The Athletic’s Dane Brugler has long been one of the internet’s best draft experts, and his premier seven-round mock drafts have become must-reads for any draft fans.
This year’s edition finds the Falcons picking quite high in all rounds, and Brugler envisions the team hitting the reset button and forging a new path ahead for the offense.
With pick four, he has the Falcons sitting where they are, passing on Florida tight end Kyle Pitts and drafting North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, a very popular guy to predict for the team these days.
The Falcons have three options: draft a quarterback, the top non-quarterback (Kyle Pitts) or trade back to the highest bidder. Matt Ryan will be Atlanta’s starter in the short-term, but the idea of grooming Lance in head coach Arthur Smith’s offense is an exciting long-term succession plan.
The ramifications of picking Lance, of course, are obvious and overwhelming. It’s a move that would, if it all works out, cement him as the face of the franchise for the next decade-plus, if not a lot longer. If he lives up to his sky-high potential, it could put Atlanta in a great place for years to come. Everybody wants the next Patrick Mahomes, of course, and while nobody is going to actually be Mahomes, the Falcons would be gambling here that Lance could be their version of the next big thing.
In the second round, Brugler has the Falcons getting a steal in Clemson running back Travis Etienne, who would be excellent value at the top of that round. Etienne isn’t expected right now to make it out of the first, but if he somehow did and landed in Atlanta, he and Mike Davis would be an exciting tandem in Arthur Smith’s scheme. Davis would bring the thunder, and Etienne the lightning. He’s an all-around dangerous presence.
The third brings defensive end Ronnie Perkins out of Oklahoma, who some have a second-round projection on. He’d definitely make you feel a little better about the pass rush to have a young, fresh talent there who could contribute. In the fourth, the team adds depth at cornerback with Florida’s Marco Wilson, who would spell the main current CB quartet of A.J. Terrell, Isaiah Oliver, Kendell Sheffield and Fabian Moreau and play special teams early.
With the Falcons’ three fifth-round picks, Brugler has the Falcons padding needed depth on the roster with Grambling guard David Moore, Florida safety Shawn Davis and West Virginia defensive tackle Darius Stills. All would be good insurance at spots that could use developmental talents. The same could be said about the the team’s two sixth-round picks, TCU linebacker Garret Willow and BYU tight end Matt Bushman.
In this simulation, the team makes its grandest decision since 2008 by drafting a new QB and lucks out with some nice second and third picks in Etienne and Perkins. Lance would most definitely learn behind Matt Ryan in 2021 and possibly 2022, while Etienne and Perkins would be early contributors. The other guys, of course, would have less-certain futures, but with a team desperate for depth, they’d be welcome.
This draft would also leave the team still with plenty of questions at safety, with 2021 free agent Erik Harris 2020 draft pick Jaylinn Hawkins the day-one starters at free safety and strong safety, respectively, unless post-draft free agents come into question, like former Titans SS Kenny Vaccaro. It also positions Matt Hennessy as a clear frontrunner to be the team’s center, and Matt Gono as the favorite in the left guard race.
Of course, this is all pure hypothetical, as are all mock drafts you’ll see before the big weekend. We’ll keep chugging along to that fateful night and see what the Falcons wind up doing. Brugler’s draft is a nice snapshot at what it might look like, though, all the way to the last pick.