After clawing their way to .500 with a victory over the hated New Orleans Saints, the Atlanta Falcons have lost their last two games by a combined score of 68-3. Now at 4-6, the team is at a crossroads: dig out of the hole and possibly stay frisky for the 7th seed, or collapse and wind up with a top-10 pick. Based on the last two games, I think most fans are assuming the Falcons will do the latter.
Speaking of a top-10 pick, Atlanta is currently slated to pick 9th in the 2022 NFL Draft. That makes this a perfect opportunity for a mock draft: how might things shake out if Atlanta did wind up near the top of the draft class? For comparison’s sake, you can check out my previous 2022 mock draft:
Week 10 | Week 12
I once again used The Draft Network’s Mock Draft Machine to conduct this mock. In this scenario, we’re going to avoid making any trades—although I do think a trade-down is a strong possibility from a spot like this—so that fans can see just how hard it will be to adequately address the team’s multitude of needs without additional picks. One way or another, I suspect Atlanta will be working to acquire more Day 2 ammunition to throw at this severely undermanned roster.
Round 1, Pick 9: CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
We all know that EDGE is the Falcons biggest positional need, but at this point in the draft, that pick may be unlikely. That’s because three edge rushers already went off the board prior to this pick—Kayvon Thibodeaux, Aidan Hutchinson, and George Karlaftis—and the next best prospects are all late first/early second types. So, Atlanta will have to roll with the punches and take a look at who falls here. In this scenario, the BPA is pretty clear: Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr.
Booth is a legitimate blue-chip prospect—a former five-star recruit and Atlanta native—who has put on a show this season at Clemson. He’s got ideal size at 6’0, 200, high-end athletic traits, and experience in a variety of coverage schemes. Put simply, there’s nothing that Booth doesn’t do well. He’s an exceptional coverage player with a fiery attitude, physicality against the run, and a reputation as a film junkie and defensive leader. CB is not the biggest need on the defense, but the addition of an lockdown running mate alongside A.J. Terrell would give the Falcons’ defense something it has lacked for years: an identity as a potentially elite secondary.
Round 2, Pick 41: EDGE Travon Walker, Georgia
With the Falcons passing on EDGE to chase better value in the first round, they’re more or less locked into that pick here at 41. That’s a good thing, however, in what is perhaps the deepest class in recent memory. All the way at 41, some high-level prospects are still on the board, including one that I’m sure many fans will already know and love: Georgia’s Travon Walker.
Walker has been a bit of a late bloomer, but he’s having an excellent season on a loaded defense. He’s a unique edge prospect, with a massive frame at 6’5 and 275 pounds but the athleticism to play as both a hand-in-the-dirt and stand-up rusher. Walker is explosive and powerful, with a hot motor and the tenacity to chase down plays from all over the field. He needs more technical refinement as a pass rusher, but his floor as a strong run defender should make him an instant three-down starter.
Round 2, Pick 61: WR David Bell, Purdue
Pick received from Titans.
This is a pick you’re going to see over and over again for the Falcons because it just makes too much sense. Atlanta is in desperate need of more weapons at wide receiver. But without any additional picks, they’ll likely have to wait until this point in the draft to address the position. Luckily, this a deep class, and Purdue’s David Bell is an ideal fit for what this offense needs. Here’s how I described Bell’s skillset in my previous mock draft:
Bell (6’2, 205) is a physical receiver who can win in a variety of ways. He’s strong at the catch-point, can win in contested situations, and has great hands. While Bell isn’t an elite athlete at the position and lacks short-area quickness, he does have solid long speed and can use his size to make plays on deep throws. He’s a physical runner after the catch and offers a big, reliable target for Matt Ryan. While I’m not sure he’s a WR1 at the NFL level, I think he can be a high-level WR2 who fits really well into what the Falcons want to do.
Round 3, Pick 73: OT Daniel Faalele, Minnesota
It’s become abundantly clear that the Falcons have to upgrade the offensive line—the tougher question is where and how they’ll go about it. With recent top-100 picks invested in both center and guard and right tackle Kaleb McGary heading into the final year of his rookie contract, things seem to be aligning for a draft pick at right tackle. There aren’t going to be any sure things at this point in the draft, but if I’m going to a take a chance on somebody, it’s gotta be Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele.
If you want to know why, here it is: Faalele is 6’8, 380. No, that is not a typo. Faalele is one of the biggest players in all of college football, and he pairs that size with surprising athleticism. He’s a truly rare player who can utterly overwhelm defenders with his size, length, and incredible power. While he’s not winning many foot races, Faalele has plenty of athletic ability to play the position and is actually a great athlete relative to his size. He has only two seasons of starting experience, and will undoubtedly take time to adjust to playing in the NFL. But make no mistake: Faalele has All-Pro potential at tackle. With McGary around for one more season, this is the perfect time to bring in a player like Faalele to develop.
Round 4, Pick 111: LB Merlin Robertson, Arizona State
The Falcons will be on the lookout for help at linebacker heading in to 2022, with one of Deion Jones or Foye Oluokun almost certainly departing this offseason. Based on what we’ve seen from this defense, I expect Atlanta to be looking for a versatile player with good size and strength. If they can blitz or rush the passer, that would be a plus. There are a few prospects like that still left on Day 3, and the pick here is Arizona State’s Merlin Robertson.
Robertson has excellent size at 6’3, 240 and is built more like a traditional linebacker. However, he’s played a versatile role, including time as a stand-up pass rusher in 3-4 looks. He’s a quality athlete with the size to match up in man coverage against tight ends, and he’s reliable in zone. Robertson is physical and aggressive, but he needs to develop better processing and decision-making. He’s got all the traits to be an NFL starter in time, and could play immediately as part of a rotation for the Falcons.
Round 5, Pick 151: EDGE Boye Mafe, Minnesota
Without much in the way of picks or cap space, the Falcons are going to have to take risks to improve this roster quickly. Investing in high-risk, high-reward prospects on Day 3 is one way to do it, and I can’t think of a better one for this team than Minnesota’s Boye Mafe. A prototypical edge rusher in terms of size (6’4, 265), Mafe is also one of the most explosive athletes in the class.
Mafe is all traits at this point—although he’s having his most productive season in 2021, with 9.0 TFL and 6.0 sacks through 10 games—but those traits are enticing. His athleticism is exceptional, with the ability to turn the corner, explode off the ball, and chase down plays from the backside. You also have to love his non-stop motor and relentless style of play. Mafe is still very raw in most facets: he can have trouble diagnosing plays and biting on play-action, and lacks an arsenal of counters and block-shedding moves. It’s going to take time for him to find his footing in the NFL, but the ceiling of a high-end starter is clearly there for Mafe.
Round 6, Pick 188: RB Zonovan Knight, NC State
Without extra selections, the Falcons simply can’t address all their needs with premium picks. In all likelihood, the position that gets pushed back is running back. The good news is that the position, as in almost every recent draft class, is pretty darn deep—and teams have been able to find quality contributors in the later rounds almost every season. Look no further than Khalil Herbert, who was taken in the 6th round by the Bears (pick 217) in the 2021 draft.
For the Falcons, that player could be NC State’s Zonovan Knight. Knight certainly looks like an Arthur Smith running back at 5’11, 210, and is brimming with physicality and explosiveness. He’s a patient runner with excellent contact-balance, and is capable of pushing the pile for tough yardage. Knight is a quality athlete and has shown good hands in the receiving game, although he hasn’t been utilized a ton there. The reason Knight isn’t higher on boards is because NC State uses a committee and his production isn’t huge, but make no mistake: Knight has starting potential in the NFL, and could be a steal this late in the draft.
What are your thoughts on this mock draft class for the Falcons? Post your own way-too-early mock drafts in the comments below!