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Falcons 2022 mock draft: Penultimate Edition

With a little over a week to go until the 2022 NFL Draft, it’s time for our penultimate 7-round Falcons mock draft of the offseason. What happens if Atlanta stays at 8, but pulls off a trade a little later in the draft?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 10 CFP National Championship Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s finally late April, and the 2022 NFL Draft is just a little over a week away. The Atlanta Falcons have continued their methodical process of adding cheap veterans on one-year deals to bolster positions of need, which—presumably—gives the team more flexibility to take the “best player available” in the draft. Since my last mock, the Falcons have added DT Vincent Taylor, TE Anthony Firkser, OT Germain Ifedi, and CB Mike Ford.

We may continue to see a few signings trickle in before the draft, but things definitely seem a little more settled than they were a month ago. There are still massive holes on Atlanta’s roster—most notably at EDGE and WR—but the depth elsewhere has certainly been improved. With all that considered, there’s still time for two more full Falcons mock drafts.

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 | Falling Stars | Penultimate

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 “trades considered” variety. Seeing as I’ve now done over 10 mocks this offseason—and traded down from 8 in half of them—I think it’s time to look at a different scenario for Atlanta. My personal preference is still to trade down from 8 and pick up additional Day 2 picks—but let’s do something a little out-of-the-box today.

Round 1, Pick 8: EDGE Travon Walker, Georgia

The Falcons entertained a trade-back here, but the offers weren’t good enough to make it really tempting. Instead, Atlanta stays at 8 and selects a very good player at a position of massive need. The EDGE group was bolstered by veteran Lorenzo Carter, but there’s little else there aside from hopes and prayers. Georgia’s Travon Walker has been a fast riser since his incredible Combine performance, and may not even make it to 8 if the rumors of Jacksonville’s fascination with him are true.

I still believe Walker goes in the 5-10 range, but it’s easy to see why teams are intrigued. Walker is a late bloomer with a unique frame and unquestionably special athletic ability. With a 9.99 RAS, it’s clear that Walker is among the most elite athletes of all time at defensive end. At 6’5, 272 with over 35 inch arms, Walker posted a 4.51s 40, 1.54 10-yard split, 6.89s 3-cone, and elite jumps. Those are all incredible numbers even for a normal-sized EDGE, but at Walker’s size? Almost unheard of.

You’re banking on that athletic upside with Walker, because the production was virtually nonexistent for much of his college career. Walker came on strong towards the end of the 2021 season, finishing with 6.0 sacks, 7.5 TFL, and 33 total tackles (17 solo). In his two previous years, he had just 3.5 sacks and 5.5 TFL total. Walker is a projection, but he’s a tempting one—and I think he’s a great fit in a multiple 3-4, where he can play both OLB and 3-4 DE.

TRADE — Round 1, Pick 30: QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

Falcons trade pick 43 (2nd) and pick 82 (3rd) to the Chiefs for pick 30.

I think the Falcons want a quarterback in this class, but I also think they’re smart enough not to reach for one at 8 (if Malik Willis is off the board, at least). However, the chances of their preferred option making it to 43 are slim-to-none. I still believe the team’s target is Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, and if they want him, they’ll probably have to jump back into the late-first round to guarantee his selection. So Atlanta makes a deal with Kansas City—who have back-to-back picks at 29 and 30—and sends their late 3rd from the Matt Ryan trade to move up from 43 to 30.

I’ve already discussed Ridder (9.61 RAS) at great length in various other articles. He simply seems like the ideal fit for the system, and is a strong leader who I think Smith and Fontenot believe they can build around. Getting him with a first-round selection adds the flexibility of the fifth-year option—which could be even more important if Ridder sits behind Mariota for the 2021 season. Here’s how I described Ridder’s skillset in my Senior Bowl preview:

At 6’3, 211, 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.

Round 2, Pick 58: EDGE Cameron Thomas, San Diego State

Pick received from Titans.

This is the point in the draft where I generally look for receiver help, but there was a run early in the second round and the value simply doesn’t line up. Instead, there’s an impact player at another position of need in San Diego State EDGE Cameron Thomas. I’ve rarely had a chance to draft Thomas because of where he usually ends up getting drafted, but he’s a very good edge rusher who consistently dominated the competition as both a pass rusher and run defender.

Thomas is versatile, with a big frame at 6’4, 267 and excellent agility (6.91s 3-cone and 4.25s short-shuttle). His 8.68 RAS demonstrates his high-end athleticism, and the only concern is a lack of ideal arm length (32.5 inch arms). However, Thomas uses his hands very well and backs them up with exceptional power at the point of attack. His combination of explosiveness, lateral mobility, and strength makes him very difficult to block one-on-one, and there’s potential for him to bulk up for a 3-4 DE role as well. Adding Thomas and Travon Walker to the defensive line would give the Falcons a massive injection of size, strength, and athleticism.

Round 3, Pick 74: WR Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama

The time to take a wide receiver has finally arrived, with South Alabama’s Jalen Tolbert still on the board early in the third round. Tolbert has the skillset and build of a good all-around WR2 in the NFL. With plus size at 6’1, 195, above-average speed with a 4.49s 40, and elite short-area quickness with a 1.49s 10-yard split and quality jumps, Tolbert has the athletic profile to fill any number of roles (8.62 RAS). Primarily a deep ball specialist early in his career, Tolbert consistently added more skills and routes to his repertoire over the last two seasons.

That all culminated in a dominant 2021 season that saw Tolbert put up 82 catches for 1474 yards (18.0 YPR) and 8 TD. His route-running has improved, and he’s now an asset in the intermediate area of the field. He’s also shown off impressive run-after-catch ability, with plus physicality to break tackles in the open field. Tolbert has very good hands and ball skills, and gives tremendous effort as a run blocker. He’s not the flashiest or the biggest prospect, and the adjustment from a lower level of competition will take some time, but Tolbert has legit starting upside and could surprise at the NFL level.

Round 4, Pick 114: TE Jelani Woods, Virginia

With the Falcons waiting a little to address receiver, the need for additional weapons in the passing game is a bit higher than it would be with an earlier selection. We know Arthur Smith prefers 12 (2 TE) personnel, and we also know that Kyle Pitts is likely to play a fair number of snaps lined up outside. Even with the addition of veteran Anthony Firkser, Atlanta could use a high-upside developmental TE to potentially create an elite pair with Pitts for the future.

If Virginia’s Jelani Woods lasts this long in the draft, the Falcons shouldn’t hesitate. Woods, a former receiver, transitioned to tight end in 2021 and made an instant impact with 44 receptions for 589 yards (13.6 YPR) and 8 TDs. At over 6’7, 253, Woods tested out as the most athletic TE of all time (10.0 RAS). His long speed, agility, and explosiveness are all off the charts. As a blocker, Woods is undeveloped, and there will obviously be an adjustment period from just one season as a starter. But the upside is undeniable, and Woods is well-worth taking a shot on at this point in the draft.

Round 5, Pick 151: RB Zamir White, Georgia

As nice as it would be to add a top-tier workhorse RB to this offense, it’s tough to do so with the other needs on the roster and the presence of three quality veterans in Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Davis, and Damien Williams. Instead, the most likely route is a mid-Day 3 swing on a high-upside prospect, like Georgia’s Zamir “Zeus” White. White, a former 5-star recruit, never quite lived up to the hype as the top RB in the country. He was still productive, with a career-best 160 carries for 856 yards (5.4 YPC) and 11 TDs in 2021, but didn’t dominate in the expected fashion while at Georgia—in part due to some unfortunate injuries, including two ACL tears.

That injury history is what will likely cause him to fall on draft day, because White still has all the potential in the world. At nearly 6’0, 215, White showed off his elite athleticism with a 9.82 RAS. He’s a physical runner who can generate explosive plays if he gets through to the second level. Outside of the injury concerns and a lack of passing game ability, White appears to fit the bill of a starting RB. He’d fit in perfectly in Atlanta, as the team already has several capable receivers and wouldn’t necessarily depend on White for more than 10 carries a game. This is a good upside pick at this point in the draft, as there’s nothing stopping White from claiming the lead back role—if he can stay healthy.

Round 6, Pick 190: WR Kevin Austin Jr., Notre Dame

You might be noticing a theme with these last few picks—high upside players with a few question marks—and that theme continues here with another offensive selection. Even after the addition of Jalen Tolbert and Jelani Woods, the Falcons could still use more at the receiver position. Why not take a swing on one of the most athletic receivers in the draft with Notre Dame’s Kevin Austin Jr.?

Austin, as you might have guessed, made a name for himself with an exceptional Combine performance. Testing out with a 9.94 RAS, Austin measured in at over 6’2, 200 and put on a show with a 4.43s 40, a 1.48s 10-yard split, and elite agility and explosiveness testing. In terms of his skills as a receiver, Austin has limited experience and just one year of production as a deep ball specialist with 48 receptions for 888 yards (18.5 YPR) and 7 TDs. He’s a tough player who gives good effort as a blocker, but his route-running and technical skills are very undeveloped. Austin will need to prove he can play special teams, and will require a patient staff to develop him, but the upside and traits of an impact NFL receiver are there. For pick 190, I think Austin is well worth the dart throw.

Round 6, Pick 213: LB Micah McFadden, Indiana

Compensatory pick from Alex Mack.

One of my favorite late-round linebackers actually had a better Combine than I expected, testing out as an elite athlete (9.47 RAS) at 6’1, 240. Indiana’s Micah McFadden has long been one of my targets due to his tremendous production as a blitzer—something that Dean Pees loves in his LBs. McFadden was an elite disruptor, with 6.5 sacks and 15.5 TFL along with 77 total tackles (49 solo) in 2021. He’s also got solid ball production in zone coverage, with 4 career INTs.

McFadden is a good tackler and plays with excellent effort. He also showcases strong instincts and quick read-and-react ability as a run defender. However, despite McFadden’s testing, he looks a little stiff in terms of his lateral mobility on tape. Generally, he’s been best as a straight-line player, and that has made him unreliable in man coverage. McFadden also has trouble shedding blocks due to below-average arm length, and needs to be covered up by a quality defensive front. Even with these limitations to his game, McFadden should be no worse than a special teams demon and quality rotational linebacker. If he sticks around this late in the draft, McFadden offers tremendous value here.

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