The offseason is in full swing, with less than a month until the start of the 2021 NFL league year and the free agency frenzy that follows. Until then, the Falcons plans for this season will remain very unclear. We’ve already seen the first wave of initial cuts with predicted cap casualties Ricardo Allen and Allen Bailey, but I can guarantee we’ll see more over the coming weeks.
No matter what Atlanta decides to do, they’ll be limited in free agency. That means the 2021 NFL Draft will be absolutely vital to the team’s chances this season, as the Falcons will not be able to fill all of their roster vacancies with veterans. Luckily, the team is slated to have nine picks in this draft class—including three compensatory selections—to help address these deficiencies.
Interested in my previous mock drafts? You can check them out below:
For this mock draft scenario, we’re going to try a bit of a different strategy. We’ll assume that the Falcons have decided to commit to quarterback Matt Ryan for the next few years, and are going to try to maximize their competitive window from 2021-2023. How might Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot approach the draft to compete right away?
As always, I’ll be using The Draft Network’s Mock Draft Machine to complete this mock.
TRADE — Round 1, Pick 19: G Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
Falcons trade pick 4 to the 49ers for picks 12, 43 (2nd), 102 (3rd), and a 2022 1st.
Falcons trade picks 12, 181 (5th), and 183 (5th) to Washington for picks 19, 74 (3rd), and 82 (3rd).
With the Falcons deciding to eschew a rookie quarterback in favor of sticking with Matt Ryan for a few more years, this draft played out absolutely perfectly. Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson went 1 and 2, leading the 49ers to pursue an aggressive trade-up for Justin Fields at 4. At 12, Trey Lance remained on the board—prompting a number of trade offers from Washington, Chicago, and New England. Washington’s was the most enticing, allowing the Falcons to trade 12 and their two compensatory fifth rounders for 19 and two additional thirds.
At 19, the Falcons add the best interior offensive lineman in the draft in USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker. Vera-Tucker spent the majority of his college career at left guard before transitioning to left tackle for 2020. He was capable in this role, but his best fit is still on the interior due to a lack of length. Vera-Tucker is an excellent athlete who also brings size (6’4, 300) and strength. He’s a strong pass protector who can handle both speed and power, and is a nasty, determined run blocker.
Vera-Tucker’s addition would give the Falcons a pair of outstanding young guards to surround second-year center Matt Hennessy. His versatility at tackle—if needed—is also a big boost to his value. Arthur Smith’s scheme depends on a strong offensive line, and Atlanta makes it a priority with this selection.
Round 2, Pick 35: RB Javonte Williams, North Carolina
Adding four (!!) Day 2 picks through trades gives the Falcons the flexibility to go pure best player available at 35, and they commit to a drastic improvement in the run game with the selection of North Carolina’s Javonte Williams. He’s been a dramatic riser after a standout 2020 season, with some analysts even moving him into the first round conversation. Williams would give Atlanta a dynamic starter at running back, perhaps the most talented one they’ve had since Michael Turner. Here’s what I wrote about Williams in a previous mock draft:
Williams is big, bruising, and powerful, but pairs that with surprising agility and an ability to make easy open-field cuts. I love his vision and decisiveness with the ball—he’s a blast to watch and rarely gets stuck behind the line of scrimmage. He’s also shown talent as both a pass protector and receiver out of the backfield, making him the complete package for an NFL team looking for a versatile RB1. Williams played as part of a tandem with Michael Carter over the course of his career, but actually overtook Carter this year and put up his most impressive season yet: 157 carries for 1140 yards (7.3 YPC) and 19 (!!) TDs to go along with 25 receptions for 305 yards (12.2 YPR) and 3 TDs.
Round 2, Pick 43: S Trevon Moehrig, TCU
Pick added via trade with 49ers.
With Ricardo Allen officially cut and the team unlikely to bring back Keanu Neal, the Falcons are going to be looking for two new starting safeties this offseason. They manage to get the draft’s best safety at pick 43 in TCU’s Trevon Moehrig. Moehrig has shot up draft boards after a strong 2020 season, and can fill a versatile role in the secondary. He’s big enough to play closer to the line of scrimmage, but his best fit is probably in a single-high or Cover 2 role. Moehrig should provide a substantial upgrade over late career Allen and give the Falcons a high-end piece to build around in the secondary. Here’s how I described Moehrig in a previous mock draft:
TCU’s Trevon Moehrig has been one of the biggest risers over the past two seasons, and makes a lot of sense as a centerfielder for the Falcons—regardless of the scheme they plan to run under a new staff. Moehrig has excellent size at 6’1, 208, and very good range to cover all areas of the field. He’s instinctive and smart in zone coverage on the back end, and is capable of shutting down plays all over the field. Moehrig’s ball skills are also exceptional, as he has 6 INTs and 20 PDs over the past two seasons. Moehrig has the size and athleticism to play man coverage if needed, but his technique needs work in this area. He’s a willing tackler, but Moehrig needs to clean up his technique and decision-making to be more reliable as the last line of defense.
Round 3, Pick 68: EDGE Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt
With an early emphasis on reloading the offense, the Falcons missed out on the top EDGE candidates in the class. Luckily, 2021 offers a deep group, and a quality prospect is still available at the top of the third: Vanderbilt EDGE Dayo Odeyingbo. Odeyingbo is a player I only recently discovered, but his potential is quite high—particularly at this point in the draft. He’s certainly got the look of an NFL pass rusher, with a prototypical 6’6, 265 frame.
Odeyingbo offers a ton of versatility due to his size and exceptional athletic gifts. He can and has done it all: from defensive end to stand-up outside linebacker on the outside, to defensive tackle and even nose tackle on the inside. At the NFL level, his best fit is obviously at EDGE, but that ability to move around is valuable. Odeyingbo’s ceiling is sky high due to his rare athletic gifts, but he’s got a lot of development ahead of him before he can reach it. The Falcons need all the talent they can get at this point, and Odeyingbo could be a major factor on the defensive line in a year or two.
Round 3, Pick 74: S Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State
Pick added via trade with Washington.
With an absolute bounty of third-round picks—four to be exact—the Falcons can address a ton of needs with high-upside prospects. After adding Trevon Moehrig to take over free safety, Atlanta gets their strong safety of the future in Florida State’s Hamsah Nasirildeen. An incredible athlete with rare size (6’3, 213), Nasirildeen might have vaulted himself into the first round with an exceptional 2020 season. Unfortunately, an ACL tear in late 2019 limited him to just two games this year.
Obviously, teams may have some concerns about his health—and that has caused him to fall into Day 2. But make no mistake: when healthy, Nasirildeen has the ceiling of an elite player in the secondary. He’s able to play a variety of roles due to his size and speed, and can be a true matchup neutralizer. Nasirildeen can cover TEs, play Cover 2, and step up and make plays in the box. A creative defensive coordinator like Dean Pees could maximize Nasirildeen’s talents. With Moehrig manning the deep area of the field, Nasirildeen could thrive in Atlanta and give the Falcons one of the NFL’s best two-safety tandems.
Round 3, Pick 82: CB Trill Williams, Syracuse
Pick added via trade with Washington.
Even after two additions at safety, the Falcons still need a lot of help in the secondary. At CB, the team is down to just A.J. Terrell, Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield, and former UDFA Delrick Abrams. There aren’t any flawless prospects here in the third round, but there are some promising ones—like Syracuse cornerback Trill Williams. Williams filled a versatile role for Syracuse, spending time at outside CB, slot CB, and even safety.
At 6’2, 198, he’s also got the size to survive at any of those spots. Williams is a quality athlete with fluid movement skills and deep speed. With his length, however, I think he’s built best for the outside in the NFL. Technically, he’s sufficient, but his instincts aren’t particularly well-developed due to constantly moving around the field. Williams also hasn’t been particularly effective as a ballhawk, which limits his upside. However, he’s got the look of a solid starter at worst—and his ability to line up anywhere could make him an ideal matchup CB for Dean Pees’ defense.
Round 3, Pick 102: DT Marvin Wilson, Florida State
Pick added via trade with 49ers.
If I made this pick in a 2020 mock draft, I would’ve been laughed at. Marvin Wilson was a fringe first-round pick last offseason, but elected to return to school. Unfortunately, a lackluster season hurt his stock and Wilson is now projected as more of a Day 2 prospect. Still, there are a ton of reasons teams should still be interested in Wilson—particularly with a Round 3 price tag. He’s a prospect who can help revitalize a Falcons defensive line that is very limited in terms of talent.
At 6’3, 319, Wilson has great size for the interior. He’s not big enough to play a true 3-4 NT, but he’s a good athlete with exceptional strength. Wilson has a lot of really intriguing traits: his hand usage is excellent, he plays with great effort and tenacity, and his strength and get-off are both positive traits. However, Wilson struggles with leverage—he consistently plays too high, and that hurts him as a run defender. He’d likely benefit from slimming down closer to the 300 range and maximizing his pass rushing effectiveness. Wilson has the ceiling of an impact starter, but the 2020 season showed he’s still got some work to do to get there.
Round 4, Pick 108: RB Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis
I was hoping to grab a TE prospect here, but all of the high-end players went early and the remaining options would have been massive reaches. Instead, the Falcons go after the best player available, which happened to be Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell. “The Falcons just got a new starting RB in Javonte Williams!” you might say, and you’d be right. But Gainwell is not your traditional RB—he’s a versatile player who spent time both in the backfield and as a slot receiver.
The Falcons have lacked a high-end receiving threat out of the backfield since Devonta Freeman left the team, and Gainwell would certainly give them that. He’s a tremendous athlete with excellent hands and route-running ability, and he’s a threat as a runner as well. Gainwell lacks traditional RB size at 5’11, 191, which makes his fit as the RB2 behind Javonte Williams even more logical. With both Williams and Gainwell in the backfield, the Falcons would have a potentially lethal combination of size, physicality, speed, and receiving ability to deal with.
Round 5, Pick 149: EDGE Rashad Weaver, Pittsburgh
After Allen Bailey’s departure, the Falcons could use another EDGE player with size to replace him—just for a drastically lower price. Pitt’s Rashad Weaver could be an ideal fit for the role, with a sizable frame at 6’4, 265. He isn’t overly explosive, fluid, or bendy, but Weaver still manages to excel with his combination of power, effective hand usage, and length.
For the Falcons, it might make sense to have Weaver transition to a full-time role as a 3-4 defensive end (5T). His athleticism isn’t his calling card and he performs best as a straight-line power rusher, so bulking up to 275-280 shouldn’t affect his play. Weaver’s length and strength could make him an ideal two-gap defender on the interior, where his athletic limitations would be less-pronounced. In that role, I think Weaver could easily outperform his fifth-round draft price as a base package starter with pass rushing upside.
TRADE — Round 5, Pick 162: WR Marlon Williams, UCF
Falcons trade picks 189 (6th) and 218 (6th) to the Bills for pick 162.
The Falcons are reaching a point where they may not have enough roster spots to keep all their draft picks, so they package their remaining sixth-rounders to move up for a falling prospect. UCF WR Marlon Williams is consistently ranked as an early Day 3 talent, so snagging him near the end of the fifth round is exceptional value. At 6’0, 222, Williams is built like a tank—almost more similar to a RB than a WR—and combines that size with exceptional run-after-catch savvy, agility, and deep speed. The Falcons need receiver depth outside of Julio, Ridley, and Russell Gage—Marlon Williams could be an ideal complementary piece.
Williams was used almost entirely out of the slot at UCF and put together a dominant 2020 season: 71 receptions for 1039 yards (14.6 YPR) and 10 TDs. His run-after-catch prowess is arguably his best trait, as he uses his size, physicality, and burst to break away from coverage and generate a tremendous amount of additional yardage. Williams is very difficult to bring down due to his stature, and is a natural mismatch for undersized slot CBs. He was also utilized as a deep threat in UCF’s offense, with good ball-tracking ability and soft hands. As a slot-only WR, Williams has very limited route running experience and rarely faced press coverage. He’ll need to develop further if teams want to expand his usage in the NFL, but he’s a starting slot receiver from day one who has the potential to do a lot more.
What are your thoughts on this mock draft scenario for the Falcons?