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2017 Falcons mock draft: Hitting the major needs for Atlanta

Dave’s annual mock focuses on what’s right in front of the Falcons for needs.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-City Views Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, I like to drop my mock draft right before the real thing starts. This year is no exception, and given that the team has very few glaring needs, it was a new and interesting challenge to pull this class together.

Here’s my annual mock draft, which you may mock as soon as you read it.

1st Round, #31: Derek Rivers, DE, Youngstown State

My pick for a long time now, and a popular selection both here at The Falcoholic and elsewhere. The Falcons showed early interest in Rivers in this process, and nothing they’ve done or said since then has shaken my belief that he’ll be in play at #31.

Rivers is not a Vic Beasley clone, but he’s got the same kind of athletic profile, and he figures to be surprisingly capable against the run right away. As a pass rusher, he likely only needs to add some weight and get his feet under him to be an impact player in the pros, and he’ll be a tremendous long-term bookend for Beasley.

Jordan Willis is also a guy I’d be very happy with here, but for me, it’s Rivers.

2nd Round, #63: Marcus Williams, S, Utah

A legitimate ballhawk with room to grow into his frame a little bit, Williams has a lot of what you would be looking for in a playmaking safety and just needs coaching and time and unlock his potential further. Having the luxury of being the third safety in Atlanta initially will help, but long-term I think he’ll be an excellent fit for what the Falcons are looking for at free safety.

He’ll get onto the field immediately as the team’s third safety, however, and that will allow the Falcons to trot out some interesting packages.

3rd Round, #95: Jaleel Johnson, DT, Iowa

Defensive tackle is a need after this season, when Dontari Poe could very well be headed elsewhere and Ra’Shede Hageman is no lock to return. Enter Johnson, a polarizing player with a lot of upside.

Johnson has the requisite skill to get to quarterbacks, giving Atlanta a penetrating presence in the middle of their defensive line. He doesn’t solve Atlanta’s big body problem—which will be a problem again if Poe exits town—but on obvious passing downs putting him alongside Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley, and Derek Rivers feels like a real big problem for other teams.

4th Round, #135: Michael Roberts, TE, Toledo

Roberts will have some utility as a pass catcher down the line, but that’s not really why the Falcons are picking him up. Austin Hooper is the future at the position and Levine Toilolo gives this team a well-rounded skill set for the short term, but Roberts comes to the NFL as one of the best blocking tight ends in this class, and would be incredibly useful on run downs when Hooper or Toilolo needs a breather, or just as a worthy second tight end when blocking is a need.

Roberts has enough upside to become the #2 to Hooper, but he’ll initially be a situational play and likely a fine special teamer once he gets up to speed. I’ll take that in a fourth round pick.

5th Round, #175: Jordan Morgan, OG, Kutztown

In this scenario, Wes Schweitzer is probably ticketed for starting duties at guard. In Morgan, they get a potential starter down the line who steps right in as a capable backup. Morgan is a strong, capable blocker who will need to work on his technique at the NFL level, as he mostly just swallowed up Division II athletes across from him. He also fills the small school quotient for Thomas Dimitroff, which is a plus.

His struggles with pass protection will likely cause him to lose a pitched starting battle with Schweitzer, but I do think he and Schweitzer could both wind up starting for the Falcons down the line. The cautionary note that I would sound here is that Morgan’s lousy three cone time means he breaks the mold of a typical Falcons draft selection, but I’m going to stubbornly stick with him because I think he’d be excellent value if he makes it this far.

7th Round, #251: Chad Wheeler, OT, USC

The last time the Falcons went for a tackle in the seventh round, it didn’t really work out. Jake Rodgers from Eastern Washington was a likely project who didn’t even make the team in 2015, but the Falcons will go back to the well and hope to fare better this time around.

Wheeler isn’t the immediate swing tackle candidate I think most of us would like, which means a veteran signing probably needs to be in the offing. Given some time to get his strength up and learn from Atlanta’s coaching staff, though, I think that’s a role he can fill capably, and he has the quick feet that make him a fit for this blocking scheme. If the Falcons do nab Wheeler or a similar player late, don’t expect to see much of them in 2017 unless disaster strikes.

What do the Falcons get out of this draft class, then? Rivers is a potential double digit sack guy at the NFL level, and an athletic, potent presence off the edge even if those numbers don’t show up right away. Williams steps right in as the team’s third safety, and could be the free safety of the future in relatively short order. Those are your immediate, hopefully impact starters of this class.

Everyone else is a bit player year one, with a chance to grow into a larger role going forward. Johnson is a defensive tackle with quite a bit of upside, and he gives the Falcons a nasty, pass rushing presence on the interior of the defensive line. Roberts figures to be the team’s long-term backup tight end and a potentially elite blocking option at the position. Morgan is probably going to be my most divisive pick—he doesn’t fit the team’s athletic profile, really—but I like his game and think he could push to start in 2018 or 2019 when Andy Levitre exits the picture. Wheeler is a pretty athletic option at tackle who could, with a little time and seasoning, become the team’s swing tackle for the next few seasons, though he won’t be ready right away.

Your mileage may vary, but I recognize this isn’t the sexiest draft class. It is one that addresses some of the team’s biggest immediate and future needs, though, and does so with players I think are capable and have genuine upside. The only thing I regret not getting is a running back (which the Falcons might be able to address with UDFAs) and linebacker (which remains a bit of a sore spot, unfortunately).

I welcome your impressions of this mock, and your own final mocks ahead of tomorrow’s draft.