The Falcons did it, folks. They managed to not screw up their draft positioning in the final weeks of the season, a la 2018-2019, and finished at a very disappointing 4-12 on the year. That’s obviously not the record you want your team to have, but it does help put Atlanta in range for some of the 2021 NFL Draft’s top prospects—including one of the top QBs, if the team is interested.
Over the course of the offseason, I’ve taken a look at various scenarios for the Falcons—including drafting defense in the top-10, QB, and other iterations of those themes. But I’ve been waiting for most of the draft order to be finalized before delving into some trade scenarios. Well folks, with the vast majority of the draft finalized, it’s now time to take a look at some potential trades for the Falcons.
I still think Atlanta is very likely to select a QB at 4th overall, but what if a team offers them a massive draft haul to move down just a handful of spots? In this mock, we’ll explore what that might look like and how that could shape the team in 2021 (and beyond).
Enjoy the mock, and be sure to leave your comments below.
TRADE — Round 1, Pick 9: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
Falcons trade #4 to the Broncos in exchange for #9, #41, #73, and a 2022 1st.
The Broncos could be aggressive in moving up to secure their QB of the future after a change at GM to George Paton, who has a history of making moves at the position and no connection whatsoever to Drew Lock. So they contact the Falcons—who will be cheaper than the Dolphins—for a blockbuster trade into the top-5 for QB Justin Fields (who remained on the board after the Jets selected Zach Wilson at 2). Atlanta decides the haul of 2 1sts, a 2nd, and a 3rd is too good to pass up and agrees to drop 5 spots to 9th overall.
At 9th overall, the top QBs are all gone—but the top defensive players are right there for the taking. So, the Falcons move to “win now” with the selection of Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II. Coming off an exceptional game against Ohio State, Surtain would give Atlanta an elite CB pairing with the ascending A.J. Terrell and address one of the biggest weaknesses on the roster. I wrote about Surtain in my CB prospect watch, and here’s how I described his skillset:
At 6’1, 203, Patrick Surtain II certainly has the look of a high-end CB1 prospect. He combines prototypical size with exceptional long speed and ball skills, making him a well-rounded outside corner. Surtain is at his best when he can use his size and physicality to disrupt opponents, but can struggle against smaller, shiftier WRs. His tackling is also a bit hit-or-miss, and he could stand to improve his technique in some areas, but Surtain has the ceiling of an elite CB1 in the NFL
Round 2, Pick 36: EDGE Jaelan Phillips, Miami
Suddenly armed with a glut of picks on Day 2, the Falcons move to address as many needs as they can. They start by taking a shot at fixing EDGE, where former GM Thomas Dimitroff could never find long-term contributors. Miami’s Jaelan Phillips saw his stock rise in a big way after an impressive 2020 season where he put up 8.0 sacks and 15.5 TFL with fellow pass rusher Gregory Rousseau electing to opt out. A former 5-star recruit with a prototypical build at 6’5, 260, Phillips certainly has the physical characteristics of a high-end NFL starter.
Phillips is a well-rounded prospect who is capable of making plays on all 3 downs and as both a traditional 4-3 DE and 3-4 OLB. This is an ideal fit for a Falcons team that may be making schematic changes on the defensive side of the ball, and simply needs playmakers wherever they can fit in. He’s explosive off the snap, offers excellent power in bull rushing situations, and has the length and bend to make plays off the edge. A one-season sample size as a starter and some injury concerns from his days at UCLA probably keep Phillips out of the first round, but he’s worth a shot here at 36. On a roster in desperate need of help at EDGE, Phillips can contribute immediately and in any situation.
Round 2, Pick 41: RB Javonte Williams, North Carolina
With extra picks in hand, the Falcons can afford to splurge on a luxury pick here in the second round. Top RB prospects Travis Etienne and Najee Harris both went off the board in the 1st round, but another 2020 riser is still available at 41: North Carolina’s Javonte Williams. For those who love Harris’ physical running style, you’ll be very excited to get Williams—who has a similar level of physicality and tips the scales at 5’10, 220.
Williams is big, bruising, and powerful, but pairs that with surprising agility and an ability to make easy open-field cuts. I love his vision and decisiveness with the ball—he’s a blast to watch and rarely gets stuck behind the line of scrimmage. He’s also shown talent as both a pass protector and receiver out of the backfield, making him the complete package for an NFL team looking for a versatile RB1. Williams played as part of a tandem with Michael Carter over the course of his career, but actually overtook Carter this year and put up his most impressive season yet: 157 carries for 1140 yards (7.3 YPC) and 19 (!!) TDs to go along with 25 receptions for 305 yards (12.2 YPR) and 3 TDs.
That committee approach also means Williams has far fewer touches than a typical RB of his talent, which is never a bad thing. Joining Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison, Williams would be able to take on the mantle of feature back and allow Smith to reprise his role as a quality RB2.
Round 3, Pick 68: OL Jackson Carman, Clemson
One of the biggest remaining holes for the Falcons might be left guard, where the team has a difficult decision to make with starter James Carpenter. On one hand, Carpenter did improve measurably in 2020 and solidified an improved OL. On the other, he’ll be 32 in 2021 and Atlanta could save over $4M by moving on this offseason. Either way, the team would be wise to start grooming a successor, and there’s a very intriguing target here at the top of the 3rd: Clemson OL Jackson Carman.
Carman spent his career at LT, where he has played well over the past several seasons. He’s a massive player at 6’5, 345 and moves surprisingly well at that size, using his combination of power, length, and athleticism to dominate on the ground. Where he struggled is with speed in pass protection, as he had difficulty keeping up with quick edge rushers. However, a transition to guard could cover up that particular weakness and allow Carman to focus more on his strength: dominating at the point of attack. It’s a bit of a gamble—changing positions isn’t as easy as some think—but Carman could wind up being a steal at guard if he can make the transition successfully.
Round 3, Pick 73: S Andre Cisco, Syracuse
With an extra 3rd round pick, the Falcons have the chance to add yet another impact defender to help bolster a talent-starved defense. The team desperately needs a new FS starter, and they decide to swing for the fences with one of the biggest boom/bust prospects in the 2021 class: Syracuse safety Andre Cisco. Cisco is as electrifying as he is frustrating, but his talent and ballhawking instincts are undeniable. I wrote about Cisco in my safety prospect watch, and here’s how I described his skillset:
The most gifted ballhawk in all of college football, Syracuse’s Andre Cisco is a turnover machine at the safety position. He’s got great size at 6’0, 203 and pairs it with standout athleticism. Cisco is an all-or-nothing player who makes his mark with aggressive plays, and those tendencies can also get him in trouble. He’s prone to biting on fakes and can be manipulated by opposing QBs. Cisco is also not the most sound when it comes to technique or tackling. He’s one of the biggest boom-or-bust prospects in the 2021 class, and is also coming off a major injury, but Cisco has the ceiling of a dominant NFL safety in the right scheme.
Round 4, Pick 105: EDGE Patrick Jones II, Pittsburgh
Even after the addition of Jaelan Phillips, the Falcons still need a lot of help at EDGE—particularly if they move on from both Allen Bailey (virtual certainty) and Dante Fowler Jr. (possible) this offseason. Luckily the strength of this EDGE class is on Day 2 to early Day 3, and Atlanta is able to pick up another impact player in Pitt’s Patrick Jones II. A player who improved their stock with a strong 2020 season, Jones built upon a promising junior campaign with a standout senior year.
After posting a respectable 11.5 TFL and 8.5 sacks in 2019, Jones surpassed those numbers in 2020 with 12.5 TFL and 9.0 sacks. His blend of size (6’5, 260) and athleticism has made him a force against both the run and pass. Jones doesn’t offer much versatility, as he’s strictly a hand-in-the-dirt 4-3 EDGE, but what he does he does quite well. He’s explosive and strong off the snap and has a variety of moves at his disposal to make his way to the QB. Jones appears to lack ideal length and there’s still a lot of potential for growth with his counters and hand usage, but he looks like an instant starter (and significant upgrade) for the Falcons in 2021.
TRADE — Round 4, Pick 116: TE Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State
Falcons trade #144, #178, and #182 to the Patriots for #116.
The Falcons have a ton of Day 3 picks, and I sincerely doubt they’ll keep all of them. So for this mock draft scenario, the team packages their 5th, earlier compensatory 5th, and 6th to move back into the 4th round in a trade with the Patriots. The target might surprise you, as Atlanta goes after a potential steal at TE in the underutilized Jeremy Ruckert out of Ohio State. His stats aren’t eye popping, as he played in just 5 games in 2020 and put up just 27 receptions for 293 yards (10.6 YPR) in two seasons with Ohio State, but he did manage an impressive 9 TDs in that span.
Ruckert has a lot of untapped potential as a dual-threat TE, however, as he’s shown off very good hands and impressive athleticism despite his lack of production. He’s got tremendous size at 6’5, 253 and is already an accomplished and trustworthy blocker. Ruckert plays with a physical edge as both a blocker and receiver and is unafraid to make contested catches over the middle of the field. The Falcons have just Hayden Hurst under contract at TE heading into 2021, and Ruckert could fill the role of a high-upside TE2 who can contribute as both a blocker and receiver. If he impresses enough in the next 1-2 seasons, it might give Atlanta the flexibility to let Hayden Hurst walk at the end of his contract to save a significant amount of cap space—or to create a dangerous, two-headed TE attack.
Round 5, Pick 179: WR Justyn Ross, Clemson
Speaking of adding weapons, the Falcons have managed to address both RB and TE thus far in the draft. What about WR? Calvin Ridley had a phenomenal career year and was named a second-team All-Pro while Russell Gage impressed as the WR3, but Julio Jones was slowed by injuries and missed a significant chunk of the season. The depth behind them was also underwhelming, as Atlanta showed a reluctance to play former UDFA Olamide Zaccheaus in favor of Brandon Powell, Christian Blake, and Laquon Treadwell.
The Falcons do have some intriguing names there, as Zaccheaus has shown flashes and UDFA Chris Rowland will return to compete for the returner role, but what they’re really missing is size. Atlanta can afford to take some risks towards the end of this class, so they go after Clemson WR Justyn Ross. Ross missed the 2020 season after a significant medical procedure, and there are concerns about when and even if he can return to the football field. However, he’s easily a Day 2-level talent (at worst) and would provide a tremendous boost to Atlanta’s WR corps if he can return healthy—whether in 2021 at some point or in 2022.
I think it’s a risk worth taking to potentially add a huge impact playmaker to Atlanta for the future. Ross’ blend of size and dominant physicality, along with impressive long speed, make him a versatile target who can complement Atlanta’s smaller, more dynamic options in Ridley and Gage. And if he isn’t able to return to football or simply doesn’t pan out, you only lose what amounts to basically a 6th round pick.
Round 6, Pick 211: WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Iowa
While the Falcons target a long-term WR project in Justyn Ross, they still need an injection of talent for 2021. The strength of this draft class at this point on Day 3 is definitely the WR group, so Atlanta targets another prospect with their compensatory 6th rounder: Iowa’s Ihmir Smith-Marsette. I took Smith-Marsette in the late-5th round of my previous mock draft, and here’s how I described his skillset:
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 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.
What are your thoughts on this 2021 mock draft scenario for the Falcons? Share your own mocks in the comments below!