It’s Week 13, and a rematch with the hated Saints is on tap for Sunday. The Falcons are currently 4-7 and coming off an impressive and thorough domination of the Raiders. The team is still an extreme longshot for playoff contention—though the addition of an 8th seed could make things a little more interesting—with a very difficult remaining schedule.
As discussed in an earlier article this week, the Falcons are currently projected to pick 10th in the 2021 NFL Draft. With a lot of tough games remaining, I’d expect Atlanta to finish around 6-10—which would net them approximately the 10th overall pick as well. With that in mind, it’s time for some mock draft action.
There are a number of paths the Falcons could take with their draft, and much depends on their decision at GM and HC. It could be a QB for the future, or a defense-heavy approach to “win now”. Both options are viable and make sense—and in part will depend on the players available at each spot. Let’s take a look at one possible scenario as I take the Falcons through all seven rounds.
Round 1, Pick 10: EDGE Kwity Paye, Michigan
The Falcons did have BYU QB Zach Wilson available to them here, but for this mock, I’m going to go with a “win now” scenario where the team eschews a QB in favor of trying to bolster the defense with some top talent. With Miami EDGE Gregory Rousseau going before Atlanta, the team pounces on the other elite prospect in this class: Michigan’s Kwity Paye. For those looking to add size to the defensive line, Paye checks that box at a massive 6’4, 277.
Paye is the opposite of the rushers typically favored under Dan Quinn: he’s a power player, pure and simple. He’s capable of blowing lighter or weaker tackles off the ball and is a dominant run defender already. Paye has good explosiveness off the snap and is capable of some impressive bull rushes to create instant pressure. He’s not particularly bendy and isn’t likely to be a truly elite pass rusher, but Paye is the type of player who will dependably get around 10 sacks a year and provide shutdown run defense. For a Falcons team with almost nothing at EDGE, a 10-sack-a-year player would be a gigantic upgrade.
Round 2, Pick 42: CB Tyson Campbell, Georgia
With EDGE taken care of in the first round, the Falcons now turn their attention to another big weakness on the defense: CB. The time for Isaiah Oliver’s development is over, and Atlanta must look to add an impact starter on the outside to complement A.J. Terrell. Luckily, one of the top CB prospects in a deep class is still available at the top of the second in Georgia’s Tyson Campbell.
Campbell has the build of an NFL outside CB with a long 6’2, 185 frame. He’s also an exceptional athlete, with terrific long speed and surprising fluidity for someone his size. Campbell is a quality tackler who brings requisite physicality in support. Technically, Campbell isn’t perfect and would benefit from more experience, but his standout athleticism helps cover his mistakes. He checks all the boxes for a Falcons defense that needs a quality CB2 to pair with Terrell long-term.
Round 3, Pick 74: S Andre Cisco, Syracuse
The Falcons are going to revamp at least part of their safety corps in 2021, and that starts with the addition of Syracuse’s Andre Cisco. At 6’0, 203, Cisco has a quality build and pairs it with excellent athleticism. Cisco is the definition of a boom or bust prospect, with elite ballhawking ability and the potential to make game changing plays at any moment. However, Cisco pairs this with an ultra-aggressive playstyle that leaves him open to big mistakes at all levels of the field.
Cisco has all the talent to be one of the NFL’s most productive safeties, but he has to refine his instincts and rein in his over-aggressive tendencies. Coupled with a season-ending injury that could prevent him from participating in the Combine and even training camp, Cisco could see his stock fall into Day 2. It’s a risky pick, but the Falcons defense needs to take a few chances to become a better unit. Cisco provides sky-high upside, and the chance to add a potentially elite player at the end of Day 2 is too good to pass up.
Round 4, Pick 111: RB Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis
The Falcons missed out on top RB prospects like Travis Etienne and Najee Harris, but that doesn’t mean their chances at adding a new starter are gone. Memphis’ Kenneth Gainwell was still available at the top of the 4th round, and he’s got the potential to be a quality starter in the NFL. Gainwell has a strong build at 5’11, 191, and pairs his size with quality athleticism. He’s quick and explosive as a ballcarrier, with the ability to succeed in both inside and outside running.
Gainwell also has a physical style to his game, making him a well-rounded runner who can thrive in just about any scheme. He’s a very natural receiver who was even used in the slot at times for Memphis. Gainwell opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID, so he has just one season of standout production: 231 carries for 1459 yards (6.3 YPC) and 13 TD along with 51 receptions for 610 yards (12.0 YPR) and 3 TDs in the passing game. If he’s still available this late, the Falcons should pounce on him—and I wouldn’t mind a small trade-up into late Day 2 to secure him if necessary.
Round 5, Pick 150: S Reed Blankenship, Middle Tennessee
The revamp of the safety position isn’t quite over yet, as the Falcons add another intriguing prospect in Middle Tennessee’s Reed Blankenship. Blankenship has ideal size for the position at 6’1, 196 and pairs it with good range and fluidity. I’m not sure he possesses truly standout athleticism, but Blankenship is more than good enough to succeed as a single-high or deep-third defender due to his instincts and processing speed.
Blankenship is a versatile safety who spent time at single-high, box safety, and even as a slot defender. He’s an ideal fit for at team like the Falcons, as he can fill in wherever needed to compliment the players around him. Blankenship can be a complement to the all-or-nothing approach of Cisco and can probably step in to start early in the season if Cisco is still recovering. He’s got some injury and durability issues of his own, and the step-up in competition will be significant, but Blankenship should be a long-term depth and rotational piece at worst for the Falcons.
Round 5, Pick 178: OL Alaric Jackson, Iowa
The one position that was unfortunately passed over in this draft was guard. Atlanta could be losing two OL starters in 2021, as Alex Mack looks likely to retire and James Carpenter is a potential cap casualty. The team has 2020 third rounder Matt Hennessy ready to step in at center, but left guard remains a question mark. Perhaps Matt Gono can take over the job, or the team could opt to re-sign someone like Justin McCray if he plays well, but more depth is needed.
Iowa OT Alaric Jackson was talked about as a potential top pick on the outside heading into 2020, but he hasn’t fared well at the position. However, Jackson still has a lot of desirable traits—and his weaknesses could be significantly masked by moving to the interior. For starters, Jackson has tremendous size at 6’6, 320. Jackson is incredibly strong and will be a force in the run game, and also has enough athleticism to succeed on pulls and zone-scheme concepts. Where he’s struggled is mostly in pass protection, as he’s simply too stiff to mirror athletic EDGE players on the outside. On the inside, however, Jackson should have a much easier time and could turn out to be a steal this late in the draft.
Round 5, Pick 179: TE Trey McBride, Colorado State
The Falcons are set with Hayden Hurst as their starter at TE, but the depth behind him has been disappointing in 2020. It’s past time the team moved on from Luke Stocker, who was brought back at the end of training camp to reprise his 2019 role of...not really doing much. This year’s TE class is deeper than 2020’s, and the Falcons can still get quality depth players on Day 3.
Colorado State’s Trey McBride isn’t an elite receiving option, but is a big (6’4, 260) and physical TE who can be a weapon as a blocker. McBride is strong and tough as a run blocker and he has the potential to develop into a high-end player there. Athletically, McBride is average at best, but he does have decent hands as an outlet receiver. He also offers positional flexibility in a similar manner to Luke Stocker: McBride was often used as a FB at Colorado State and was actually quite good in the role. He’ll be drastically cheaper than Stocker and can give the Falcons a dependable blocking presence in their TE room.
Round 6, Pick 187: WR Ronnie Bell, Michigan
The Falcons have some quality WR starters, but the depth has been tested and found wanting in 2020. Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, and Olamide Zaccheaus are all players I’d be happy to keep around going into 2021—and I’d like to see UDFA Chris Rowland get a shot at returner—but the rest of the depth chart is in need of an upgrade. Luckily, 2021 features a very deep WR class and there are still quality players available late on Day 3.
Michigan’s Ronnie Bell is an ideal WR4/5 for an NFL team who is at his best in the slot, but can handle some outside reps if needed. He’s very smooth in his routes and has the quickness to create effortless separation with his breaks. Despite his relatively small size at 6’0, 184, Bell is surprisingly physical. He reminds me of Russell Gage with his willingness to make tough catches over the middle of the field. Bell isn’t a high-end athlete, but he makes up for his lack of elite traits with a smooth, controlled style of play coupled with excellent route-running and physicality. For a 6th round pick, that’s a bargain.
Round 6, Pick 211: EDGE Tyreke Smith, Ohio State
The Falcons still need to find quality depth players at EDGE—even after the addition of Kwity Paye and the emergence of Jacob Tuioti-Mariner—and there are some intriguing players remaining late in the draft. One potential option is Ohio State’s Tyreke Smith, who has the requisite build (6’4, 267) and athleticism to develop into an NFL starter. He hasn’t played much thus far and is still quite raw in many aspects, but had impressive production in a rotational role in 2019: 12 total tackles, 5.0 TFL, and 3.0 sacks along with two pass breakups.
Smith could turn in to a starter, but he’s got the physical traits to be an immediate rotational contributor—particularly in the run game. With the Falcons having few players under contract—it’s just Dante Fowler Jr., JTM, John Cominsky, and Allen Bailey (who is an almost certain cap casualty) in 2021—adding affordable depth players in the draft is key. Smith has strong potential for a player this late in the draft and could wind up being a bargain.
Round 7, Pick 231: QB Michael Penix Jr., Indiana
The Falcons passed on the opportunity to add the QB of the future at the top of the draft, but they could potentially find a long-term backup with upside at the bottom. Indiana QB Michael Penix Jr. was having a strong 2020 season before suffering a season-ending ACL tear. In 6 games, Penix Jr. was 124/220 (56.4%) for 1645 yards (7.5 YPA) and 14 TDs to 4 INTs. Those aren’t high-end QB numbers, but watching him on tape gives me hope for his NFL future.
Penix Jr. is a good athlete with a strong arm. One of his greatest strengths was navigating the pocket and throwing on the move. I like his ball placement on short-to-intermediate passes and he’s got good velocity on his throws. His deep ball has been inconsistent thus far, and Penix Jr. really doesn’t have much experience as a starter as he split reps in 2019. With his ACL injury and timeline—he may not be cleared to practice until September 2021—Penix Jr. is a wait-and-see prospect. I’m willing to spend the 7th rounder to see if Atlanta can uncover a hidden gem for the future.
What are your thoughts on this 2021 mock draft scenario for the Falcons? Share your own mocks in the comments below!