This time, it comes from ESPN reporters Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano, who say they feel the expectation right now is that, barring a big trade, the Falcons will stand pat and take Pitts with the fourth overall selection in Thursday night’s draft.
Speaking of the Falcons, we have been told that team owner Arthur Blank was pushing, early in the process, for the team to draft a quarterback, on the premise that teams don’t often get to pick this high in a draft with so many good quarterback prospects. But new coach Arthur Smith and new general manager Terry Fontenot would prefer to try to build a winning team in the short term around Matt Ryan, and Blank ultimately decided he wouldn’t overrule the two guys he just hired to make these decisions for him.
So while obviously things could change if San Francisco pulls a surprise at No. 3 or if someone offers the Falcons a major haul to move up to No. 4, Atlanta is expected to stay put and take Pitts, whom some would tell you is the best player in the entire draft. With former first-round wide receiver Calvin Ridley in place, drafting Pitts could pave the way for a Julio Jones trade, though such a deal likely would have to wait until after June 1 for salary-cap reasons.
The report about Arthur Blank wanting a quarterback makes total sense, being that the last time his franchise took a well-respected quarterback prospect high in the draft, it worked out quite well. It seems, though, that should this hold true, the new Falcons brass is happy with Matt Ryan and wants to see if they can make a push to get back to the playoffs with him leading the team. It’d mean this new group doesn’t think the Falcons are that far off from competing again. It’s worth noting that unlike insiders Peter King and Albert Breer, Graziano and Fowler are going heavy on the “we’ve been told” rather than “my guess is,” though you should still of course not take any of this as gospel.
Drafting Pitts, of course, makes a path forward with Ryan a whole lot smoother. Trading Jones would hinder a quick turnaround tremendously, though, so you could almost argue that drafting Pitts could make the team want to keep Jones around for another season or two to see if this amount of mismatches could strike gold for a quick revival.
It’d also make the team less likely to pick up Hayden Hurst’s fifth-year option and could put him in trade conversations this weekend for a mid-round pick. Though, that’s just conjecture and not anything we’ve heard externally.
A trade seems to still be possible if the right team gets desperate enough on draft night, so don’t count it out until the pick is in. The ESPN report says there’s chatter the Detroit Lions tried to move up to Pick 4 with the Falcons to nab LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase ahead of teams like the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins, but that the asking price was too costly.
Fowler and Graziano also threw out this fascinating draft nugget that could influence the Falcons’ Day 2 plans.
Two teams picking early on Day 2 that have done extensive work on running backs: the Falcons and Giants. Atlanta desperately needs help there.
The article goes with the assumption that top prospects like Alabama’s Najee Harris and Clemson’s Travis Etienne would be gone by the time Atlanta drafts on Friday, which makes someone like North Carolina’s Javonte Williams an attraction option with the team’s second selection. Though, if they take Pitts, it still seems more likely the team grabs a guy in Round 3, like Memphis’ Kenneth Gainwell, North Carolina’s Michael Carter or Ohio State’s Trey Sermon, among others. Atlanta doesn’t have a lot of proven options to carry the load, but Mike Davis is a perfectly capable lead option in this backfield, at the very least.
If the Falcons walk away with Pitts, a defensive starter and a running back to pair with free agent Mike Davis in the first few rounds, you feel much better about this team heading into Saturday. Don’t discount the effect a player like Pitts can have on a franchise like Atlanta with a veteran quarterback in Ryan. The team could be in a prime spot; a franchise on the rise everyone discounts going into the season. The biggest problem is that their defense still seems, at least on paper, miles away from being great in that scenario, even if they do snag an immediate impact starter on Day 2.
Obviously, you can’t take this as definite, as there are just so many draft rumors swirling about these days that makes it hard to focus. Pitts himself has said he expects the first four picks to be all quarterbacks, though there is a lot of connection right now between the Falcons and the highly regarded tight end. We’ll see how it shakes out here soon.