The Atlanta Falcons have once again fallen two games below .500, and are now firmly on the outside looking in at 6-8. Atlanta’s loss to the 49ers all but mathematically eliminates them from playoff contention, as the team has now lost head-to-head tiebreakers against three of their top competitors in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Washington. Even a 3-0 finish to end 9-8 would probably not be enough to secure a Wild Card berth without every competitor falling to pieces.
While the playoffs are now a hope and a dream, the Falcons have reclaimed a top-10 draft selection. The team is currently slotted for the 9th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, and they’re likely to stay in this range based on their current trajectory. If you’re interested in checking out any of my previous mock drafts, you can find them below.
I once again used The Draft Network’s Mock Draft Machine to conduct this mock. As I traded down from the 8th overall pick in my last mock, I’m going without trades this week. Let’s see what the Falcons can do with their current allotment of picks and a desperate need at just about every position on the roster.
Round 1, Pick 9: DL DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
The Falcons just missed out on their top prospects here. OT Evan Neal, EDGE George Karlaftis, and S Kyle Hamilton went in the three picks ahead of Atlanta. In this scenario, the team would be wise to consider trading down with a QB-needy team—but we’re not doing trades this week. Instead, the Falcons go after the BPA in Texas A&M defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal.
I was a little skeptical of Leal from what I had heard in scouting reports, but after watching a few games I’m now a believer. First things first: Leal is not your typical DT or EDGE. At 6’4, 290, he’s firmly in the middle—and Texas A&M used him that way. In any given game, you’ll see Leal lined up at 3T, 1T, 5T, EDGE, you name it. And he was downright dominant everywhere he played. Leal is a rare athlete with incredible strength and speed for his size.
Leal packs a ton of muscle into his frame, and despite his lack of ideal weight at 290 he rarely struggled as a run defender. He also managed to show impressive bend as an EDGE—something you’d generally expect to see from players 20-30 pounds lighter. At the NFL level, I think Leal will need to be deployed more tactically to find success. On base downs, he can overwhelm tackles as a run-stuffing 5T and still provide better pass rush juice than run specialists. In passing situations, he should be used as an explosive, penetrating 3T that can push the pocket and win with both speed and power.
Leal isn’t an easy player to scout or plug into a defensive line—but I think he has the potential to be an elite player if utilized properly. He’s worthy of the 9th overall pick and would provide help on the EDGE and become the dynamic running mate for Grady Jarrett we’ve been searching for on the interior.
Round 2, Pick 45: OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
It’s becoming clear that the Falcons have needs on both lines of scrimmage after allowing the most quarterback hits in the league this season. While I think left guard is best addressed with a veteran free agent signing, right tackle is more difficult. An upgrade over Kaleb McGary—who will be finishing out his rookie contract in 2022—would be prohibitively expensive in free agency. But Day 2 of the draft could be the perfect time to add a high-upside player who could use a little seasoning, like Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning.
Penning is a prototypical OT at 6’7, 320. Big, long, and strong, Penning dominated his level of competition despite limited experience at tackle. He’s got plenty of athleticism to thrive in a zone blocking scheme, and enough physicality to succeed in power. Penning is a nasty, aggressive blocker in the run game and is a stone wall in pass protection. He’s also got experience at guard and could potentially play there in his rookie season if needed. Penning needs to improve his technique, most notably his use of leverage and hand placement, and will take time to adjust to the higher level of competition in the NFL. However, he’s got a Pro Bowl ceiling, and Atlanta offers an opportunity to ease into a starting role behind McGary.
Round 2, Pick 58: EDGE Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma
Pick received from Titans.
The Falcons are in desperate need of help on the edge, and this class is chock full of talent at the position. Oklahoma’s Nik Bonitto isn’t your typical EDGE—at 6’3, 240, he’s a 3-4 OLB only and is best rushing from a stand-up position. But Bonitto also offers more than a traditional hand-in-the-dirt player, as he’s an asset in zone coverage and even offers ability as an off-ball linebacker.
Bonitto is a dynamic athlete who also plays well above his weight as a run defender. He sets the edge very well and has impressive strength and tackling ability. As a pass rusher, Bonitto has excellent bend and explosiveness off the snap. He has a variety of pass rush moves and is technically advanced with his hands and football IQ. It’ll take a creative, flexible DC to use Bonitto to his full potential—and I think Dean Pees’ multiple, attacking front is a perfect fit.
Round 3, Pick 83: RB Kyren Williams, Notre Dame
Wide receivers went extremely early in this draft, but the Falcons still have to find ways to add offensive weapons. Luckily, a quality running back prospect was still available late on Day 2 in Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams. Williams is a potential workhorse back who can thrive in any situation, though he’s likely best suited to a zone-scheme attack. At 5’9, 200, Williams clearly isn’t a big back but isn’t particularly undersized either.
As a former wide receiver, Williams is an excellent pass-catcher who runs a variety of routes and shows off strong hands. He’s also a very good pass blocker—perhaps the best in the entire draft class—and that matters for a Falcons team with a poor OL. Williams is a fluid athlete who is quicker than fast. Although he’s not a home-run threat, he’s got enough juice to rip off 10+ yard gains if he finds a crease. He’s also not a particularly good asset in short-yardage situations, though he does run with good contact balance and doesn’t shy away from hits. With (hopefully) a quality short-yardage option already in the fold in Cordarrelle Patterson, Williams should be able to take over Mike Davis’ role and hopefully provide improved production at a lower price.
Round 4, Pick 113: LB Damone Clark, LSU
With Deion Jones likely departing this offseason via trade or post-June 1st cut, the Falcons will have a hole to fill at linebacker. Hopefully Mykal Walker can take a step up, but improved depth is still important. LSU’s Damone Clark has struggled to consistently produce, but put together an incredible 2021 season that saw him post 135 total tackles, 15.5 TFL, and 5.5 sacks.
A bigger linebacker at 6’3, 245, Clark is also a very good athlete with rare speed for the position. His bigger stature and longer frame limit his lateral mobility, but his long speed and instincts help him overcome some of these limitations. That additional size gives him added versatility in coverage, however, as he’s capable of matching up with TEs in man coverage. Clark’s weaknesses come in block shedding technique and in his ability to diagnose plays. He needs to improve both of these to thrive at the NFL level. However, his red-hot motor and on-field leadership ability give me faith that he can continue to grow as a player—he’s just a two-year starter at this point. I love this fit and value early on Day 3.
Round 5, Pick 151: S Reed Blankenship, Middle Tennessee State
The Falcons missed out on adding secondary help higher in the draft, but they’ve still got an opportunity to add quality depth and potential here in the fifth round. MTSU’s Reed Blankenship was a player I actually mocked to Atlanta in 2020 before he elected to return to school. It ended up being a good decision for him, as Blankenship turned in his best season to date with 8 PBUs, 1 INT, and 10 TFL.
Blankenship has very good size at 6’1, 200 and pairs it with excellent athleticism. The Draft Network reports that he has been timed running a low 4.5s 40, along with a 38” vertical. He played a versatile role at MTSU including reps as a box safety, slot defender, and single-high coverage player. Blankenship is a strong tackler who brings physicality to the position, and he’s comfortable playing in zone and blitzing in sub-packages. He’ll need time to adjust to the NFL level, but Blankenship should be able to play a core special teams role and provide depth at multiple spots in the secondary as a rookie.
Round 6, Pick 192: WR Dontay Demus Jr., Maryland
The Falcons weren’t able to add an impact receiver early in the draft, so they’ll have to get creative to find quality contributors late on Day 3. A good way to do that is to swing on high-upside players like Maryland’s Dontay Demus Jr., who has the size and athletic profile of a starting outside receiver but never quite put together the production to match it. At 6’3, 220, Demus is big and physical—and he pairs that with impressive long speed and explosiveness.
Demus plays hard and fast, and he’s fearless at the catch point. He struggled with drops early in his career, but claimed a larger role and was more consistent in 2021 with 28 receptions for 507 yards (18.1 YPR) and 3 TDs. Demus is very much a project, as he’s a sloppy route runner and needs to add more to his repertoire. He’s fast and explosive enough to be a deep threat but doesn’t appear to be particularly agile or fluid as a lateral mover, which could limit his tree to intermediate and deep routes. Still, his upside is significant for a player taken this late in the draft if he can put it all together.
What are your thoughts on this mock draft class for the Falcons? Post your own way-too-early mock drafts in the comments below!