Every year, I throw my hat in the ring for a mock draft right before the draft itself. I do this not under the illusion that my mock will be right so much as as I do for tradition and to give you a sense of how I expect the draft to unfold. In about 72 hours, we’ll know how close I was, if close is even a remotely applicable adjective.
Here’s my best guess at the draft class, based on what we know about this team’s needs, players I like at positions the team has identified as needs and think are quality fits for the Falcons, and what I think the Falcons will do. A mock that was pure wishful thinking on my part would have the team drafting in the trenches for the first four rounds and adding secondary and receiver depth late, but I recognize the Falcons are unlikely to ultimately do that.
A year ago my best prediction turned out to be the addition of Afolabi Laguda...which just happened a couple of weeks ago, so you should feel free to put more stock into the mocks put forth by our resident draft gurus Kevin Knight and Eric Robinson.
#14: Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama
Williams has been my pick since the SB Nation mock and I’m stubbornly sticking with him, both because I think the Falcons are going to go tackle and because I think he’s an excellent player and excellent fit for the Falcons. The only question, here in the final hours, is whether he’ll last this long.
The Falcons have set themselves up to go where they want with their first pick, of course, by stacking up depth at key positions. One of those is tackle, where John Wetzel has considerable starting experience and could theoretically slot in behind Ty Sambrailo. But the Falcons have stressed re-building the offensive line and only have short term solutions in place everywhere but left tackle, and getting a bookend to Jake Matthews makes a ton of sense given that a top tackle is a mortal lock to be available at 14. If it’s Williams, I have little doubt he’ll prove to be a terrific bookend to Matthews.
Would I prefer a top defensive lineman here? You bet. But I’m not sure that’s how it’s going to go.
#45: Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple
Dan Quinn talked about him being a wrestler and you could almost see the heart emojis in his eyes.
The Falcons seem to think the second round is a sweet spot for cornerbacks, as they’ve now drafted two in the Dan Quinn era there. Ya-Sin is good enough to get on the field right away for the Falcons and should be a big part of their plans going forward, even if there’s not a clear path to playing time in front of him in the here and now. Ya-Sin will need some refinement at the NFL level but has size, extremely quick feet, and great coverage instincts, all of which should conspire to make him a quality starter in the Falcons’ defense sooner than later. Whether he’s the long-term nickel cornerback with Damontae Kazee moving over to safety, or whether he pushes to replace Desmond Trufant down the line, Ya-Sin is good enough to make an impact now and over the long haul.
#79, Nate Davis, OG, North Carolina-Charlotte
Davis may or may not be able to muscle his way past Jamon Brown in year one, but long-term, he projects as a capable starting guard for the Falcons with size, strength, and athleticism to fit the offense.
Davis has experience at both guard and tackle, but probably projects to guard at the NFL level. He’s quick and strong enough to handle the explosive defensive tackles he’ll face, and has the power and makeup necessary to handle pure bulk, too. He’ll just need a little time to adjust to the NFL game, which he’ll get behind Jamon Brown in 2019, unless he’s able to surprisingly battle his way to a starting gig.
Two offensive linemen in the first three picks probably isn’t the most palatable outcome for those of us hoping to prioritize the defensive front, but getting two high-upside starters after neglecting the line for years is a big deal, and this is the class with the depth to do it in.
#108 (Falcons swap picks #117 and #172), Ben Banogu, DE, TCU
Banogu is a bit of a project, which might scare some away from him. But he’s a project with real talent and a toolkit of strong inside moves, even if the work to get him comfortable winning outside and refining his moves will likely take some time. Banogu would be an intriguing long-term prospect for Atlanta, especially with Vic Beasley, Adrian Clayborn and Steven Means all headed to free agency last year, and a year with hands-on coaching from Dan Quinn would hopefully speed things along. A hop up burning just one of their huge draft pick haul makes a lot of sense to me.
Of course, I say that knowing how other pass rushers have developed on this defense, but the talent in the fourth round is worth the investment.
#137, Gerald Willis, DT, Miami
Willis is another project who needs to learn to play with more leverage, but has enough talent to be an impactful player down the line. He carries a reputation as an inconsistent player on a snap-by-snap basis, but he has a mix of power and athleticism that has to be intriguing for Atlanta. This team is stacked up at defensive tackle for 2019, but Willis could spend a year developing and contribute next year when Jack Crawford, Tyeler Davison, and Ra’Shede Hageman.
Again, you have to believe in the team’s coaching to invest in Willis, but both of these fourth rounders have starting upside if they can overcome weaknesses of technique.
#152, David Sills, WR, Virginia
One of my favorite day three prospects, Sills was insanely productive in college thanks to his height, good hands, and strong separation skills, and he scored a ton. Sills isn’t the fastest receiver in this class by a long shot and need to add a little weight and strength to avoid getting knocked out of his routes, but he’d be excellent value here and could be a long-term replacement for Justin Hardy with the ability to be a bit more impactful as a receiver, if obviously a lesser blocker. I really like his value as a red zone target for Matt Ryan.
#178 (Falcons swap #186 and #230), Ulysees Gilbert, LB, Akron
Gilbert has a motor, special teams value out of the gate, and enough athleticism and force of will to be a useful reserve for the next few years for a Falcons team that could probably stand to add more youth and upside to the back end of their corps. He might be able to shove Bruce Carter off the roster this year, and at worst he’ll be one of Ben Kotwica’s favorites from early on.
This class yields the Falcons only one slam dunk 2019 starter—though I think Ya-Sin and Davis could find their way into roles if all goes well—which is probably going to make it unpalatable for some. By 2020, though, roster spots should open up for the likes of Ya-Sin and Davis, with Banogu, Willis, and Sills potentially finding their way to significant roles at their respective positions as well. Gilbert slots in as a special teamer but is an interesting linebacker who might find his way into a role if the logjam clears up a bit next year, too.
In short, this class addresses one huge 2019 need with an instant starter, gives the team young insurance at positions of need, and sets them up well for 2020 when their one-year stopgaps are hitting free agency. Given the way the Falcons have prioritized their offseason, signing useful depth at nearly every position that looked like a weakness back in January, this class would be drafted with an eye on the future.