You smell that?
That lovely aroma that I am speaking of is what draft nerds like myself call “draft season,” and it smells like hope and promise. It’s well underway for an Atlanta Falcons team that transitioned through a difficult season that was already cloaked with a global pandemic. Now, the new Falcons regime is in place in the form of a new head coach and staff and a new general manager and front office. The work begins for the team and the first hurdle they will have to endure is to add talent to the roster via the 2021 NFL Draft.
That is where I come into play. It is time for my second mock draft for the Falcons this offseason. We’ll start off with a big trade.
Round 1, 9th overall (trade w/ DEN: 4th overall for 9th overall, 41st overall, 114th overall, 2022 1st round pick) - Micah Parsons, LB , Penn State
I’m starting to believe the tea leaves of Denver moving up for a quarterback. Why? I’m not quite sure but let’s just say the gut instincts win out there. So the Falcons are able to be a benefactor in Denver’s trade up as they are able to slide down, add a couple of picks in this year’s draft, and pick up a first rounder for next year while still walking away with the best defender in the draft. Sounds like a great plan if you ask me.
Is inside linebacker a real need? Probably not, but how often do you come across obtaining the best defensive player in the class? How many difference makers are on the Falcons defense as of now? With a veteran defensive coordinator in place, a prospect like Parsons can allow Dean Pees to have a number of athletic linebackers that he can blitz, drop back in coverage and aggressively fill run gaps. A defensive scheme by Pees is all about creating confusion in the front seven. Imagine how confused opposing quarterbacks would be with Parsons on the same field with Deion Jones and/or Foye Oluokun.
Speaking of quarterbacks.....
Round 2, 36th overall - Mac Jones, QB , Alabama
At this point, I have seen Jones’ draft stock fluctuate all over the place. I have seen him as high as fourth overall to these same Falcons as well as seen him forecasted as a mid-2nd round selection. After observing him in Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl, I came away feeling more comfortable with him being a safe second round selection to hold the mantle for the Falcons in the future.
Jones doesn’t wow you with athleticism, a unique NFL frame, or an arm bigger than Patrick Mahomes. What Jones excels at as a quarterback is savviness, polished touch on his throws, and NFL-like timing when it comes to hitting his receivers in stride. He is a smart passer who can very well excel in a scheme that features a productive run game and multiple weapons to choose from. That means that the new scheme being implemented by new head coach Arthur Smith runs parallel with the strong suits of Jones. Jones will not be needed in year one but once he is ready to take over after the eventual departure of Matt Ryan, he will have more than enough polish.
Round 2, 41st overall (via DEN) - Richie Grant, DB , Central Florida
As I sat on the bleachers in Hancock Whitney Stadium for Senior Bowl practices, I couldn’t help but notice a defensive back that was regularly around the football. One that was inserted at single-high free safety, slot corner duties, and even saw a considerable amount of time on the outside playing off-man coverage. On the final day of practice, this defensive back even had two interceptions just to add to his already established reputation as a football magnet.
He wasn’t big, didn’t have the greatest of speed, and was not known as much of a hitter. But he was the classic defensive back that just had a knack of being able to make a play just about anywhere. That one player was Richie Grant, who will surely fill the void at free safety for the Falcons.
Round 3, 68th overall - Quincy Roche, Edge, Miami
Three of the first four picks for the Falcons addresses the defensive side of the ball. When it comes to simply getting after the quarterback, the Falcons have lacked severely in that department over the last several seasons. It has been an element that has been simply inconsistent.
While Roche does not have the length that many edge rushers possess, he makes up for with proper technique and hand usage. At the Senior Bowl, Roche presented some issues for Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood and showed proper bend around the edge throughout the week. In his four seasons at the FBS level, Roche totaled 30.5 sacks, 54 tackles for loss, eight forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries. Roche may not answer all of the questions for the Falcons when it comes to solving their pass rushing issue, but he is an NFL-ready product that will definitely provide plenty of help. Plus, I do believe the Falcons will add a body via free agency after some cap maneuvering (hello, Carl Lawson).
Round 4, 109th overall - Trey Sermon, RB, Ohio State
Throw on the Big Ten title game tape as well as his performance against Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal and you will see a physical running back in Sermon, one who carried the entire run load for the Buckeyes en route to victories in both games.
The Todd Gurley experiment in Atlanta last season was disappointing, to say the least. The Falcons may need to move on at running back and get fresher. Sermon does just that. With his physical nature, Sermon can be an asset in the second half of games when the Falcons are nursing a lead and need to tote the rock. This past season in Columbus, Sermon averaged 7.5 yards per carry on 115 attempts. He has never had a 200-carry season at the FBS level, which means that even though he contributed for four seasons, he may be a bit fresher than your average senior running back and could deliver value on his rookie contract.
Round 4, 114th overall (via DEN) - Kary Vincent, CB/S, LSU
With the added fourth rounder from the Denver trade earlier, the Falcons adds another playmaker to their secondary in the mold of Vincent out of LSU. Vincent may be a bit undersized but if you paid attention to the Titans defense the past few seasons, Pees did not prioritize size on the boundary with corners Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler seeing plenty of time on the outside. Vincent has the man coverage skills to excel but he needs to work on the technical aspect of his game (route anticipation). His ball skills are exceptional and helps fill a void that the Falcons have severely lacked for some time.
Round 5, 148th overall - Sadarius Hutcherson, G , South Carolina
The interior of the Falcons offensive line was a trouble spot for the Falcons all season as quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked 41 times. There are a few pillars in place along the offensive line for Arthur Smith and his scheme but there is a definite need to upgrade the line and it’s depth. While this may be fairly late to look for a long term starter, Hutcherson has some qualities that can allow him to be an eventual starter.
Hutcherson’s power in run blocking is a sure quality of his and goes well with his 6’4 325-pound frame. Hutcherson’s versatility (as he saw time at both guard spots and left tackle for the Gamecocks) is a definite plus, but his ability to seal blockers on the interior and anchor is what will keep him on NFL rosters in his career. At the very worst here, the Falcons find themselves a solid backup for years to come.
Round 5, 182nd overall (comp pick) - Austin Watkins, WR , UAB
The selection of Watkins makes four Senior Bowl participants for the Falcons in this mock draft. While at the Senior Bowl, Watkins had to stand out among other popular FBS receivers. By observing him, I came away with the summation that Watkins is smooth in just about every thing he does. From his release off the line, his break in routes, to his ball tracking skills. Watkins has a solid frame at 6’2 and a shade under 210 pounds. In 2019, he averaged 19.2 yards per reception on 57 catches. Watkins adds size to the Falcons receiving corps and even provides them an asset that can stretch the defense with his deep play ability.
Round 6, 186th overall - Tre McKitty, TE , Georgia
Tight ends are essential within the offensive scheme for Arthur Smith. This past season, the Titans were tied for first in the NFL in “12” personnel, which is one running back and two tight ends, at a 35% rate. The league average this past season was 20%, while the Falcons themselves registered in at 15%.
An offseason trade prior to the 2020 season netted tight end Hayden Hurst from the Baltimore Ravens. His season was fairly solid overall but we should all expect the Falcons to utilize their tight ends more in both the run and passing game. Which is where McKitty comes into play. After transferring to the University of Georgia for the 2020 season, McKitty was utilized inline, in the backfield for H-back duties, as well as flexed out wide. The overall production at the college level may not entice some, but McKitty is an athletic tight end that can add another legit weapon at the position and give the Falcons more flexibility.
Round 6, 216th overall (comp) - Cole Van Lanen, OT, Wisconsin
Providing more depth and competition to the offensive line will be critical this offseason. Keeping that aspect going, the selection of Van Lanen here helps the run game because of his natural power and stout frame at 6’5 312 pounds. If the Falcons are to implement more power concepts in the run game, it makes sense to insert someone such as Van Lanen who has been ingrained within it during his collegiate career. Again, at worst, Van Lanen provides solid depth on the right side of the line and on the occasion, can be inserted as a sixth lineman for special run formations.
Round 6, 218th overall (comp) - Naquan Jones, DT , Michigan State
For the final pick, let’s keep the theme of storing depth in the trenches. The Falcons may see some turnover this offseason on the defensive line and while they do have some assets at the position, you can never have too many good quality defensive linemen. For Jones, he underachieved while in East Lansing, but he does have an NFL frame (6’4 326 pounds) and he does have some athleticism that allows him to be a little more mobile than most 330 pounders. Jones can be another piece to the puzzle if given time and patience.