A year ago, the Falcons made six of their nine draft picks on the third day of the 2021 NFL Draft. Those are typically your depth guys, your big swings on projects, and the gems you hope snuck by the rest of the NFL, as Grady Jarrett once inexplicably did. What you don’t typically expect is for those players to play significant roles in their rookie seasons.
Here, though, is how those six players saw their snaps shake out in 2021. One was essentially a stater, two were key reserves, and four of them played core special teams roles on the year as the Falcons led in the league in rookie snaps.
- Adetokunbo Ogundeji: 527, 45.05%, 9th on defense; 177 special teams snaps, 41.75%, 6th on ST
- Ta’Quon Graham: 310, 26.5%, 14th on defense; 57 special teams snaps, 13.44%, 31st on ST
- Darren Hall: 282, 24.1%, 15th on defense; 104 special teams snaps, 24.53%, 14th on ST
- Avery Williams: 121, 10.34%, 25th on defense; 272 special teams snaps, 64.15%, 4th on ST
- Drew Dalman: 68 snaps, 6.46%, 22nd on offense; 61 special teams snaps, 14.39%, 28th on ST
- Frank Darby: 20 snaps, 1.9%, 25th on offense; 126 special teams snaps, 29.72%, 10th on ST
What you’ll glean from this is that with the exception of Dalman, every one of these players had a solid role somewhere, and all of them saw the field at some point in 2021. Atlanta’s lack of talent was major factor in getting, for example, Ogundeji on the field as much as he was last season, but the team also made a concerted effort to give playing time to guys who might have been mothballed in another situation. Because of that, they now know Williams is a quality returner, and Ogundeji, Graham, and Hall are all young, talented reserves at worst.
I fully expect the 2022 NFL Draft to play out the same way for the Falcons, who have nine selections again but will make five of their picks in the first three rounds. The reports that the team is working out players like hyper-versatile, hulking Old Dominion offensive lineman Isaac Weaver and productive, athletic edge rusher DeAngelo Malone suggests they’re looking for late round selections who can contribute on a roster that’s still very much a work in progress. When this team can throw money at needs and has two draft classes in place, they may well start focusing heavily on projects late in the draft, but in the here and now I think they’d prefer players who can contribute like Graham and Hall did in 2021 than ones who effectively sit for the year like Dalman and Darby did.
The hope is that the Falcons have added enough talent via free agency so they don’t have to force their late round picks into action. The reality is that this roster is still shaky and talented late rounders like Malone and Weaver are probably going to play significant roles right away, so expect the Falcons to once again lean on those day three picks to be 2022 contributors. If they can pull even 4-5 really good reserves out of the 10 selections they’re lining up to have on day three between 2021 and 2022, it’ll be a victory for this front office.