Last year, we had a sense of what the Falcons were thinking at pick No. 4 before it happened. Through weeks of reporting from national and local outlets and the simple realities of last year’s class, it became fairly obvious that the Falcons would be choosing between a quarterback and Kyle Pitts, with tackle Penei Sewell and linebacker Micah Parsons looming as long shots. We weren’t sure until the moment the pick was announced that it would be Pitts, but there were a clear set of options the team was considering, and the momentum for Pitts seemed to grow the closer we got to the actual selection.
This year, the options seem overwhelming, and we still don’t know this front office well enough to say they have a particular preference or tendency that will help us decode who they’re going to pick at No. 8. They’ve been linked to all of the top draft-eligible quarterbacks to some extent—Matt Corral is the hot name right now, but Malik Willis and Desmond Ridder have been recently—as well as top cornerbacks, pass rushers, wide receivers, and offensive linemen. There is no consensus choice for the Falcons at No. 8 or anything close to it, with Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson taking the pole position in a fractured field for the moment. By next Thursday morning, it might be another player entirely.
This reflects a simple reality: Nobody outside of the Falcons themselves seems to have any idea what the team is planning to do with the No. 8 pick. Atlanta has always wanted to disguise their intentions heading into the draft and did so multiple times under previous general manager Thomas Dimitroff, but that tended to be the outside world feeling pretty confident in a pick and the front office delightedly throwing a curveball, as they did with Chris Lindstrom and Calvin Ridley. This year, it’s less about the possibility that the Falcons might subvert expectations and more about the way they’ve made it impossible to have any.
Part of that stems from the team’s brick-by-brick team-building approach, where they plug roster holes with affordable short-term deals. There isn’t a position on this roster that’s settled today, given the need for talent is so outsized more or less across the board, but there’s at least a credible 2022 option at every spot even if those players aren’t exactly locks to be great starters. It’s also fair to say that you’re going to be counting on your top picks in this class to be major contributors in 2022, but that 2023 is the more important question in the first place, and given this team’s raft of needs they’d be foolish to prioritize fixing a short-term problem in a year where not many of us even expect them to contend.
The other piece stems from the draft class itself, which is muddled at the top and does not have any surefire star quarterback prospects. We don’t know if teams are going to “reach” for the likes of Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett in the top seven picks and cause an irresistible player to fall into the team’s laps, or if they themselves are gearing up to choose a quarterback at No. 8 because they’re in love with a player in a way they haven’t publicly indicated. There just haven’t been any slips from the front office that would cause us to eliminate all but the most outlandish possibilities, and so we’re left to wonder.
Whoever the Falcons pick at No. 8 will be at least a mild surprise, because unless Flowery Branch springs leaks in the next week or so, we don’t have any concrete indications about where this team is leaning. I’m sure Terry Fontenot and the front office like that just fine, but at least the suspense is nearly over.