The NFL Combine just concluded, and this would normally be the time where I recapped the biggest winners and losers and discussed athletic testing numbers. Instead, we’re all talking about a much more significant piece of news: Calvin Ridley’s suspension. Obviously, we’ve covered it well in other articles. The only thing we haven’t touched on is how it might affect the Atlanta Falcons’ draft strategy.
To be totally honest, I don’t think it affects the draft strategy much at all. All of us at The Falcoholic were expecting a Ridley trade to happen, so wide receiver was considered a massive need. The loss of a potential premium pick for Ridley in return is hard to swallow, but we hadn’t been projecting that in any of our mock drafts. So, full disclosure: I conducted this mock well before the Ridley news dropped. I’m leaving it intact because, honestly, I wouldn’t have changed any picks even with the knowledge in hand.
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
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 no-trade variety. Luckily, there are enough of those happening in the NFL right now to keep you entertained! On to the mock...
In what was one of the most athletic Combines in NFL history, one player stood out to me the most: Georgia’s Jordan Davis. We all knew he was a good athlete with a special frame for the position, but what we didn’t know was that he was the most athletic defensive lineman of all time (per RAS). Davis started off the year as a top-10 pick, but had fallen into the teens since the end of the offseason due to concerns about his conditioning and ability to play on 3rd down at his listed weight of 360.
Davis answered those concerns by slimming down to 341 for the Combine—a feat that in itself is worthy of praise—and putting on a show with his workout. Davis finished with a 10.0u RAS and his testing puts him as the second-most impressive athlete of all time, right behind Calvin Johnson. He looked closer to an edge rusher than a nose tackle during the on-field drills, showing off his truly unique blend of size, speed, and agility. With this athletic ceiling, Davis has cemented himself as a true “unicorn” player—there is no comparison in NFL history.
Davis will need time to grow into his pass-rushing role, but he’ll enter the NFL as an elite run defender and can take the pressure off of the rest of the defensive line by commanding double-teams whenever he steps on the field. I believe Terry Fontenot is focused on BPA if the Falcons remain at 8, and targeting a game-changing prospect at a traditionally-undervalued position—much like TE Kyle Pitts last season—is absolutely on the table.
Speaking of rare athletes, we know the Falcons prioritize players with elite testing based on who the team selected last year. Of the nine players Atlanta selected, none tested out as below-average athletes—unless you consider Jalen Mayfield a tackle instead of a guard—and seven tested out with 7.0 or higher (equivalent to 70th percentile) RAS scores. Continuing that trend, Atlanta pounces on perhaps the most athletic defensive back prospect we’ve seen in recent years in UTSA’s Tariq Woolen.
Woolen finished as the most athletic cornerback prospect in history with a 10.0u RAS—highlighted by an incredible 4.26s 40 at 6’4, 205. There’s no doubt that Woolen is a bit of a project at this point, and will need time before he’s thrown out there as a starter. But there’s no secondary player in this class with higher upside than Woolen, and his impressive play at the Senior Bowl—where he held up well against a very talented group—gives me a lot of confidence that he can be an impact player sooner than later. It’s a gamble, obviously, but one I think is well worth it for Atlanta—and a transition to safety could also be on the table.
I admit that I conducted this mock draft prior to the Calvin Ridley news, but I don’t feel the need to change this pick. The Falcons chose to wait a little on adding a wide receiver due to the depth of the class, and once again a terrific value falls into their laps at 58 with Georgia’s George Pickens. I’ve had Pickens in this spot before, and while I’m not convinced he is necessarily the one to fall here, I’m confident that one of these top receiver prospects will be here. Pickens proved that he’s recovering well from his injury with an elite day of testing at the Combine, finishing with an 8.51u RAS.
Here’s what I wrote about Pickens in a previous mock draft:
Pickens has seen his stock fluctuate quite a bit this offseason, but he’d be a fantastic value this late on Day 2. A true WR1 prospect, Pickens has ideal size at 6’3, 200 and pairs it with dynamic athleticism. He’s a threat at all levels of the field, with terrific hands, deep speed, and a big route tree. Pickens could stand to add some weight to his frame, and his work as a run-blocker needs improvement. Atlanta shouldn’t hesitate to jump on a falling player like Pickens should the opportunity arise.
The Falcons can afford to wait a little on EDGE due to the depth of the class, but this is as far as I’m comfortable letting these prospects slide. Ole Miss EDGE Sam Williams has been a steady riser over the course of the offseason, turning heads with a dominant finish to Senior Bowl week and then proving his high-end athleticism with a 9.53u RAS at the Combine. Williams is an ideal 3-4 OLB at nearly 6’4, 261, winning with a combination of explosive burst and power at the point of attack. He’s not the most bendy or lethal speed rusher, but he’s an asset against the run with his strength and physicality. Williams is just one piece of what will need to be many moves to shore up the EDGE group in Atlanta.
Without extra picks, some of the lesser needs get pushed down the board a bit, and linebacker is no exception. Luckily, this is a deep class at the position, and one of the highest-upside prospects is still available early on Day 3: Montana State’s Troy Andersen. Andersen in one of the most unique and versatile players in the entire draft, having spent time at running back, quarterback, and most recently linebacker. As a result, Andersen is still relatively new to the position, and will take time to hone his instincts and technical skills before being thrust into a starting role in the NFL.
Still, Andersen is an elite athlete (9.99u RAS) with truly rare physical gifts at 6’3, 243 and is well worth the pick at the point in the draft. He may not be more than a special teams demon and rotational linebacker in his rookie season, but he could turn into one of the best LBs in the league in a few years. For a rebuilding—or at least partially rebuilding—team like the Falcons, the time to bet on players with terrific upside is now.
With so many pressing needs and a limited number of picks to address them with, the Falcons were forced to wait on a running back. The good news is this is a deep class, and starting-caliber RBs will be available well into Day 3. Atlanta just misses out on some top targets in Dameon Pierce and Rachaad White, but they are able to come away with Cincinnati’s Jerome Ford.
Ford was one of my winners from the Senior Bowl, and he certainly looks the part of an Arthur Smith RB at 5’10, 210. Ford is a physical, smart runner who uses his superior instincts and above-average athleticism (7.76u RAS) to find ways to create on every play. He’s especially savvy in short-yardage situations, but is also capable of rattling off big chunk plays once he gets into the open field. He’s got good hands as a receiver, but wasn’t utilized much in the passing game. Ford is an immediate contributor who can lead Atlanta’s rushing attack, but he may need a year or two to grow into a more prominent third-down role.
When all is said and done, I doubt San Diego State’s Daniel Bellinger ends up falling this far. But this is a deep tight end class, so it’s possible. Bellinger made a name for himself as one of the best blocking TEs in college football, but his athleticism and receiving ability were questioned due to a minimal passing game role. He answered questions about his pass-catching talent by turning in a terrific week at the Senior Bowl, and he showed he’s actually an elite athlete with a 9.46u RAS at the Combine.
The Falcons need a running mate for Kyle Pitts in Arthur Smith’s preferred 12 personnel (2-TE) sets, and the value here for Bellinger is exceptional. Bellinger can take over Lee Smith’s blocking role and grow into a capable dual-threat TE2 in time, and he’ll be significantly cheaper than any options in free agency.
Projected compensatory pick from Alex Mack.
This late in the draft, you’re looking for high-upside contributors, and that’s exactly what FAMU’s Markquese Bell offers. Bell was an absolute playmaker at his level of competition while playing a versatile role in the secondary. He has experience playing in just about every coverage alignment, including as a box enforcer, in split-safety looks, and in single-high. Bell is aggressive and physical against the run, with a good build for the position at 6’2, 212. He also proved he’s an elite athlete with a 9.53u RAS at the Combine.
Bell will have to adjust to a big step up in competition coming to the NFL, and will need to work on his instincts and tone down his over-aggressive playstyle a bit. But he’ll be an early special teams star, and his athletic profile and versatility give him a high floor as a potential third safety.
What are your thoughts on this mock draft class for the Falcons? Post your own mock drafts in the comments below!