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Falcons 2022 mock draft: Big Changes Edition

After a very busy week, the Falcons are now without a franchise QB for the first time in forever and looking at a total rebuild. We take Atlanta in a new direction with a fresh 7-round mock draft.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 30 Arizona at USC Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

What a long, strange few weeks it’s been for Atlanta Falcons fans. First, we got the news of the Calvin Ridley suspension. Then the attempted trade for Deshaun Watson. Finally, the trade of longtime franchise quarterback Matt Ryan. It’s been a whirlwind, and the loss of Ryan has caused some seismic changes in Atlanta—both in terms of the roster, and in terms of their future plans.

Now that the dust appears to be settling, it’s time for another full mock draft simulation. Atlanta received an additional third round pick in the Matt Ryan trade—which was pathetic compensation, by the way—that gives the team another top-100 selection in a very deep draft class.

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 | Pre-Combine | Post-Combine | Big Changes

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 “considering trades” variety. Since the NFL is going wild with trades these days, I figured the Falcons might as well get in on the action...

TRADE: Falcons trade pick 8 to the Eagles for pick 15, pick 51 (2nd), and pick 83 (3rd).

I’ve done a trade like this before, and I’m doing it again because it still makes sense for both sides: the Eagles have three firsts and would like to make sure they get a top prospect at either EDGE, WR, or CB, and the Falcons need as many Day 2 picks as they can get to rebuild the roster.

With the Falcons dropping to 15, I was looking for the best player available, and it turns out it was a wide receiver: USC’s Drake London. London may or may not fall this far in the actual draft, but if he’s still available, he’s a terrific fit for Arthur Smith’s offense and gives Atlanta a legit WR1 threat on the outside. That will take the pressure off of Kyle Pitts and give new quarterback Marcus Mariota a big, reliable, and dynamic target. It also begins the process of stocking the cupboard for the future franchise QB, whoever he may be.

Here’s how I described London in my Combine preview:

One of my favorite receivers in the class, USC’s Drake London is without a doubt the most physically imposing receiver in the class. Coming in at a towering 6’5, 210, London wins in the ways you’d expect: at the catch point, on jump balls, and as a deep threat. He also wins in some unexpected ways: he’s a very good athlete capable of surprising agility, can win with separation on his routes, and generates pretty good yards after catch. London is a WR1 prospect who would probably be in contention for the first receiver off the board if not for a fractured ankle suffered in late October. As it stands now, he could fall a little, possibly even into the early second round

Speaking of the future franchise QB, the Falcons decide to take a swing on a high-upside prospect they seem to like in Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder. Who knows if he’ll end up falling this far or not—QB evaluations seem to be all over the place. But if he’s here, this is a prime spot to take a developmental QB with legitimate starting upside. Ridder wouldn’t be pressured to start in 2022, and Atlanta would have an opportunity to coach and evaluate him for a year before deciding on the future at QB in 2023.

Here’s how I described Ridder in my Senior Bowl preview:

At 6’4, 215, Ridder has excellent size, a strong arm, and offers legitimate dual-threat ability. Ridder is a four-year starter for Cincinnati and improved every year as a passer, culminating in a fantastic 2021 season that saw him complete 64.9% of his passes for 3334 yards (8.6 YPA), 30 TDs, and 8 INTs. He also demonstrated quality rushing ability, averaging 4.4 YPC over his career and piling up 28 TDs on the ground. Ridder is a team leader and fierce competitor, and led his team to an impressive 13-1 record and CFP appearance this season. Even though Cincy was taken down by Alabama, Ridder deserves credit for getting them that far—something no G5 quarterback had ever done.

Pick received from Eagles.

The Falcons need to start retooling the roster and basically every position, and the best way to do that is by taking the BPA whenever they’re on the clock. Need and value line up nicely here, as one of the top NT prospects in the class is available outside the top-50. UConn’s Travis Jones (9.39 RAS) is a big-bodied, super athletic nose tackle who can do more than just clog up run lanes in the middle. He’s been overshadowed by the truly “one-of-a-kind” Jordan Davis, but don’t let that fool you: Jones is a potential Pro Bowl-caliber interior defender at a traditionally devalued position.

Yes, the Falcons did re-sign Anthony Rush—who flashed towards the end of the 2021 season—but that shouldn’t preclude them from going after the long-term solution at the position. Whether Grady Jarrett returns or not, Atlanta could certainly use the talents of Travis Jones to bolster both their run and pass defense.

Pick received from Titans.

The defensive line rebuild continues with Ole Miss EDGE Sam Williams (9.65 RAS), who joins free agent signing Lorenzo Carter on the outside. Williams is a terrific, high-upside prospect who has seen his stock rise considerably since putting on a show at the Senior Bowl. At nearly 6’4, 261, Williams has an ideal frame for a 3-4 OLB and wins with a combination of power and explosiveness. He won’t beat you with bend around the edge, but his strength also makes him an asset against the run. While more moves must be made to take this position to an adequate level, Williams provides an excellent start to what is a likely a multi-year retooling of the group.

The Falcons still have Kaleb McGary for one more season and signed former Bears swing tackle Elijah Wilkinson this offseason to presumably play the same role. However, the team would be wise to add a high-upside prospect to potentially take over for McGary in 2023. I’ve generally had Atlanta targeting players earlier than this, but Washington State’s Abraham Lucas (9.72 RAS) has since solidified himself in the late-Day 2 conversation with an impressive Combine.

Lucas measured in at an imposing 6’6, 315 with nearly 34” arms, giving him a good frame for the position. He also tested out as an elite athlete, with an incredible 1.69s 10-yard split and elite agility drills. Lucas is a good pass protector due to his mobility and hand usage, and he plays with an edge as a run blocker. The main thing Lucas must improve is his overall strength—he’s vulnerable to bull rushes, and doesn’t generate as much push at the point of attack as you’d like. He’d be well served by a year in an NFL strength program, where he could possibly add some good weight and continue to build up his power. Lucas would be coming in to a perfect situation in Atlanta, and wouldn’t be expected to start until 2023.

Pick received from Colts.

It was a tough call at this spot, as there are a number of very good players left—though it helps that Atlanta has back-to-back picks due to trades! Ultimately I decided to go after another receiver in Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce (9.8 RAS), who makes even more sense due to the addition of Ridder. Besides the obvious benefit of giving Ridder a familiar target, Pierce is a very talented receiver in his own right who absolutely fits the archetype Arthur Smith looks for on the outside. Adding Pierce alongside Drake London and Kyle Pitts gives Atlanta a whole new receiving corps loaded with athleticism and size.

Here’s how I described Pierce in my Combine preview:

At 6’3, 213, Pierce has a big frame, long arms, and the strength to make an impact as a blocker in both the run and screen game. Pierce is a very good athlete for his size, with quality long speed and surprising agility. His route running is advanced and nuanced, which could give him an immediate role in the offense. Pierce’s best traits are his hands and catch radius, as his tape is littered with circus catches. I think Pierce is an ideal WR2 at the NFL level who can win in any way you need, whether that’s short, intermediate, or deep.

Pick received from Eagles.

With these additional third round picks, it’s time to continue taking good prospects at positions of need. With Foye Oluokun departing in free agency and Deion Jones’ future with the team uncertain, Atlanta needs to start restocking the linebacker depth chart. Georgia’s Channing Tindall (9.66 RAS) is the least heralded of the three players who will likely be drafted—the others being Nakobe Dean and Quay Walker—but he’s a very good player with the build and athleticism of a future NFL starter. I think he’s actually more pro-ready than Walker due to his high-level instincts.

Here’s how I described Tindall in my Combine preview:

While two Georgia linebackers are generating all the hype, Channing Tindall seems to have been left behind. On some level, I get it: Tindall lacks the eye-popping size/athleticism combo of Quay Walker and the incredible splash plays and down-to-down consistency of Nakobe Dean. But Tindall is a good player in his own right, and could wind up being a very good value. I see no reason why he can’t become a solid NFL starter or high-end reserve, and a good Combine workout could help lift him back into the Day 2 conversation.

Even after seven (!!) picks in the top-100, the Falcons still have holes on the roster that need addressing. One of them is tight end, where Atlanta has just young star Kyle Pitts and former UDFA Parker Hesse as holdovers from 2021. This is a deep, talented TE class, and the Falcons would be wise to invest in a high-end TE2 to play across from Pitts due to Smith’s preference for 12 (2TE) packages on offense. I don’t know which ones will fall, but if Washington’s Cade Otton makes it this far, I’d pounce without hesitation.

Here’s how I described Otton in my Combine preview:

Perhaps the best tight end that isn’t widely talked about, Washington’s Cade Otton is an accomplished dual-threat player who looks ready to contribute early in his NFL career. Otton is a very good run and pass blocker and pairs that with good size at 6’5, 250. He’s also a quality pass-catcher, with above-average athleticism and exceptional hands. Otton won’t ever be confused with Kyle Pitts as an athlete or receiver, but he’s a well-rounded player who can take on a versatile TE2 role in his rookie season with the potential for more down the road. An impressive day of athletic testing could lift him even higher in this class.

With Cordarrelle Patterson returning to the fold and the addition of Damien Williams—plus Mike Davis, who remains under contract—the Falcons’ need at running back isn’t quite so significant. Still, the team would be wise to take a swing on a young runner, preferably someone who can take the early-down work off Patterson’s plate. Michigan’s Hassan Haskins is a perfect fit, measuring in at nearly 6’2, 228, and he’s a good value at this point in the draft.

Here’s how I described Haskins in a previous mock draft:

Haskins was a quality part of a backfield rotation for Michigan up until 2021, where he seized control of the workhorse role. He took advantage of the added volume, piling up 1327 yards on 270 carries (4.9 YPC) along with 20 rushing TDs. Arthur Smith clearly has a preference for big physical backs, and Haskins fits the bill at 6’1, 220. Haskins is a bruising, decisive runner who excels between the tackles. While he’s not a dynamic athlete, he’s got enough speed and agility to pick up extra yards when available.

While the Falcons secured a very good CB2 across from A.J. Terrell with the signing of Casey Hayward, the long-term outlook is still up-in-the-air. Hayward is only under contract for two years and will be 33 when the season starts. Going after a high-upside developmental project would make a ton of sense at this point in the draft, and a good one is still available in USC’s Isaac Taylor-Stuart (9.98 RAS).

Taylor-Stuart certainly has the build of an outside corner at over 6’1, 201, and has a terrific athletic profile as well. He’s got the long speed and agility to match up with quicker receivers, and the size to lock down the big targets. Taylor-Stuart is also an asset in run defense and has a physical mentality to his game. His issues are technical and injury-related: Taylor-Stuart suffered significant ankle and knee injuries in 2018 and 2019. That stunted his development, and he’ll need to continue to grow before he can start in the NFL. Atlanta provides an opportunity for Taylor-Stuart to sit behind an established CB group while he can continue to learn.

Compensatory pick from Alex Mack.

With this final pick, the Falcons are looking to add quality depth and special teams contributors. Georgia Tech safety Juanyeh Thomas (8.41 RAS) can certainly contribute in those areas. An enforcer in the secondary with a physical edge to his game, Thomas has excellent size for the position and looks like an ideal “big nickel” safety who can cover tight ends and stuff the run effectively. As a box safety, Thomas has plenty of athleticism to thrive in both man and short-zone coverage.

Moving Thomas further away from the line of scrimmage has created issues, though they don’t seem to be related to his athleticism. He’s been prone to lapses and mistakes when playing deep, and will need more development before he can be deployed there reliably at the NFL level. Thomas offers upside as a potential starter if played closer to the line of scrimmage, and can be an immediate contributor on special teams. Also, I recently found out he played for my hometown team (Niceville). So that’s always a bonus!

What are your thoughts on this mock draft class for the Falcons? Post your own mock drafts in the comments below!