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Falcons can find difference maker on defense in 1st round of 2020 NFL Draft

The Falcons find themselves in a fortuitous spot this year.

NCAA Football: Appalachian State at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2020 NFL Draft somehow just a week and a few days away, the Atlanta Falcons find themselves in a oddly fortuitous position.

Sure, a lot folks would’ve loved to have a few of those wins back so that the team would sit a bit higher in the draft day pecking order, but sitting at 16, in and of itself, has its perks.

The Falcons, just by the numbers, land a sure-fire contributor for its defense where they are, by jumping up a few spots or by moving down the board a little. It’s not often you can say that, but this is a good draft for what the Falcons need in the first round, and in all phases of the defense, they can find a plug-and-play starter.

The Obvious Names

At 16, the most popular picks for Atlanta have been South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw, Florida CB C.J. Henderson and LSU OLB K’Lavon Chaisson. Most all mock drafts we’ve seen have the Falcons grabbing one of these guys where they are, and it’d be hard to be upset about the board falling this way.

Kinlaw, while raw, has all the Dan Quinn intangibles— he’s highly regarded for his tenacity, motor, intangibles, athletic prowess, and of course sky-high potential. He’s, if you had to poll Falcons fans, “the pick.” Our Eric J. Robinson calls him “downright menacing at times.” Pairing him next to Grady Jarrett would give the Falcons a dynamite fuse to light in the middle and free up Dante Fowler and Takkarist McKinley to get after the quarterback even more easily.

Henderson is a Quinn-friendly corner who is described as “sticky.” He has the speed and length DQ craves in his corner prospects, and he’d give the Falcons a promising young trio at corner with the rising Kendall Sheffield and Isaiah Oliver. It’d make the Desmond Trufant release much more palatable, too. “I don’t think they could go wrong by drafting Henderson and starting him immediately,” our Everett Glaze says of Henderson. He’d join Keanu Neal as a Gator secondary player taken in the first under Quinn.

Chaisson is the speedy edge the team thought it had long-term in Vic Beasley and wanted to add in Dante Fowler. It’d be a push-the-chips-in move to fix the edge group, giving it three recent first rounders and little room to fail. Eric cautions fans not to be so ready to compare him to Beasley in his scouting report, adding that “Chaisson can be an explosive add to a defense that looked lifeless for most of 2019.” NFL’s Lance Zierlein compares him to Aldon Smith, who was a bulldozer in his prime.

Those are just the obvious links.

The Possibilities

The Falcons could grab an elite linebacker prospect in Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray (scouting report) or LSU’s Patrick Queen (Combine preview) to pair with Deion Jones and Foye Oluokun. The team had eyes for Titans standout LB Rashaan Evans back in 2018, and this move would both erase the gap De’Vondre Campbell left and give the Falcons the potential to have one of the best young linebacking cores in the NFL. It could be special.

Wisconsin’s Zach Baun (Combine preview) is an athletic prospect with pass rushing ability who could be a surprise addition in the first, if the team loves his potential.

What about one of the other corners? Some feel LSU’s Kristian Fulton is a star, and, as Everett points out, would join the tradition of the Falcons drafting LSU defenders. Alabama’s Trevon Diggs is a really fun prospect, and, again, we all know how much Thomas Dimitroff loves adding guys from prestigious programs like Alabama. Diggs might be a bit of a reach at 16, but Eric says that he “has the versatility to be a solid fit for the Falcons secondary and has the potential to be a #1 corner over time.”

We haven’t even mentioned longtime mock draft favorite, Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa. Long thought to be one of the best players in the draft period, Epenesa is an immediate starter at the next level and could be pushed inside to help with interior pressure. He’s almost a lock to be there at 16 right now and, in a draft where many teams could look to play it safe, could be a really nice selection. Eric says as much in his scouting report.

What about Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos, who our Kevin Knights calls an “impressive EDGE prospect in his own right?” Gross-Matos might be a target in a trade down, but Kevin notes his athleticism in his preview on him before the Combine, which could certainly get Quinn interested.

Even in a major trade down, corner prospects like Utah’s Jaylon Johnson, Clemson’s A.J. Terrell (scouting report) and TCU’s Jeff Gladney (Combine preview) could be very much around to add to the secondary.

The Dimitroff-Certified Trade Up

What about a trade up? As unlikely as it’d seem for the Falcons to walk away with top-flight prospects like Auburn DT Derrick Brown (Combine preview), Ohio St. CB Jeffrey Okudah (Combine preview) and Clemson LB/S Isaiah Simmons (Combine preview), it’s not impossible, either. If any of those three guys fall to the 10th or 11th pick, the team could orchestrate a trade up, as it could for one of the big three above in Kinlaw, Henderson and Chaisson. If Dimitroff wants to go for broke in a trade up, as he’s been rumored to do, he could land a better player than imagined at season’s end.

Safety feels increasingly unlikely early unless the team is absolutely in love with a guy like Alabama’s Xavier McKinney or Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr. (Combine previews) and want one of them badly. They’re both incredibly promising prospects, at the least.

Unless that bizarre rumor that the team could be eyeing a quarterback in the first round (it’d almost have to be Jordan Love unless Tua Tagovailoa begins to fall), the Falcons feel primed to address its defense with a Day 1 pick for the first time in three years.

It’s hard to find a scenario when you play the scenarios out where any of us should be too disappointed where this top pick goes. If you add to the defensive line, it completes an effort to add players of note and impact to a unit that desperately needs gobs of improvement. Adding to the secondary could be a great way to mend a unit that struggled far too often in 2018 and 2019. Bringing in an elite LB prospect could be just flat-out exciting when you think of pairing them with Debo.

Unless the team stuns us all and adds an offensive player, it’s fair to say that, really, most any direction the Falcons go in on defense holds a decent amount of promise and will undoubtedly make this unit better. That’s really all we’re asking for.