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ESPN’s Mel Kiper sends BYU QB to Falcons with his first 2021 mock draft

It’s a controversial pick for Atlanta’s fourth selection.

NCAA Football: Boca Raton Bowl-Central Florida at Brigham Young Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

As January 2021 reaches its close, more and more mock drafts are about to spring up from the earth, awakened from their slumber and ready to attack at will.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has long been the premiere mock draft maker (if such a thing exists), as his prognostications come with great haste every NFL Draft go-around.

With the Atlanta Falcons picking fourth in this year’s draft, mock drafts around these parts might be even more urgent than if they were picking in the 20s, particularly those of reputable qualification.

In his first edition for 2021, Kiper has the Falcons staying put at four and picking what would be his second quarterback taken in this simulation: BYU’s Zach Wilson. Let’s see why.

It’s time for the Falcons to think long term on offense under new general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith. Quarterback Matt Ryan turns 36 this summer. Wide receiver Julio Jones will be 32 next month. Center Alex Mack is 35 and a free agent. They can build around Wilson, who had a phenomenal season for the Cougars, throwing 33 touchdown passes and only three picks, and give him at least a year to learn from Ryan and adjust to the NFL. I thought about Justin Fields here, too, but I’m giving a slight edge to Wilson for now. If Atlanta doesn’t go with a quarterback, I’d expect a defender to be the target.

Wilson over Justin Fields is, no doubt, a decision that will create dissent and anger, with Wilson’s breakout 2020 season a prime reason why he’s being grouped with the top prospects as opposed to Fields’ long status as one of the county’s best college QB prospects.

The mothership’s Matthew Tabeek also sent Wilson to the Falcons in his latest mock draft, adding to the idea that he could be the once and future signal caller for the team.

Wilson’s definitely a fresher face on the college football scene compared to someone like Fields (mocked in Kiper’s draft going to Detroit to replace Matthew Stafford) or assumed number one pick, Clemon’s Trevor Lawrence (who Kiper has going to, of course, the Jacksonville Jaguars).

Our Kevin Knight did some scouting on Wilson last month and came away with a prospect, however flawed, with plenty of potential.

At 6’3, 210, he’s got the height you’re looking for but looks a little thin when compared to his NFL counterparts. However, Wilson is a quality athlete with an uncanny ability to avoid pressure and extend plays with his legs. He’s not on the level of Trey Lance or Justin Fields in terms of his rushing ability, but Wilson is more than capable of executing read options and QB sneaks effectively.

North Dakota State QB Trey Lance is a popular name as well to watch for the Falcons at Pick 4 or in a trade down, mocked in Kiper’s draft to wind up with the division rival Carolina Panthers.

As for the Saints and Buccaneers? Kiper has New Orleans drafting safety Trevon Moehrig out of TCU, who might could replace a potentially-departed Marcus Williams, and the Super Bowl-bound Bucs taking pass rusher Joe Tyron out of Washington. Tampa Bay sees Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh and Lavonte David all headed to free agency, as Kiper notes.

Wilson might not be at the top of many lists right now with his limited sample size, but he’s definitely going to be possible for the Falcons in April. Of course, so will a good number of other players. We’ve still got a good while to go until the Falcons draft a new first-rounder, including crucial roster decisions made in free agency and with roster cuts.

Quarterback will probably at least warrant some, if not full, consideration from the new regime Falcons. We’ll see how it all plays out and can guarantee we’ll have plenty more mock drafts from here to share.