Despite the Falcons’ dire-looking cap situation, the team was surprisingly active in free agency. They brought in one of the top free agent EDGE players in Dante Fowler Jr., scooped up All-Pro RB Todd Gurley, and re-signed impressive NT Tyeler Davison. A multitude of other, smaller signings and re-signings also enhanced the depth across the roster.
After these moves, we’ve got a much clearer picture of Atlanta’s top positional needs heading into the 2020 NFL Draft—which is less than a month away now! These needs have shuffled around quite a bit since earlier in the offseason, when the team was in dire straits at EDGE and RB. Let’s examine the current state of the roster and determine the Falcons’ biggest draft needs.
Current Depth Chart
After the cut of Desmond Trufant, the Falcons have a gigantic hole to fill in their CB group. Isaiah Oliver struggled mightily to start the 2019 season, and despite an encouraging finish absolutely cannot be trusted to handle CB1 duties. Kendall Sheffield had a very strong rookie season as a slot defender, and should be the favorite to start in the nickel. Blidi Wreh-Wilson is the presumptive outside starter across from Oliver at this point, but also has experience in the nickel. Jordan Miller will be suspended to start the season, and didn’t get much playtime in 2019.
Expect the Falcons to target a CB with one of their first two picks. Florida’s C.J. Henderson is the favorite to go to the Falcons right now at 16, and I’d be shocked if they passed on him there. Other potential options could be LSU’s Kristian Fulton or TCU’s Jeff Gladney in the first round, and Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene, Alabama’s Trevon Diggs, or Clemson’s A.J. Terrell in the second round.
Current Depth Chart
The Falcons have one of the best DTs in the NFL in Grady Jarrett, but very little else around him. Tyeler Davison will be a quality run-stopping NT in the base defense, but doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher. 2018 third-rounder Deadrin Senat was largely relegated to the bench in 2019, so it’s unclear what his role will be going forward. The only other DT on the roster is former UDFA Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, who is more of a tweener/hybrid EDGE than a true DT.
Atlanta should be fine against the run, but they have a big need for a pass rushing DT who can play next to Jarrett in the nickel. I’d expect the Falcons to target someone in the first three rounds of the draft. South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw should be the pick at 16 if he’s there, but there are numerous other options: Oklahoma’s Neville Gallimore, TCU’s Ross Blacklock, and Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike could all be available between Rounds 1-2.
Current Depth Chart
The LB corps is in a bit of a transition phase, with longtime starter De’Vondre Campbell signing elsewhere in free agency. That leaves star Deion Jones and rotational starter Foyesade Oluokun as the only significant contributors left on the roster from 2019. LaRoy Reynolds returns to the fold, but he’s best served as a special teamer and emergency backup. XFL standout Edmond Robinson was a recent signing, and could have some potential at SAM due to his size (6’3, 245). UDFA Ahmad Thomas hasn’t played significant snaps for the Falcons after being promoted to the active roster in December 2019.
Jones and Oluokun are a solid duo, but the Falcons lack quality depth and an impact SAM in the base package. The Falcons are likely to address LB in the late-Day 2, early-Day 3 range—I don’t believe they view the position as a big enough need for their first rounder. Some potential selections on Day 2 could be Ohio State’s Malik Harrison, Texas Tech’s Jordyn Brooks, and Oregon’s Troy Dye. Players who should be available early on Day 3 include Appalachian State’s Akeem Davis-Gaither, Mississippi State’s Willie Gay Jr., and Wyoming’s Logan Wilson.
Current Depth Chart
Dante Fowler Jr.
The Falcons addressed their biggest need—EDGE—in free agency with the massive signing of Dante Fowler Jr. With the team adding Fowler, keeping Allen Bailey, and re-signing Steven Means, the EDGE group is in much better shape than before free agency. Takkarist McKinley hasn’t quite panned out, but still has the potential to be a solid #2 pass rusher. Bailey will play a SDE role in the base and possibly kick inside in pass rushing scenarios. John Cominsky is a crazy athlete and has tremendous upside, but it’s unclear if he’s ready to take a big step forward in 2020. Means and UDFA Austin Larkin have both flashed at times for Atlanta and are quality depth options.
The Falcons could really use an impact third EDGE to unlock the potential of this pass rush and prepare for the possible departure of Takk in 2021. That player is probably not coming in the first round at this point, unless the team absolutely falls in love with LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson. Instead, I’d expect a pick somewhere on Day 2 if the value is good. Players like Wisconsin’s Zack Baun, Boise State’s Curtis Weaver, Alabama’s Terrell Lewis, and Utah’s Bradlee Anae could all be in play in the second and/or third rounds.
Other needs to consider
Another significant need is at backup center, where the Falcons don’t currently have anyone on the roster. Alex Mack is entering the final year of his contract and will be 35 years old in 2020, which means Atlanta will be looking for a new center very shortly. RB could still be a need if the team is unsure about Todd Gurley’s health, particularly with the value that could be available on Day 3. The Falcons could also consider adding a Day 3 TE—perhaps a blocking specialist—to join Hayden Hurst and Jaeden Graham. A developmental/backup SS could also be a smart move with Keanu Neal’s uncertain health.
How would you rank the Falcons’ draft needs after free agency? What position do you see the team targeting in the first round? Any players you’d absolutely love to see them add at any point during the draft (no, Chase Young doesn’t count)?