A highlight of the old CBS forum was that it featured many collaborative mock drafts. Rather than reading where someone says the team should take Player A in round one and Player B in round two, these mocks play out pick by pick with real people representing each team.
One of those mocks survived the fall of the CBS forum and migrated to Live4SportNetwork, where it is now in its tenth year. I had the pleasure of once again representing the Falcons.
Preparing For 2020, Not Just 2019
One thing I will note is that this mock took place before the recent wave of Falcons free agent signings. The team did not have Tyeler Davison yet and had not yet signed the safety prospects or resigned Kemal Ishmael or added any of the other recent signings to the roster.
But I don’t think my approach would have changed all that much even if it took place today. When I look at the roster, I still see a need for added LB depth and CB depth even now. And more than anything, I see the potential for more significant roster turnover than usual after the 2019 season. The 2016 draft class will finish their rookie contracts this year and reach free agency. Grady Jarrett and Vic Beasley are playing on a franchise tag and fifth year extension. Quite a few other players have contracts expiring after this season, and it will be a make-or-break year for a few other players as well.
The turned over more of the roster than it could successfully replace heading into the 2013 season, with disastrous results. As the mock GM, I consider it my duty to start now in alleviating the shock from next year’s turnover. I need to make sure we reload, not rebuild.
Round 1, Selection #14: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
It’s nice when the need-based pick and the BPA pick end up being the same guy. On the need side, the interior run defense has been a weakness for several years. Adding Wilkins figures to make it an instant strength. Again, the team had not yet signed Tyeler Davison when I made the pick. But I think Wilkins would be a clear upgrade over Davison in any case. And looking ahead, Jarrett might be too expensive to resign after this season, Jack Crawford is a free agent again after this year, and Davison is only on a one year contract. Now is the time to make sure Deadrin Senat has some company in the interior in 2020.
And on the BPA side, Ed Oliver, Devin White, Rashaan Gary, Montez Sweat and Brian Burns were already off the board. That made the decision to take Wilkins pretty much a no-brainer.
Round 2, Selection #13: Trade Down
I had three or four potential targets in mind here, but I also had a trade offer for a 2020 third round pick in exchange for moving down just eight spots. I figured the odds were pretty strong that at least one of my targets would still be available, so I took it.
At first it backfired. All of the potential targets, including edge rusher Chase Winovich and defensive back Nasir Adderley (who I think would be a great cornerback in our defensive scheme) were taken in the interim.
Plan B was to trade down again, as I liked the trade offers better than the next wave of prospects on my board. I received a fourth round pick plus another 2020 third rounder to drop down into the third round. I’m very happy with the way it turned out in the end, but I’ll get to that later...
Round 3, Selection #15: D’Andre Walker, EDGE, Georgia
Thomas Dimitroff had long said he was a “pure need-based guy” when it came to the draft. But if he’s not a BPA guy now, he’s sure playing the part. Trading down in recent years (landing Wes Schweitzer, Damontae Kazee and Brian Hill with the extra picks), taking Ridley and Oliver, and filling the team’s holes with free agents this offseason is the essence of the BPA playbook.
That certainly makes it harder to imitate Dimitroff in a mock. With this pick and the next one, I went back to his old shopping list approach. We need a pass rusher. The best one available at that point was Georgia’s own, making Walker the first UGA player drafted by the Falcons since Akeem Dent.
Round 3, Selection #16: Sean Bunting, CB, Central Michigan
This pick is where I landed after trading down from the second round, with an extra fourth rounder upcoming plus the two future third rounders to show for the trades.
The next position on the shopping list is CB depth. Bunting is a solid system fit for the Falcons, and he appears to be on the team’s radar. Eric Robinson and I are thinking alike in liking him as a third round choice, as Robinson selected him in his final mock as well. He has the physical attributes that the Falcons seek at cornerback - speed, length (6’ 0“ with a 41.5“ vertical jump), a physical playing style and solid tackling skills.
Round 4, Selection #13: Germaine Pratt, LB, North Carolina State
In one last bit of channeling my inner Dimitroff (which isn’t easy for me, as my inner GM is usually stuck on the Rich McKay channel), I traded away my seventh round pick to move up a few spots and make sure I landed Pratt.
Pratt checks all the boxes for linebacker depth in our system. He’s fast, physical, versatile, has good range and good coverage skills. He only has one year as a true starter, but he played extensively his entire college career, with experience as an inside linebacker, outside linebacker, and safety.
Round 4, Selection #31: Mecole Hardman, WR, Georgia
I received a fourth round pick as part of the package for trading down from the second to the third round. When that pick was about to hit the clock, I had a standing trade offer to move down, I received a 2020 fourth round selection for dropping to this pick.
Enough of the shopping list approach. Hardman was still sitting on the board. I wasn’t passing up that chance. The Falcons did resign Justin Hardy but did not keep Marvin Hall, so there should be room on the roster for Hardman. And in addition to being a home run threat with slants and screens (giving Dirk Koetter his equivalent of Taylor Gabriel to play with), he would also be a strong contender for the PR and KR roles.
This ended the chain of trades from the #45 overall selection. Our second rounder got us two 2020 third rounders, a 2020 fourth rounder, Sean Bunting and Mecole Hardman.
Yeah, I’m happy with that.
Round 5, Selection #14: Chase Hansen, LB, Utah
Hansen is listed as a linebacker, but he played strong safety for two years before moving up to linebacker. That move allowed the Utes to get both Hansen and Marquise Blair on the field together.
I like Hansen as a potential safety more than as a linebacker, and I took him with the idea that he’d be depth at strong safety that could also play the “big nickel” role, the dime back role, and be a core special teams player.
The main knock against him is that he’s undersized for a linebacker. Of course that means he’d fit right in with us, and he’s certainly not undersized for a safety. The other question mark on him is that he’s recovering from back surgery. I consider that a sign of his toughness. He actually played through a herniated disc for most of the 2018 season.
Round 5, Selection #30: Jordan Brailford, EDGE, Oklahoma State
If you’re wondering what happened to the fourth round comp pick, yep, I traded down again. I figured that at this point I’m taking developmental players that appear to be value picks, so the odds are that I could get more overall value by trading down.
(Having just landed Mecole Hardman four picks earlier certainly helped in that decision. I already had a steal in the bag for the end of the fourth round, so I could afford to roll the dice and see if two late picks could turn out to be better than one.)
For me the biggest question on Brailford - and D’Andre Walker, for that matter - is whether we really do have the coaching staff in place to get the most out of developmental pass rushers. New defensive line coach Jess Simpson is a legend in these parts - as a high school coach. Since then, he spent a year at Georgia State, was here with the Falcons in 2017 as a lower level defensive assistant, then joined Mark Richt with the Miami Hurricanes for the 2018 season. That’s the grand total of his NFL and college experience. And we expect him to succeed where Bryant Young and Bryan Cox failed?
Otherwise, Brailford offers the versatility that we’d want for a depth player in our system. A knock on him is that he played the Shrine game at roughly 240 pounds before bulking up to 252 for the Combine. But he also took snaps as an inside linebacker in college. The coaching staff will be able to watch him over the summer and decide whether to keep bulking him up as a DE or let him drop back down and play LB - perhaps using his pass rush skills in the LEO role.
Round 5, Selection #34: Ryan Finley, QB, North Carolina State
Why? Because Matt Schaub turns 38 in June, and adding another QB to the pipeline seems like a good idea if not an outright necessity.
Finley at the end of the fifth round seemed like an absolute steal. He has good accuracy, intelligence and poise. The main knock on him is that he’s still a growing boy who has yet to fill out his somewhat lanky frame. To me, that means upside. As he grows, he’ll add arm strength.
The bigger question will be how to handle four quarterbacks when the roster cuts come around. A popular idea is to ease Matt Schaub into retirement and hire him as Assistant QB Coach to mentor the youngsters. I like it, but I don’t see it happening. I do think both Benkert and Finley could stick around. It would be unusual to have four QBs in the organization during the season, but the practice squad expanded from eight to ten players a few years ago. We could afford to burn one of those extra practice squad spots to stash the fourth quarterback until Schaub does retire.
Round 6, Selection #14: Corey Ballentine, CB, Washburn
If the school sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because the Falcons have dipped into that well before. We selected defensive tackle Trey Lewis in the sixth round in 2007. Lewis was a successful prospect and even earned a starting role in Mike Zimmer’s defense as a rookie. And then he wrecked his knee, had surgery, and then fell down the stairs while on crutches, wrecking it all over again.
Ballentine will need some developmental time in the secondary, which is to be expected for any late round prospect. But he has the physical tools to be an instant contributor on special teams as a gunner in punt coverage, outside wing on kickoff coverage, jammer on the punt return unit, and even as a return man.
Round 6, Selection #29: Drue Tranquill, LB, Notre Dame
This is the other selection received from trading down from the fourth round comp pick. It’s also my last official selection for the mock, as I had traded the seventh rounder earlier in taking Pratt. There were plenty of interesting prospects at many positions. I considered taking an offensive lineman here just for the point of having taken one. But I had seen fourth round grades on Tranquill, so I went with him as a value pick.
He’s fast, physical, has coverage skills, is really good on special teams, and has all those intangibles that give our front office wet dreams. One potential concern is that he’s injury prone, having torn both ACLs at different times in his college career. So he’s a klutz (one of the ACL tears came while celebrating the win over Georgia Tech), but even on repaired knees he put up a 6.94 cone drill and a 4.14 shuttle at the Combine.
UDFA #1: Jesse Burkett, C, Stanford
Another reason why I didn’t mind trading away the seventh round pick is that this mock includes two additional rounds where each team names its top selections for UDFA signings.
I went with a center on a pure need basis. With Ben Garland gone, Alex Mack is the only true center currently on the roster. Brandon Fusco does have some experience snapping the ball, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sean Harlow and possibly even Wes Schweitzer working at center in practice this summer. With Fusco as the likely active interior backup, it’s not an immediate, critical need. All the same, I wanted to show that I added another center to the roster.
For me, it’s a tough decision between Burkett and Clemson center Justin Falcinelli. I went with Burkett, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if either or both of them wound up in Flowery Branch.
UDFA #2: Drew Lewis, LB, Colorado
Yes, yet another linebacker. I chose Burkett for pure need, and I took Lewis for pure value. If he slipped all the way out of the draft and landed with us as a UDFA, it would be a sweet score for our front office.
Lewis didn’t seem to get much attention from the internet draft sites for a long time, but is becoming one of the hot topic players more recently. He’s being mentioned on the interview/workout lists of what seems to be just about every team in the league. He’s now getting fifth round grades, and his stock is still on the rise.
He’s fast, physical, yada yada yada, just like the others. I’ll just say that Duke Riley and Jermaine Grace would need to step it up in training camp and preseason, because I’m bringing in a lot of guys who are looking to take their roster and practice squad spots.
One other interesting note on Lewis is his pedigree. His father played for the Seahawks, and his uncle was our secondary coach for five years under Mike Smith.
So...there you have it. Nine picks ultimately became ten drafted players (plus two UDFAs) and three future picks.