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2018 NFL Draft: Trading up or a “reach” may be the likeliest scenarios for Atlanta

Go get your guy or make a pick analysts won’t like.

Atlanta Falcons Practice Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons are good at keeping their plans quiet most of the time, especially during draft season. Anyone who doesn’t work in Flowery Branch and tells you they know what the team is going to do is a dirty liar, and you should treat them as such.

That said, there are educated guesses to be made here based on what we know about the Falcons and their draft hauls up to this point, and I have two of them for the 2018 NFL Draft’s first round.

To come up with these scenarios, I just took a look at what the Falcons have done in three drafts under Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff. As a refresher, here they are.

  • 2015: Stayed pat at #8 and took Clemson’s Vic Beasley, more or less the consensus best pass rusher on the board if you don’t count the player the Jacksonville Jaguars took, Dante Fowler Jr.
  • 2016: Stayed pat at #17 and surprised the hell out of a lot of people by taking safety Keanu Neal out of Florida. Neal was a consensus second or third round pick, with suggestions about him creeping into the first only cropping up in the last couple of weeks before the draft, as i recall.
  • 2017: Traded up a few spots (from #31 to #26) to snag UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley, one of the better pass rushers left on the board, and a player who looks like an ideal fit for this Falcons defense. In the process, they leapfrogged Dallas, a team that had been linked to Takk.

So what can we learn from that? The Falcons A) have no issue moving up to get their guy, especially if they have a strong inkling he’ll be gone and B) the Falcons have no problem taking a player much earlier than the draft community thinks is appropriate. Thus far, they’ve seemingly nailed all three of their first round picks under Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff utilizing that approach, so who are we to argue?

That sets the table for the discussion ahead, though. Let’s look at the two most likely scenarios on draft day.

Scenario #1: The Falcons trade up for a defensive tackle

The odds-on favorite. The Falcons technically have seven draft picks thanks to their compensatory Mr. Irrelevant pick at the end of the seventh, and they’ve been clear again and again that they don’t think they have all that many holes on the roster. Combine that with a thus-far diligent series of workouts and visits with potential UDFAs who might be nice fits and you have a team that probably wouldn’t blink about surrendering a third round pick to move up a few spots to land, say, Taven Bryan.

Bryan is a popular, logical pick because of his Florida background and his immense upside, but it would not surprise me to see the Falcons move up for Maurice Hurst or Da’Ron Payne. I think Vita Vea is neither an ideal fit nor at all likely to last into the 20s, so he’s out.

I’m not a big fan of continually surrendering draft picks, but the Falcons have a lot of confidence in their roster and they’ve shown themselves to be quite gung-ho about moving up in the past. This would not be a surprise.

Scenario #2: The Falcons “reach” for a defensive tackle

If the Falcons don’t feel like surrendering a draft selection or two to go up, they’ll likely have a target in mind for #26. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t still a defensive tackle, but it may not be one of the big four names we’ve bandied about.

So who would it be, then? The names to watch are names the Falcons have been linked to already, including Stanford’s hulking Harrison Phillips, North Carolina State’s intriguing B.J. Hill, and or Fort Hays State’s Nathan Shepherd. Every single one of those picks would draw some boos and some questioning grades from draft analysts, but that was equally true of Keanu Neal, and who is laughing now, amigos?!

The pieces here fit for a number of reasons. The Falcons have talked up the depth of this defensive tackle class, which could be a statement of intent to go after a DT later on, but could just as easily be an endorsement of the guys the Falcons are likely to be selecting from at #26. The team has spent a lot of time with Hill in particular and plenty of time with Phillips and Sherpherd, and all three are quality athletes who could at least draw heavy rotational snaps in next to Grady Jarrett. Again, this would not be a surprise.

So what’s actually more likely? I have to think Bryan is a legitimate target for Atlanta, perhaps the top one on their board, and if they like him enough and he makes it to 20 or so they’ll likely go ahead and pull the trigger. If he doesn’t, or the cost of getting him becomes unpalatable to the team’s brass, I’m pretty sure they’ll be comfortable sitting at #26 and hoping one of their top guys falls to them, whether that’s Payne, Hurst, Hill, or Phillips. Ultimately, though, anything other than a defensive tackle would be a legitimate (though perhaps not unwelcome, depending on the selection) surprise.

What do you think the Falcons do in the first round?