he played in college (6’2, 255), Mathis seems to be a difficult projection for the NFL. However, he’s experienced as both a hand-in-the-dirt DE and as a stand-up OLB.
A player with those traits, in my mind, could be an intriguing fit at the SAM LB spot in the Falcons 4-3 under defense. He’s got the traits you’re looking for: ability to stack-and-shed blocks, good instincts, strength to make tackles in the run game, and ability as a pass rusher off the edge. He’s not a plus athlete, but he should rarely be matched up in coverage—particularly with the other LBs the Falcons have—and has been effective at setting the edge against stretch plays. He should at least be an upgrade over Phillip Wheeler, and should help bolster the base defense.
Round 5, Pick 175 - TE Michael Roberts, Toledo
With the Falcons having two TEs that could possibly be moving on from the team in Jacob Tamme and Levine Toilolo, they may be interested in adding another late in the draft to complement Austin Hooper and Josh Perkins. Toledo’s Michael Roberts is a player I’ve had a chance to watch grow and develop in person.
Roberts has ideal size for an NFL TE (6’4, 261) with insanely large hands (11 5/8”). Those hands were on display throughout his senior year, where he demonstrated his prowess as a red-zone weapon with 16 (!) TDs on 45 catches. Roberts isn’t an amazing athlete, but he’s a solid route runner with the skills and physicality to box out smaller defenders and the hands to make difficult catches in traffic look routine. His blocking is also quite good, and he could contribute immediately in both the run and pass game in the NFL.
Round 7, Pick 252 - EDGE Jeremiah Ledbetter, Arkansas
The Falcons have a great starter at strongside DE in Vic Beasley, but outside of him they have virtually nothing. Beasley also hasn’t been the most effective player against the run, so finding another DE that can set the edge effectively is certainly on the Falcons wishlist this offseason. Jeremiah Ledbetter is a big (6’3, 280), strong defensive lineman that could fit the bill.
Ledbetter is a very powerful player that has shown flashes of being an excellent run defender. While he spent most of his time on the interior in college, he’s too small to hold up there at the NFL level. Where he could find a home is as a 5-tech strongside DE. Ledbetter has solid technique and is excellent at using leverage to his advantage. That, coupled with his impressive strength, makes him an asset against the run.
However, he’s not an impressive athlete, and doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher at this point. He’ll primarily be a rotational base package player early in his career, but he could help bolster the Falcons run defense right away.
There it is, my first Falcons mock draft of the season. Atlanta targets the trenches throughout the draft, adding a starting DT and OG early and a rotational DE late. They also net an athletic, rangy FS prospect, a potential SAM LB, and a well-rounded TE with fantastic hands.
What do you think of this draft class for the Falcons? Who are some options you like in the mid-to-late rounds? Share your comments below.