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Thoughts on the Falcons’ 2020 NFL Draft class

The 2020 NFL Draft has come and gone, and the Falcons added six rookies to their roster. Here are some detailed thoughts on each of Atlanta’s draft selections and their respective fits on the team.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl - Purdue v Auburn Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The 2020 NFL Draft has finally come and gone, and the Falcons added six rookies to their roster. Surprisingly, Thomas Dimitroff failed to make a trade for the first time in his tenure with Dan Quinn. Instead, Atlanta stood pat in the draft and took the players who fell into their lap in every round. For the most part, the strategy worked out well—and crucially, didn’t give up any current or future draft assets.

After a few days to process and investigate the class, I’ve come up with some detailed thoughts on each of the Falcons’ draft picks. Overall, I’m pretty happy with the rookies and I think this will go down as one of Quinn and Dimitroff’s best drafts.

Round 1, Pick 16: CB A.J. Terrell, Clemson

Terrell was a prospect I figured the Falcons would be interested in early on in the offseason. I had Atlanta selecting him in the second round of my first offseason mock draft, right after the 2019 season ended, and then again after free agency (and the Desmond Trufant cut). He fits the profile of a Dan Quinn outside CB almost perfectly: big, long, athletic, and competitive. Here’s how I previously described his skillset:

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.

Terrell seems to be a controversial pick in this draft for the Falcons because many fans perceived him as being a “reach” at this point in the draft. While it’s true I had a few players above him on my board (Jeff Gladney, Kristian Fulton, Jaylon Johnson), it’s clear that the NFL had a first-round grade on Terrell. We heard well-substantiated rumors that the Raiders were planning to take him at 19, and that the Saints were planning to trade-up in front of Los Angeles for him.

I won’t go into a long diatribe about why labeling players “reaches” is dumb—in short, all 32 teams and just about every analyst have different boards, so the term “reach” is entirely subjective—but Terrell at 16 was fair value, in my opinion. Not great, but not terrible either. At the end of the day, what matters most is how Terrell plays on the field. If he can step in Week 1 and start alongside Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield and performs admirably, that’s all that matters. He’s got a very good shot at doing that, and that makes this pick a good one in my eyes.

Round 2, Pick 47: DL Marlon Davidson, Auburn

This is my favorite pick of the draft class, mostly because I’ve been hounding the team to add an impact DT in the draft for the past three seasons. In truth, Marlon Davidson wasn’t really someone I had circled as a possible Falcons target this offseason. I believed Atlanta already had several of his archetype on the roster in John Cominsky and Allen Bailey. But it’s becoming apparent that Atlanta actually values that EDGE/DT hybrid extremely highly, and want as many on the roster as possible.

It’s important to remember that Davidson primarily played on the edge at Auburn, so it’ll take a little time for him to learn the finer points of rushing from the interior. There are some minor technical issues there that he needs to clean up, but nothing major. At the end of the day, Davidson has incredible change-of-direction and explosiveness for a DT, and has a very high ceiling there. I suspect we’ll also see him take some reps at strongside EDGE in the base defense, as he’s a very good run defender who can two-gap if required.

Unlike most college DL, Davidson has well-developed hands—and that means he’ll be able to make plays early in his career. I wouldn’t expect eye popping sack numbers in 2020, but Davidson should be a menace in creating TFL and getting push in the middle. His versatility will also lead to more snaps, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he supplants Allen Bailey in 2021.

Round 3, Pick 78: C/G Matt Hennessy, Temple

I’ve been adamant that the Falcons were targeting C/G Matt Hennessy for the past few weeks, but I never thought he’d fall all the way to 78. Hennessy was my #3 center in the class behind just Cesar Ruiz and Lloyd Cushenberry III. It appears the team valued Hennessy’s athleticism over Cushenberry’s strength—which isn’t at all surprising considering Atlanta’s zone blocking scheme. This was a tremendous forward-thinking pick at 78, and gives Hennessy a chance to learn behind one of the best in the game in Alex Mack for a season.

While Hennessy could compete and win the starting role at guard, he’s a much better overall center. He’s big enough to survive at guard at 6’4, 307, but his lack of plus strength hurts him in the run game. Still, neither James Carpenter or Jamon Brown were very impressive in 2019, so perhaps Hennessy will end up being the best option at LG after all—and he’ll have the benefit of playing between Jake Matthews and Alex Mack, too. At the end of the day, I’m very happy with this selection. I won’t be shocked at all if we look back at this pick in five years and consider it the best of the draft class.

Round 4, Pick 119: LB Mykal Walker, Fresno State

Fresno State’s Mykal Walker wasn’t actually on my radar for the Falcons. I was far more focused in on late-Day 2 candidates like Jordyn Brooks (oh, Seahawks...), Malik Harrison, Willie Gay Jr., and Akeem Davis-Gaither. But after reading up a bit on Walker’s strengths and weaknesses, he makes perfect sense as a De’Vondre Campbell replacement. In fact, his scouting report reads a lot like Campbell’s coming out.

Walker has excellent size at 6’3, 230, and above-average athleticism too. He played a versatile role at Fresno State including a lot of snaps as an edge defender. Walker likely projects best to a SAM role for the Falcons, making plays as a blitzer and running down plays on the outside. Walker is decent in zone coverage and isn’t a liability, but he doesn’t have much experience in man. I’m not sure how big of a role he’ll play in 2020, but I think he’ll make his name on special teams early and gradually carve out a base package role in the Falcons defense. For a fourth-round pick, that’s solid value—although I probably would’ve prioritized someone like Justin Strnad over him at this spot.

Round 4, Pick 134: S Jaylinn Hawkins, California

Another player who I probably should have paid more attention to for the Falcons, California’s Jaylinn Hawkins sounds a lot like the type of player Dan Quinn covets at strong safety. Hawkins is actually more versatile than you’d think based on his profile. He’s a physical, big-hitter in the box who has enough range and ball skills to survive in coverage. I like his instincts as both a run and zone defender, and I think he’s a pretty versatile player overall.

To me, Hawkins looks like a more athletic, versatile version of Kemal Ishmael. He’s got the physicality and attitude that kept Ishmael on the roster for years, but his coverage instincts and athleticism are significantly better. I wouldn’t have Hawkins taking deep coverage responsibilities, but he can be a playmaker in the short-to-intermediate area of the field. He can play just about any safety role in a pinch, however, which makes him an especially valuable depth player. Look for Hawkins to challenge for snaps in the big nickel and to make his name early on special teams. He’s probably the first man up if Keanu Neal struggles with injury again in 2020.

Round 7, Pick 228: P/K Sterling Hofrichter, Syracuse

This one was a shocker, although perhaps we should’ve been suspicious after the team waived a punter earlier in the day (Sam Irwin-Hill, allegedly for visa-related issues). I’m actually somewhat familiar with Sterling Hofrichter as I live in Syracuse and follow the team fairly closely, but I never actually considered he’d wind up in Atlanta. He’s a very good punter and actually managed to kick some long field goals (among them a 52-yarder) in his career.

Hofrichter’s strength is hang time and he can absolutely boom some punts. He’s pretty good at directional kicks, too, and did an excellent job pinning the opponent behind the 20 and 10. If the Falcons viewed Hofrichter as the best punter in the class—I honestly wouldn’t know because I don’t scout punters—then spending a seventh-rounder on him is a very good deal. I’ll never quibble with seventh-rounders because they’re basically priority UDFAs. If Hofrichter turns into a starter on this team, that’s pretty tremendous value. Oh, and his hand makes the Vulcan salute from Star Trek every time he punts—apparently it’s reflexive, per our Syracuse site.

Those are my full thoughts on the Falcons’ 2020 draft class. Overall, the team did a good job. I’d give them a B+, although draft grades after a few days are extremely dumb. Any draft where Atlanta can add multiple year one starters and address some important 2021 needs is good in my book, and we could easily look back on this class as better than expected—much like the vaunted 2016 class.

What are your thoughts on Atlanta’s six draft selections?