With the 2021 season in the rear view mirror, the next stop on the offseason calendar was the Senior Bowl—an all-star event in Mobile where many of the draft’s top prospects congregate to practice and show off their skills against some of the toughest competition in the country. It’s always a fun event, and it’s interesting to see how some of these players look in a different environment and—for many—against a higher level of talent.
This week’s mock draft will take into account everything I learned at the Senior Bowl, and there will be a bit of an emphasis on taking guys from Mobile. We know that Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot value the Senior Bowl highly—both were in attendance for the practices, and Atlanta selected four players from Mobile in 2021. If you missed any of my previous mock drafts, you can find them below:
Week 10 | Week 12 | Week 14 | Week 16 | Week 18 | Offseason 1.0 | Senior Bowl
I once again used The Draft Network’s Mock Draft Machine to conduct this mock. We’ll be going back-and-forth between “no-trade” mocks and “trades considered” mocks, and this week we’re back to the good old “no-trade” variety. Enjoy!
There’s no bigger riser from the Senior Bowl, at least on the defensive side of the ball, than Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson. I was already considering putting him above David Ojabo on my board, and his incredible week in Mobile has convinced me to go forward. Johnson is a prototypical edge rusher at over 6’4, 260 with an elite near 83 inch wingspan. He’s got length and strength, and pairs it with some of the best athletic traits in the class.
Johnson can beat you with bend, with explosiveness, and with power. He’s also one of the smartest players I’ve scouted in this class. Johnson rarely makes mistakes and doesn’t fall for play-action or other eye candy in the backfield. He’s got an advanced toolset as a pass rusher and plays both the run and the pass at a high level. Johnson’s rise coincides perfectly with the Falcons’ needs at EDGE, and gives them a high-end option in the very likely scenario that Kayvon Thibodeaux, Aidan Hutchinson, Kyle Hamilton, and the top OTs all go before 8.
The Falcons just missed out on OT Daniel Faalele—who would be a perfect pick here to develop for a year behind McGary—but still get a very good prospect in Ohio State’s Nicholas Petit-Frere. While Petit-Frere obviously lacks the ridiculous measurables of Faalele, he’s still plenty big at 6’5, 315. He’s also much more polished as a pass protector, and more pro-ready in terms of his ability to start Day 1.
Petit-Frere offers enough athleticism for a zone blocking scheme, but there’s no reason to think he lacks the strength to thrive in power concepts. Petit-Frere has experience at both left and right tackle, but looked best on the left side. However, he’s still a very good right tackle and could offer the Falcons a potential long-term replacement for Jake Matthews after a year or two. This is a good value pick who can give Kaleb McGary some legitimate competition in 2022, while putting an eventual long-term successor to either RT or LT in place for 2023 and beyond.
One of the best offensive players at the Senior Bowl, North Dakota State’s Christian Watson answered a lot of questions in Mobile and lifted himself into Day 2 consideration. Not only did he measure out with a massive frame at 6’4, 215, Watson put on a show with his deep speed and proved he can also make contested catches. This is a potentially elite athlete with a WR1 frame, and if he’d played in a better offense in 2021, he might be getting mocked even higher than this.
Watson has extremely high upside and looks tailor-made for Arthur Smith’s offense. NDSU ran the ball a ton this season, and Watson is an accomplished and willing blocker. His athleticism is rare for his size, and I don’t really think there are many holes in his game outside of needing to learn a bigger route tree. He can potentially help you all over the field—both outside and in the slot. There’s a chance Watson falls a little due to the very good (and more accomplished) wide receivers above him, but make no mistake: he has legitimate WR1 upside and could end up easily outplaying his draft position.
With limited production and usage at Ohio State, the Senior Bowl was the perfect opportunity for Jeremy Ruckert to prove himself as one of the top tight ends in the class. Although he suffered an injury and was forced to withdraw from the third day and the game, Ruckert was very impressive in the first two practices. He looked like the best athlete of all the TEs in attendance, and showed off some quality blocking skills.
Ruckert is a classic example of a player who is likely to have a much better pro career than college career. He’s got an imposing frame at 6’5, 250 and has the versatility to be deployed all over the formation, including in-line or flexed out wide. Ruckert would be a perfect TE2 to pair with an elite talent in Kyle Pitts who can allow Arthur Smith to take full advantage of his preferred 12 personnel packages.
While I’m still hopeful that Marlon Davidson continues to develop into a useful piece and that the Falcons can re-sign Anthony Rush to bolster their run defense, Atlanta still needs more pieces on the defensive line. Arkansas DT John Ridgeway was one of the standouts at the Senior Bowl, showcasing excellent power as a bull rusher and holding up very well as a run defender.
Measuring in at nearly 6’5, 327 and with an over 81 inch wingspan, Ridgeway has the size and length to play any position on the interior defensive line. He’s best served as a 0T/1T nose tackle who can shut down the run with his incredible strength and long arms. Ridgeway also offers some upside as a pass rusher who can win with power and solid burst off the line of scrimmage. He’d be a good value addition early on Day 3, and would instantly add physicality to Atlanta’s defensive line.
After the Senior Bowl, I’m not sure if Arizona State’s Rachaad White will end up falling this far. He was one of the two or three best running backs in Mobile, and showed off his unique combination of athleticism and patient, decisive running. It’s also true that RBs always tend to fall in the draft, and while this isn’t a star-studded class in 2022, it is a deep one.
If White is still available this late, the Falcons should pounce on the opportunity to add a potential starter to their backfield. White has a well-rounded skillset with good size (6’0.5, 210), agility, and long speed. He’s got soft hands and has advanced route-running skills out of the backfield, even lining up in the slot on occasion. White isn’t an overly physical back and succeeds in short-yardage situations with his vision, elusiveness, and quick footwork. I love White as a complement to a hopefully re-signed Cordarrelle Patterson in 2022.
With other needs taking precedence in this mock draft, linebacker had to wait until late on Day 3. Luckily, this is a deep class, and there are still plenty of contributors to be found. Indiana’s Micah McFadden is a player I’ve mocked to Atlanta before, and for good reason: he’s a terrific blitzer, has excellent instincts, and is a physical, reliable tackler in run support. McFadden has good long speed and he’s fairly comfortable into dropping zone coverage, but his overall athletic ability is modest. In short, I’m not sure he’s ever going to be an impact player in coverage.
With the Falcons having a quality coverage linebacker already in place in either Foyesade Oluokun (if re-signed) or Deion Jones (if he’s not traded), McFadden wouldn’t have to shoulder the load and could be free to use his best trait on passing downs: his blitzing ability. He’s also likely to be a high-end special teams player early in his career, and brings a ton of leadership and football IQ to the roster. This is an ideal late-Day 3 prospect: only modest upside, but a high floor and the capability to contribute immediately.
With the final pick—a very late sixth-round compensatory selection from the Alex Mack signing—the Falcons should be looking for a quality depth piece that can help fill a weakness on the roster. Safety is a bit of a wild card position right now: Atlanta returns just Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins from 2021. The hope is, obviously, that Grant is ready to assume the starting role he was drafted for and that Hawkins can continue to man the other spot. But the depth is nonexistent, especially if free agents Duron Harmon and Erik Harris sign elsewhere.
I was actually very impressed by Texas A&M safety Leon O’Neal at the Senior Bowl. A late round/borderline UDFA prospect going in to Mobile, O’Neal looked like one of the most consistent players in the secondary. More than anything, his infectious attitude and passionate style of play was a joy to watch. O’Neal has always been known as a hard-hitting box safety, but his coverage looked decent against some tough competition at the Senior Bowl. I know the Falcons covet high-character guys who love the game, and O’Neal was the biggest standout in that area for me. As a depth safety who can bring it on special teams and provide positive energy in the locker room, I like O’Neal this late in the draft.
What are your thoughts on this mock draft class for the Falcons? Post your own mock drafts in the comments below!