The Atlanta Falcons put forth a game effort against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 13, but once again the offense could muster nothing in the second half to give the team a chance for an upset. Atlanta is now 5-7 with five games to go, and although an easier stretch of games awaits, it’s tough to see this team getting above .500 unless massive improvements are made on that side of the ball.
The loss did have the positive of pushing the Falcons back into the top-10 of the 2022 NFL Draft, however. Atlanta is now slated to pick 8th—and if they stay on their current trajectory, this is probably about where the team will end up when the dust clears at the end of the season. The 8th overall pick is a bit of a dicey one this year, especially with two teams having multiple selections before Atlanta is even on the clock. If you’re interested, you can check out my previous mocks here:
I once again used The Draft Network’s Mock Draft Machine to conduct this mock. Let’s see what the Falcons can do with a top-10 pick and a ridiculous number of needs...
TRADE — Round 1, Pick 14: OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State
Falcons trade pick 8 to the Raiders for picks 14, 55 (2nd), and 125 (4th).
A very interesting scenario unfolded for the Falcons at pick 8. While all three of the top EDGE prospects were off the board, OT Evan Neal—considered by some to be the top OL prospect in the class—fell to 8th overall. While Neal was mighty tempting for Atlanta, the Raiders called with an equally tempting offer that I found too good to pass up. The team desperately needs more Day 2 ammunition to address the numerous holes on the roster, and a trade-down is one of the best ways to get it.
While the Falcons missed out on Neal (and EDGE David Ojabo, who went just before this pick), another top OT prospect is sitting at the top of the board at pick 14: Mississippi State’s Charles Cross. Perhaps the best pure pass protector in the class, Cross is a prototypically-sized tackle with very good athleticism and advanced technique. Atlanta offers an ideal situation for Cross as he still needs to add weight and get stronger as a run blocker—Mississippi State’s Air Raid offense rarely runs the football.
With Kaleb McGary under contract for one more year, Cross can take his time to acclimate to the NFL (and a switch to the right side) before taking over the starting job during the season or in 2023. Cross could also be a potential long-term successor to Jake Matthews on the left side in future years.
Round 2, Pick 40: WR George Pickens, Georgia
While I’m sure some fans will be sickened to see offensive players taken with the first two picks in this draft class, it’s becoming more and more clear that Atlanta’s offense needs just as much attention as the defense. I’m going to go after the best, most impactful players available—and at the top of the second round, a potential WR1 prospect is still available in Georgia’s George Pickens.
Pickens unfortunately suffered a torn ACL prior to the 2021 season, but managed to return to the field over the past two weeks—although he’s still limited in terms of workload. That injury will probably lead to him falling in the draft, because if healthy I’d wager Pickens would’ve been a top-20 pick. A prototypical X receiver at 6’3, 200 with excellent athleticism, Pickens showed the ability to win in a variety of ways through his two seasons as a starter. He’s a dangerous deep threat, but also a quality route-runner who can succeed at all levels of the field. Pickens would give the Falcons a strong running mate and potential successor to Ridley, while providing another dynamic threat to take some of the attention off of Kyle Pitts.
Round 2, Pick 55: EDGE Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State
Pick received from Raiders.
The Falcons chose to wait on drafting an EDGE due to the incredible depth in this class, and they still get a very good prospect in Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie in the second round. Ebiketie has great size at 6’4, 250 and possesses strong athletic traits. He’s explosive, long, and dynamic off the edge and has put together an incredibly productive season: 18.0 TFL and 9.5 sacks in 12 games.
Ebiketie spent the first three seasons of his college career at Temple before transferring to Penn State and actually improving his production. That’s a good sign that this is a player who can develop quickly, and who can grow to become even better at the NFL level. Ebiketie isn’t as reliable against the run as you’d like for a full-time starter, and needs to continue adding weight and refining his pass rush technique. But finding run defenders is easy—finding quality pass rushers is much more difficult. Even if Ebiketie is limited to a passing down role early in his career, he’s still a massive upgrade over what the Falcons had at EDGE in 2021.
Round 2, Pick 59: LB Christian Harris, Alabama
Pick received from Titans.
The Falcons extra second rounders allow them to continue adding impact players to the defense, and with Deion Jones likely departing via trade or post-June 1st cut due to cap constraints, the need at linebacker is significant. Even if Mykal Walker can grow into the starting role opposite Foye Oluokun, the team would be wise to continue to invest in the position. Enter Alabama’s Christian Harris.
Harris has quality size and athletic traits at 6’2, 232, along with a nasty attitude and a versatile skillset. He was deployed all over the Alabama defense, including as an active participant in blitz packages. Harris is physical as a run stopper, with the quickness to chase down runs to the sideline and the physicality to make strong, reliable tackles. He’s also been a good player in coverage, and is particularly comfortable dropping in zone. Harris plays with aggression and a non-stop motor, but that can also get him in trouble at times. He also struggles with stacking-and-shedding blocks, making him a better fit as a weakside linebacker where he can use his athleticism to run and hit. With Oluokun primarily playing at the MIKE, Harris makes a lot of sense as a potential long-term partner.
Round 3, Pick 72: CB Derion Kendrick, Georgia
Two Dawgs in one draft?! I certainly didn’t go out of my way to do this, but the need, player, and fit aligned perfectly here at the top of the third round. Atlanta’s cornerback room is actually in decent shape if Fabian Moreau and Isaiah Oliver return alongside rookies Darren Hall and Avery Williams, but the team could still benefit from adding a potentially high-end running mate for A.J. Terrell. Georgia’s Derion Kendrick is exactly the type of high-upside prospect the team should target.
A former wide receiver and quarterback, Kendrick transitioned to cornerback in 2019 and is still learning the position. The growth he has shown over the past three seasons has been terrific, and the sky is the limit for him. Kendrick is a quick, easy mover who can succeed in both man and zone coverage. While he’s not elite in terms of speed or size (6’0, 190), he’s very good in both areas and shouldn’t have issues matching up with the vast majority of NFL receivers. His biggest weaknesses lie in anticipating certain routes and as a run defender—he’s still got room to grow. Atlanta offers the ideal situation for Kendrick: he’s got time to learn (hopefully) behind established starters, and doesn’t need to take on the opponent’s top threat with Terrell across from him. In terms of upside, Kendrick can potentially develop into a high-end CB2 or perhaps even CB1, in time.
Round 4, Pick 110: RB Tyler Badie, Missouri
As much as I’d like to add a running back earlier in the draft, the Falcons’ litany of other needs make it very difficult to justify. It seems likely that Cordarrelle Patterson will return to take over the primary role, and in that case Atlanta just needs to find quality contributors to surround him with. Missouri’s Tyler Badie could be an ideal fit early on Day 3 as a potential Mike Davis replacement.
Badie spent the first three seasons of his career as a pass catcher and punt returner, playing mostly on third down and in passing situations. That role is great for him: Badie is a good athlete with quality hands, route running chops, and blocking ability. However, in 2021, Badie took over the lead role in Missouri’s backfield and flourished: he’s piled up 1612 rushing yards on 268 carries (6.0 YPC) and 14 TDs along with 54 receptions for 330 yards (6.1 YPR) and 4 TDs. He’s clearly more than just a receiving option, but his lack of size (5’8, 198) ideally makes him part of a committee with a larger back who can handle short-yardage work. I love Badie’s fit in Atlanta alongside a dominant threat in Patterson, who also happens to be great in short yardage.
Round 4, Pick 125: EDGE Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Washington
Pick received from Raiders.
Atlanta added a quality pass rusher in Arnold Ebiketie earlier in the draft, but they’d be wise to consider double-dipping in one of the deepest EDGE classes in recent memory. Here in the middle of the fourth round, the Falcons have an opportunity to add a boom-or-bust player in Washington’s Zion Tupuola-Fetui—and I like the risk/reward at this point on Day 3.
Tupuola-Fetui was one of the most electric edge rushers in college football in 2020, with an explosive season that saw him rack up 13 tackles, 7.0 TFL, and 7.0 sacks in just three games. Unfortunately, he suffered an Achilles injury in spring training and has barely played in 2021. Tupuola-Fetui is a perfect fit for Atlanta’s multiple defense, as he showed the ability to rush standing up and with his hand in the dirt. He possesses ideal athletic traits, strength as a run defender, and excellent hand usage. Questions about his health will cause him to fall, but his upside is worth swinging on at this point in the draft.
Round 5, Pick 150: LB Micah McFadden, Indiana
The best players available at this point in the draft are, strangely, linebackers—and the Falcons just so happen to need more depth at the position. Micah McFadden is a player I’ve previously mocked to Atlanta, and for good reason: he’s a perfect fit in Dean Pees’ blitz-heavy defense, with the skillset to potentially offer starting upside. I took him in the fourth round previously, but if he falls later into Day 3, that’s even better. Here’s how I described his skillset:
McFadden has played an inside linebacker role throughout his career and has good size for the position at 6’2, 232. He’s athletic and has looked good as a pursuit player and when dropping into zone coverage. McFadden also has a physical, aggressive edge to his game that will certainly make fans happy. The part of McFadden’s game that stands out the most for the Falcons is his exceptional ability on blitzes. McFadden piled up 6.0 sacks in 2020 and has been even more effective in 2021, with 6.5 sacks through 9 games. He’s also piled up TFLs as a run blitzer, notching 34.5 over his three seasons as a starter.
Round 6, Pick 187: WR Jaquarii Roberson, Wake Forest
This late in the draft, you’re looking to unearth quality contributors and address specific areas of need. Atlanta already added a dynamic potential WR1 in George Pickens earlier in the draft, but this WR corps is far from finished. Russell Gage is likely leaving in free agency, and while you like players like Olamide Zaccheaus and Tajae Sharpe as contributors, the group as a whole is lacking something: a dynamic, yards-after-catch threat to make plays in the screen and short-to-intermediate game. Wake Forest’s Jaquarii Roberson could be perfect for that role.
Roberson has come on strong over the final two seasons of his career, acting as one of the primary threats for Wake Forest. He’s piled up 71 receptions for 1078 yards (15.2 YPR) and 8 TDs in 2021, showcasing his ability to consistently produce. Roberson isn’t elite in terms of long speed, but he’s quick and slippery with the ball in his hands. He’s a dynamic YAC threat and runs crisp routes to all levels of the field. Roberson doesn’t have great size (6’1, 180) and can struggle in contested-catch situations as a result, but he offers a skillset that the Falcons are currently lacking. I love his upside as a potential WR3/4 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!