It’s finally the official start of #DraftSzn: my first full, 7-round mock draft of the 2020 offseason is here, reflecting the Falcons’ final draft position and pick spots. Atlanta obviously did the worst possible thing for their draft status, winning the majority of their final games to finish 7-9. That knocked them all the way down to 16th overall and put them entirely out of the running for fan-favorite EDGE Chase Young and even CB Jeffrey Okudah.
However, the team did get some good news when the Patriots wound up losing in the Wild Card round. That netted Atlanta a significantly earlier pick than we all expected and really drove home how good that Mohamed Sanu trade was—for the Falcons, at least.
For this mock draft, like all my mocks, I used The Draft Network’s Mock Draft Machine to simulate the 2020 NFL Draft. I feel this week’s mock produced a pretty unique situation, with several players going earlier than expected but others falling surprisingly far. Read on to see all of Atlanta’s picks and the justification for each.
Round 1, Pick 16: EDGE A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
I’ve had the Falcons drafting Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa as high as 5th overall in my previous mock drafts, so Atlanta would be getting a straight-up steal if he were to fall all the way to 16. While I’d call it a long shot, the possibility certainly exists—particularly if Epenesa doesn’t blow up the Combine. Here’s what I wrote about Epenesa’s skillset in my previous mock draft:
At 6’6, 280 and with very good movement skills for a player of his size, Epenesa checks all the boxes for a team in need of a dominant, 3-down presence on the outside. He can anchor against the run and features a powerful bull rush that is capable of completely overwhelming weaker opponents. Epenesa has the athleticism to win with speed and bend, too, but he hasn’t quite learned the technique yet. In a season or two, he could be the complete package, and he could also potentially offer some interior rush ability in pass rushing packages.
Round 2, Pick 47: CB A.J. Terrell, Clemson
Despite the impressive play of Kendall Sheffield and the improvement shown by Isaiah Oliver over the second half of the season, the Falcons are in still in need of reinforcements at the CB position—particularly with Jordan Miller set to miss time in 2020 due to suspension. You’ll see analysts mocking a CB to Atlanta in the first round, but like last season I believe this to be a mistake—EDGE is a far greater need.
Luckily for the Falcons, there is still plenty of talent to be had in the middle of the second round. Clemson CB A.J. Terrell is an excellent man coverage prospect with ideal size (6’1, 190) for the position and exceptional athletic ability. He’s confident playing both press and off-coverage and is physical at the catch point. Terrell is a fluid, easy mover who can shut down a wide range of route combinations with his strong footwork. He doesn’t have as much experience in zone—though I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t develop there—and while he’s a willing tackler, his technique can be sloppy at times. Still, Terrell would be excellent value at this point in the draft and would provide competition for Oliver and long-term insurance for Trufant.
Round 2, Pick 55: C/G Lloyd Cushenberry III, LSU
The Falcons addressed two of their biggest needs early in this class, but there’s a glaring one still out there: an interior offensive lineman who can play guard now but eventually take over for aging center Alex Mack. With Creed Humphrey returning to school and Tyler Biadasz a first-round lock, the Falcons may be forced to reach a little to get a quality C/G prospect. Luckily, they have an extra second-round pick that allows them the flexibility to do just that.
LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry III is a rare athlete on the offensive line who also doesn’t shy away from contact. He’s got the competitive fire you love to see from your center (and potential future leader) on the offensive line, and he’s got good size (6’4, 315) to go along with it. While Cushenberry is a better fit in a zone-scheme offense, he’s got enough versatility to survive in power too. Cushenberry’s athleticism can often be a double-edged sword, however, as he has a tendency to overshoot second-level blocks and get too far ahead of his RB. His footwork and hand usage could also stand to improve, particularly against bigger opponents.
If the Falcons miss out on Biadasz, I believe Cushenberry is their next best bet for Mack’s eventual replacement.
Round 3, Pick 78: RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
I’m somewhat in the minority in believing the Falcons should target a top-tier RB on Day 2 if the value is good, and I’ve had Atlanta selecting Etienne in the early second round in previous mocks. However, I think we can all agree that the value is too good to pass up if Etienne lingers into the third. You might think this is an impossible scenario, but it’s not. RB is a devalued position in today’s NFL, and this draft class is overflowing with quality RBs. I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw 2-3 RBs go before Etienne when it’s all said and done, and that volume of talent may actually lead to teams waiting longer to pull the trigger on these players.
Here’s what I had to say about Etienne in a previous mock:
I can’t think of a better RB fit for the Falcons—assuming they return to their West Coast-style attack—than Etienne, who is one of the most dynamic athletes in the entire draft. He’s an elite speedster with incredible agility and surprising contact balance, and he’s a threat to take it to the house on every single run. His receiving ability was questioned heading into the season, but he’s proven himself capable in that area with 28 catches for 289 yards (10.3 average) and 2 receiving TDs in 2019.
Round 4, Pick 109: LB Jacob Phillips, LSU
With De’Vondre Campbell almost certainly departing in free agency, the Falcons will have a hole to fill at the LB position. They’ve got a bonafide star in Deion Jones and a solid starter in Foyesade Oluokun, but they’re lacking a bigger LB who can matchup with TEs and add a little more size to the unit.
LSU’s Jacob Phillips certainly adds that with his 6’4, 233 pound frame and solid athleticism. He’s comfortable in zone coverage and was often deployed against TEs at LSU, and has good vision and instincts. Phillips is patient and plays with good gap discipline—he’s reliable and rarely caught out-of-position. While Phillips is a reliable tackler with sound technique, I wouldn’t call him an overly physical hitter. He’s also had the benefit of playing on an elite college defense, which may mask some of his deficiencies. Still, I believe Phillips can largely replicate Campbell’s production—or even improve upon it—and for a fourth-round pick, that’s a pretty good value.
Round 5, Pick 139: S J.R. Reed, Georgia
I’m definitely on #TeamKeanu and hope Neal can come back healthy and strong for the 2020 season and beyond, but it’s become clear that the Falcons can’t go into the season with a lack of SS depth any longer. Atlanta did attempt to fix that issue with the signing of J.J. Wilcox last offseason, but he too found himself on IR early in the season. Perhaps Wilcox remains with the team in 2020, but if not Atlanta should look to find a solid depth option on Day 3.
Georgia’s J.R. Reed could be an ideal candidate in the later rounds. Reed is an excellent box safety with strong tackling and physicality. He’s comfortable in short-area man and zone coverage, with solid instincts and ability to read the QB. However, Reed isn’t a plus athlete and can struggle when asked to cover deep. That likely limits him to a role as a box safety or “big nickel” in the NFL, but he should be a solid starter if kept in that position.
Round 7, Pick 205: WR Quintez Cephus, Wisconsin
The Falcons managed to get by just fine on offense after Mohamed Sanu was traded, with Russell Gage stepping up and Austin Hooper seizing a larger share of the offense. However, Atlanta could still stand to improve their WR depth late in the draft—or perhaps even earlier if someone they love falls into their lap. At this point in the draft, there are no perfect prospects left. However, they could find themselves in an interesting position with Wisconsin WR Quintez Cephus.
First off, let’s get this out of the way: Cephus missed the entire 2018 season after being charged with sexual assault. However, Cephus was found not guilty to all charges and was allowed to return to the team in 2019. We’ll likely never know the full story here, and it’ll be up to the Falcons and other teams to get to the bottom of what really happened. I’m normally very hard on players with domestic violence issues, but all I can do is go off the legal ruling—which acquitted Cephus of wrongdoing.
That murky history will almost certainly cause Cephus to fall in the draft, but he could wind up being a steal for a team on Day 3. He’s a very talented receiver and far better than anyone else you could normally find this late. Cephus has good size at 6’1, 207 and a diverse skillset as both an outside and slot receiver. He’s a good athlete and has showcased an ability to make plays deep and beat press coverage off the line. There are some rough edges to his route running and I’m not sure that his 40-time will be all that impressive, but Cephus has the upside of a very good WR3 in the NFL.
What do you think of this potential draft class for the Falcons? Are there any players that you’re focusing on in the coming draft? Who would you love to see in a Falcons uniform in 2020?