After floundering in the final moments once again, the Falcons have fallen to 4-11 and are currently on a 4-game losing streak. The bad news is that they’ve been crushing our souls each week by being within striking distance of victory, only to fail—repeatedly and in increasingly maddening ways. The good news? Atlanta is currently projected to hold the 4th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The traditional Dan Quinn late-season surge has failed to materialize under Raheem Morris, which has put the Falcons in position for a premium selection.
With one game remaining against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—who have announced they will not be resting their starters—Atlanta could technically be picking anywhere from 3rd overall to 10th overall. However, based on my math, the Falcons are almost certain to finish with a lower strength of schedule (SOS) than Denver, which means 9th overall is the actual floor. It’s also important to note that the Falcons will not be favored against the Bucs, and that Philadelphia, Detroit, New York (Giants), and Denver all have very winnable games on their schedule. In reality, if Atlanta somehow wins in Week 17, they’ll probably be picking around 7th.
So, with that in mind, I’ve got one final “non-final” Falcons 7-round mock draft for you to consume. For this mock, we’ll use Atlanta’s projected position of 4th overall, and I’ll be operating under the assumption that the team has hired an offensive head coach like Eric Bieniemy or Arthur Smith. There will also be no trades, because I’m just not going to bother with that until the draft order is finalized.
Enjoy the mock, and be sure to leave your comments below.
Round 1, Pick 4: QB Zach Wilson, BYU
In this mock draft, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields went 1 & 2—which is probably the most likely scenario at this point. That leaves a choice between Zach Wilson and Trey Lance at QB, or a trade-down as the best value options. Since we’re not doing trades until the draft order is finalized, a QB will be taken. After taking Lance in a previous mock, I’m going to go for Zach Wilson this time. Here’s how I described his skillset in my QB prospect watch:
Perhaps the most likely QB to be available for the Falcons, BYU’s Zach Wilson could be an intriguing target. At 6’3, 210, he’s got the height you’re looking for but looks a little thin when compared to his NFL counterparts. However, Wilson is a quality athlete with an uncanny ability to avoid pressure and extend plays with his legs. He’s not on the level of Trey Lance or Justin Fields in terms of his rushing ability, but Wilson is more than capable of executing read options and QB sneaks effectively.
Wilson had breakout year in 2020 after two fairly mediocre seasons in 2018 and 2019. This year, he passed for 3699 yards (11.0 YPA) at an impressive 73.4% completion rate, with 33 TDs to just 3 INTs. Wilson also added 286 yards (4.0 YPC) and 10 TDs on the ground. He’s a quality passer who has above-average arm strength, good ball placement, and is very comfortable throwing on the move. I’d love to see Wilson in a West Coast system where he can use his athleticism and ability outside the pocket to create explosive plays. There are some technical issues—along with a tendency to be over-aggressive and go for the big play over easy completions—but Wilson has exciting NFL potential.
Wilson has probably pushed himself ahead of Lance on the back of his spectacular 2020 season. His stats are extraordinary and he just dominated my alma mater (UCF) in his bowl game. There are some nebulous accusations of “character concerns” floating around, which you should always take with a grain of salt, but it’ll be up to the Falcons to figure that out. With a year to learn behind Ryan, Wilson has the look of a high-end NFL QB and could be the future of the franchise.
Round 2, Pick 36: RB Najee Harris, Alabama
With a QB taken in the top-5, this draft becomes less about winning in 2021 and more about building the blueprint for a long-term contender in 2022 and beyond. So, in that spirit, I selected the clear BPA (at a position of need) in Alabama’s Najee Harris, who happened to fall into the early second round. The Falcons need an impact starter at the position, as the lack of a quality (or even serviceable) run game has been a consistent issue since 2018. Here’s how I described Harris in my RB prospect watch:
Right on Etienne’s heels is Alabama RB Najee Harris, who has really elevated his stock over the course of 2019 and 2020. While Etienne is a world-class athlete with a small, stout build, Harris is an absolute monster at 6’2, 230. He’s the most physical back in the class and it’s not particularly close. Harris is very difficult to bring down and he runs with frenetic energy, always moving his feet and pushing for more yardage.
Harris has solid long speed for his size and stature and can be almost impossible to tackle once he gets a full head of steam. He’s also a very natural receiver, with soft hands and the ability to make difficult catches in traffic. Harris, however, is not particularly agile or shifty and struggles to change direction quickly. As you might expect, he tends to run very upright and constantly takes unnecessary hits.
Round 3, Pick 68: S Trevon Moehrig, TCU
The Falcons are going to need to address safety early in this class, as there’s a chance that both starters could be gone in the 2021 offseason. Ricardo Allen is one of the most likely cap casualties due to his high price tag and drop-off in play, and Keanu Neal is a free agent who might demand more than Atlanta can afford. I still think Neal is likely to return to the team, so adding an impact starter at free safety is the goal.
TCU’s Trevon Moehrig has been one of the biggest risers over the past two seasons, and makes a lot of sense as a centerfielder for the Falcons—regardless of the scheme they plan to run under a new staff. Moehrig has excellent size at 6’1, 208, and very good range to cover all areas of the field. He’s instinctive and smart in zone coverage on the back end, and is capable of shutting down plays all over the field. Moehrig’s ball skills are also exceptional, as he has 6 INTs and 20 PDs over the past two seasons. Moehrig has the size and athleticism to play man coverage if needed, but his technique needs work in this area. He’s also not the most reliable tackler and he’ll need to clean up his form and play with better physicality at the NFL level.
Round 4, Pick 105: EDGE Daelin Hayes, Notre Dame
The Falcons absolutely have to add talent at EDGE, and with the way the previous 3 picks went, they’re forced to swing at some high-upside projects early on Day 3. For the record, I do believe Atlanta is likely to package some of their 5th round picks to try and move back into Day 2 for an EDGE or CB prospect. But, with no trades available, Atlanta instead selects Daelin Hayes out of Notre Dame.
If you’re looking for prototypical size and build, Hayes is it. At 6’4, 266, Hayes has tremendous length and strength. He’s versatile and lined up in a variety of looks for Notre Dame, which adds to his value. Hayes has strong hands and uses them effectively to stack and shed blockers, but he’s equally effective using his burst and athleticism to create penetration off the snap. A season-ending shoulder injury in 2019 stopped what was a very strong start to the season, and he hasn’t been quite as splashy in 2020 (17 total tackles, 6.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF in 9 games). Hayes certainly has the size and athleticism to succeed in the NFL, but he’s a bit of a project at this point—perhaps a new Falcons coaching staff could actually develop EDGE talent?
Round 5, Pick 144: OL Tyler Vrabel, Boston College
While rookie C Matt Hennessy was mostly solid in his debut against the Chiefs, Matt Gono struggled mightily at guard—prompting interim coach Raheem Morris to make the comment that he’s “much better at tackle”. I’d have to agree there—Gono simply seems more comfortable on the outside—which means the Falcons might have a significant need at LG in 2021. Current starter James Carpenter has improved this season after a disastrous 2019, but he’ll be 32 next season and his release would save Atlanta $4M this year.
The Falcons would be wise to take a swing on a prospect who has a chance to start, and Boston College’s Tyler Vrabel is an intriguing target. Vrabel made a name for himself with an excellent 2019—his first year starting at OT. He hasn’t been quite as impressive this year, but still has a lot of quality tape to his name. Vrabel has excellent size at 6’5, 310, and combines it with strength and athleticism. He’d be a great fit in a zone scheme offense and is skilled in both pass protection and run blocking. Teams care about NFL pedigree and Vrabel is—as you might have guessed—the son of Titans’ HC Mike Vrabel. He’s got some issues with leverage and balance, and the transition to guard is a bit of a question mark, but Vrabel has starting upside and that inside/outside versatility could be quite valuable.
Round 5, Pick 178: WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Iowa
With a glut of picks and a lot of depth needs, the Falcons start targeting some of the best players left on the board. Atlanta has a very top-heavy WR corps, with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Russell Gage making up one of the top trios in the NFL. Behind them? It’s a lot more questionable. Olamide Zaccheaus has flashed at times, and Laquon Treadwell has come on towards the end of the season as a red-zone target. But outside of Julio (and Treadwell), the Falcons have a distinct lack of size.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette is a bit of an under-the-radar prospect due to the poor state of Iowa’s passing game, but he’s a sleeper prospect with a ton of potential. He’s got great length at 6’2, 186—although he’s a little thin throughout. Smith-Marsette was used primarily in the slot at Iowa and was the deep threat of the offense due to his exceptional long speed (averaging 14.7 yards per receptions over his career). He was also used on a lot of gadget plays, as he’s a super fluid mover and can make a ton of moves after the catch. Smith-Marsette has some limitations: a limited route tree (mostly from the slot), thin frame, and below-average play strength. But he’s got a ton of upside and also some special teams value as both a gunner and returner: he led the Big 10 in kickoff yards per return in both 2018 and 2019.
Round 5, Pick 179: CB Marco Wilson, Florida
This late in the draft, the Falcons are going to have to take risks if they want to find immediate contributors. Florida CB Marco Wilson could be a savvy one, if they’re comfortable with some of his issues. Like, I don’t know, costing his team a shot at the College Football Playoff by throwing the cleat of an opponent downfield (drawing a personal foul in the process). So, he might be a bit of a knucklehead, but this is the final pick of the fifth round we’re talking about.
In terms of positive traits, Wilson has a great build at 6’0, 190. He’s got the length to survive on the outside and is a quality athlete in terms of both agility, fluidity, and long speed. Wilson had a strong 2019 season with 3 INTs, but hasn’t been quite as good this year. I like his instincts and ability to read plays, along with his versatility. Wilson has taken reps in the slot and also has shown some skills as a blitzer. He’s physical in run support and can be trusted to make tackles on the outside. However, Wilson is limited to off-man and zone coverage at this point, as he’s just not comfortable pressing or playing at the line of scrimmage. If you think you can deal with the character stuff, Wilson could be a steal this late in the draft.
Round 6, Pick 182: TE Tre’ McKitty, Georgia
The Falcons could really use a quality blocking TE, with Hayden Hurst primarily used as a receiver, Jaeden Graham still learning, and Luke Stocker both too expensive and disappointing. Luckily, this year features a fairly strong TE class which should allow some players to fall through the cracks. Atlanta lucks out and has the intriguing Tre’ McKitty—who also has the best name of any TE in the draft—fall to them in the 6th.
McKitty played at Georgia in 2020, but wasn’t utilized nearly enough as a receiver. At FSU in both 2018 and 2019, McKitty served as a safety valve for a struggling offense with a combined 50 catches for 520 yards (10.4 average) and 2 TDs. He’s a versatile, do-it-all TE with quality size (6’5, 241) and athleticism and spent time lined up at FB, out wide as a receiver, and as a traditional “Y” in-line TE. While he’s not a dominant run blocker, he’s very capable of holding his own and plays with an edge. McKitty also has good hands and could offer a lot more as a receiver than he’s been able to do thus far in his career. This is a classic example of a player who didn’t get a big enough role in college who can have a much better NFL career—and the Falcons could be the perfect landing spot for him.
Round 6, Pick 211: EDGE Ali Gaye, LSU
The Falcons are going to be in very dire straits at the EDGE position in 2021, especially since I believe there’s a good chance the team makes Dante Fowler Jr. a post-June 1st cut this offseason and moves on from Allen Bailey’s bloated contract (these two moves combined free up over $12M). Who does that leave under contract at EDGE, you might ask? Literally nobody. In this scenario, they’ll get Daelin Hayes earlier in the draft and they’re also very likely to re-sign both Jacob Tuioti-Mariner (who is an ERFA, which means he signs for vet minimum) and Steven Means. Charles Harris also has a shot to return, or possibly another mid-range veteran.
That still leaves the team in desperate need of depth at the position, so they double-dip at EDGE with the late selection of LSU’s Ali Gaye. A recent transfer from JUCO, Gaye quietly had an exceptional season as a run defender in 2020 with 32 total tackles, 9.5 TFL, and 2.0 sacks. At 6’6, 262, Gaye has great size and length and uses it well. He’s got some juice off the snap and is surprisingly fluid for his build. Gaye has a tremendous motor and never gives up on plays—he’s got frenetic energy and it’s a lot of fun to watch. Is he a standout pass rusher? No, but he’s capable of bull rushing his way into sacks from time-to-time. Gaye has limitations: he lacks bend, isn’t particularly explosive, and is quite raw with his pass rushing moves. Still, I think he’s got the look of a long-term contributor in base packages and does offer some upside as a pass rusher with additional coaching.
Round 7, Pick 225: DT Robert Cooper, FSU
While the Falcons are in deep trouble at EDGE, DT is in pretty good shape with Grady Jarrett, Tyeler Davison, John Cominsky, and Marlon Davidson under contract for 2021. While Davison has been a quality NT for Atlanta since 2019, his salary climbs significantly in both 2021 and 2022 to nearly $5M. Trying to find a more affordable option at this spot might be a good idea, as the team can save $3.8M by moving on from Davison in 2022. This 7th rounder is basically a priority UDFA pick, and the Falcons secure the best remaining NT prospect in FSU’s Robert Cooper.
Cooper actually had a pretty good season in 2019, racking up 40 total tackles, 5.0 TFL, and 2.0 sacks from his NT position. However, he managed just 6 games in 2020, and languished on an awful FSU squad. In terms of size, Cooper is what you want at the position: 6’2, 332. He’s actually a very good athlete for his stature and is capable of generating some impressive burst off the line of scrimmage, as well as occupying multiple gaps with his lateral movement skills. While Cooper lacks ideal length, his shorter stature leads to him playing with exceptional leverage: he’s almost always the low man off the ball and uses it to dominate off the snap. His down year will cause him to tumble in the draft, but make no mistake: Cooper has the potential to be a quality NFL NT, and that’s a good value this late in the draft.
What are your thoughts on this 2021 mock draft scenario for the Falcons? Share your own mocks in the comments below!