We’re in the thick of the offseason, and the Falcons new coaching staff and front office are starting to take shape. Over the past few weeks, we’ve learned the identities of the team’s new coordinators: Dean Pees on defense, Dave Ragone on offense, and Marquice Williams on special teams. We’ve also learned about some of the additions to the front office, like new VP of Player Personnel Kyle Smith and assistant director of college scouting Dwuane Jones.
Despite all these additions, we don’t really have a clearer picture of where Atlanta plans to go in the draft. As you might expect, both Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot have kept their cards pretty close to the vest in terms of the Falcons’ draft and free agency plans. I still firmly believe the team is interested in a QB at 4, but I don’t know which one(s). If they miss on that player, I’d expect Atlanta to be aggressive in pursuing a trade down with a QB needy team.
It’s now time to explore another 2021 NFL Draft scenario for the Falcons. Where will Atlanta go at the top, and will they explore any trades? As always, I used The Draft Network’s Mock Draft Machine to make the picks. Let’s jump right in.
Round 1, Pick 4: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
There are still plenty of questions about who will be the second and third QBs off the board on draft day—Trevor Lawrence is pretty clearly locked in at 1, though. In this mock, the Jets opted for Zach Wilson at 2 and the Dolphins weren’t able to find a trade partner. That left Ohio State QB Justin Fields on the board for the Falcons, which should make a lot of fans very happy. Is it particularly likely that Fields is available at 4? I doubt it, but it’s possible.
At 6’3, 223, Fields certainly has the stature of an NFL QB. He couples that size with exceptional athleticism and arm strength, allowing him to make plays at any level of the field. Fields is a true dual-threat at QB and will be at his best when allowed to make plays on the move. He’s capable of picking up chunk yardage with his legs and escaping pressure in the pocket to make incredible plays downfield. Fields still has work to do with his decision-making, as he relies a lot on his first read as a passer and can get surprisingly conservative with his throws at times, but he’s got elite NFL QB potential and could be the long-term future in Atlanta.
Round 2, Pick 36: EDGE Jaelan Phillips, Miami
With the addition of Dean Pees at defensive coordinator, I’m even more convinced that Miami’s Jaelan Phillips would be the perfect selection for the Falcons at the top of the second round. Phillips had a dominant 2020 season and has the prototypical NFL build at 6’5, 260. In Pees multiple front, his versatility could be fully unleashed as both a hand-in-the-dirt DE and a stand-up OLB. Here’s what I wrote about Phillips’ skillset in my previous mock draft:
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 3, Pick 68: S Richie Grant, UCF
I actually completed this mock draft before the Senior Bowl, so it’s entirely possible UCF’s Richie Grant has elevated his stock beyond the top of the third round. But I’m going to leave the pick here because it’s still possible and would clearly be tremendous value at this point. Grant cemented himself as perhaps the top single-high safety prospect in the 2021 class with a great Senior Bowl week, and he’d be an immediate upgrade for the Falcons defense on the back end. Here’s how I described Grant’s skillset in a previous mock draft:
UCF’s Richie Grant could likely have been a late Day 2 pick in the 2020 draft, but chose to return to school for his senior season. Grant is a high-end free safety prospect with excellent range and instincts in single high coverage. His ball skills are impressive and he’s also shown the ability to matchup in man coverage from the slot. While Grant isn’t overly physical, his tackling technique is sound and he rarely misses. Much like Cisco, Grant can be over-aggressive with trying to jump routes and reading the QB—leading to some mistakes in coverage. Grant looks the part of a starting NFL free safety and could be good fit for the Falcons on Day 2.
Round 4, Pick 105: RB Trey Sermon, Ohio State
The Falcons elected to address other needs in the earlier rounds of this mock, waiting until early Day 3 to add a RB. Luckily, this class has a ton of talent in this range, and Atlanta adds a familiar face for Justin Fields in Ohio State’s Trey Sermon. Sermon had fallen a bit off the radar due to splitting reps, but took control of the starting job over the back half of the season. In the 3 games leading up to the CFP Championship, Sermon had 70 carries for an incredible 636 yards—that’s an utterly absurd 9.1 YPC.
At 6’0, 213, Sermon has the build of a bigger back that fans have been clamoring for. He’s clearly hit his stride as a runner and excels in zone concepts, both inside and outside. Sermon has physicality in spades and pairs it with good vision, footwork, and contact balance to find additional yards after contact. He’s probably best as the 1A in a committee, as Sermon hasn’t shown much as a receiver thus far. Still, for a 4th-round pick, you’d be hard pressed to find a better value. Sermon would enter 2021 as the clear favorite to start and could form a quality tandem with Ito Smith serving as the change-of-pace and third down option.
Round 5, Pick 147: EDGE Tarron Jackson, Coastal Carolina
Even if the Falcons keep Dante Fowler Jr. due to his better fit as a stand-up OLB, they desperately need depth and potential at EDGE. One of the most intriguing developmental prospects is Coastal Carolina’s Tarron Jackson, a player who made a name for himself with back-to-back seasons of 8.5+ sacks and 12.5+ TFL. Jackson certainly looks the part of an NFL EDGE at 6’3, 260, with a surprisingly lengthy frame despite his height.
Jackson’s strength at the point of attack stands out immediately. He’s got an inherent advantage in leverage due to his height and uses it well against the run and pass. Jackson also has surprisingly well-developed hand usage for a small school prospect, which could help him earn meaningful reps earlier in his career. He isn’t a particularly bendy athlete and is still quite raw in many aspects of his game, but he’s got starting upside—particularly in base packages. I think Jackson can begin his career making plays against the run and potentially develop into a #3 pass rusher in time.
Round 5, Pick 181: WR Josh Imatorbhebhe, Illinois
The Falcons have one of the best WR trios in the NFL with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Russell Gage, but they still need quality depth behind them. Most notably, they need options with size, and Illinois’ Josh Imatorbhebhe offers plenty of it at 6’2, 215. A former 4-star recruit, Imatorbhebhe is a very good athlete with a tremendous frame. After failing to make an impact at USC, he transferred to Illinois and had a strong 2019 season with 33 receptions for 634 yards (19.2 YPR) and 9 TDs.
He wasn’t able to carry that season over to increased production in 2020, but the traits are clearly there for an NFL sleeper. Imatorbhebhe has surprisingly good long speed for his size and is tremendous at tracking the ball downfield. His route tree is fairly limited at this point—he was used primarily as a deep threat at Illinois—and he doesn’t have a ton of starting experience. But this late in the draft, you’re looking for prospects with upside. Imatorbhebhe has a ton of it, and could be a strong deep threat complement to the Falcons current options in his rookie season. I think he can develop into a more well-rounded option in time, particularly in the red zone.
Round 5, Pick 182: C/G James Empey, BYU
Atlanta missed out on adding an impact player on the offensive line early in the draft, but they still need depth here to fill out the roster. With Alex Mack almost certainly retiring or departing in free agency, the team could use a backup behind Matt Hennessy. BYU’s James Empey could fit that bill, as he doesn’t have a particularly high ceiling but checks all the boxes you’re looking for in a depth player.
At 6’4, 305, Empey is big enough to play any position on the interior but has most of his experience at center. He’s technically sound and clearly understands how to arrange blocking assignments and protect against blitzes. Empey’s mobility is good enough for a zone blocking scheme, although he won’t wow you with athleticism. He has a solid anchor against bull rushes, is smart and quick with his hands, and is good at picking up stunting DL or blitzing LBs. Empey is an older prospect and is probably a solid starter at best, but for a late 5th-round pick that’s a sound investment.
Round 6, Pick 186: CB Ambry Thomas, Michigan
One of the biggest question marks for the Falcons defense in 2021 is the CB group, as the team returns just A.J. Terrell, Isaiah Oliver, and Kendall Sheffield—along with a few UDFA players. The team could look to re-sign inexpensive veterans like Darqueze Dennard and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, but they need to look to the future as well. Taking a shot on a player like Michigan’s Ambry Thomas, who had promising film in 2019 but elected to opt out in 2020, would be a smart choice.
Thomas has the size to play on the outside at 6’0, 189, and his frame has good length to match up with bigger receivers. I liked his physicality as both a press corner and as a tackler in run support. Thomas is currently more comfortable in man or press-man than zone, but he’s shown some flashes there as well. There’s a lot of potential here, but very little tape to base it off of. In this area of the draft, I don’t think you’re getting much better upside than what Thomas offers, who has the look of a depth player and capable special teamer at worst.
Round 6, Pick 214: TE Luke Farrell, Ohio State
The Falcons have just Hayden Hurst at TE heading into 2021 and very little money to spend. They’re likely to bring back Jaeden Graham, who is an ERFA and has connections to the new coaching staff, but they still need a quality blocker who won’t break the bank. Ohio State’s Luke Farrell could fit the bill here, and an added plus is his existing relationship with Justin Fields. At 6’6, 250, Farrell is built like a prototypical “Y” TE and blocks like it.
His blocking is his standout trait, and he’s very good at it. Farrell is most comfortable playing in-line but has the athleticism to get out and make some plays on the run as well. He’s physical, doesn’t shy away from contact, and genuinely seems to enjoy his role in the trenches. As a receiver, he’s got reliable hands but is otherwise unremarkable. Farrell isn’t overly athletic and doesn’t make many moves after the catch. He’s an emergency outlet or “TE throw back” option—he’ll make the catch and get what's there. This isn’t a sexy pick, but getting a reliable blocking TE on a cheap 4-year deal is pretty good value at the end of the draft.
What are your thoughts on this 2021 mock draft scenario for the Falcons? Share your own mocks in the comments below!