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Falcons brass acknowledge uncertainty in the top 10, talk draft plans in final pre-draft presser

In a final press conference before the draft, the Falcons told us little about what to expect, as you’d expect.

NFL Combine Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

I’ll be honest up front: The Falcons once again put Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith in front of cameras and assembled media, the duo answered questions and talked at length, and we learned very little. This team is not in the business of giving away their plans, and if someone had asked about the lunch menu at Flowery Branch tomorrow I have to imagine Fontenot and Smith would’ve offered up some variation of “there are many kinds of sandwiches that can be had, whether for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.”

We expect this by now, as Fontenot and Smith are already old hands at saying nothing while saying anything. That’s not really a criticism of either one—you wouldn’t expect Fontenot to tip his hand and talk at length about how interested the team was in Malik Willis with 48 hours to go until the draft—but obviously if you expect to glean some information about the team’s draft plans it’s a frustrating habit.

Still, as always, there are items of interest. The most interesting notes were big picture ones, and some candid comments from Fontenot about how different this year’s top 10 pick is than last year’s. Let’s start there as we break down today’s presser in brief.

The Falcons seemed to have locked in their Kyle Pitts pick pretty early. As Fontenot noted, it was the worst-kept secret in football that once the 49ers traded up to No. 3, quarterbacks were going off the board in the first three picks. That left the team to choose between Justin Fields, Pitts and a handful of others, and they had to know they were picking Pitts days if not weeks ahead of time.

This time, as Fontenot acknowledged today, they can’t know. Even the top pick in the draft, which belongs to the Jacksonville Jaguars, is an unknown at the moment, with Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, Georgia’s Travon Walker and Alabama’s Evan Neal all being linked to the pick in recent weeks. That means that while the Falcons know who they want at No. 8, they can’t be certain their top choices will be there, or that a player they’re expecting to go extremely early isn’t going to slip to them unexpectedly.

That introduces a little chaos into the process after the Falcons had time to prepare a year ago, and it will be interesting to see both how the first seven picks shake out and who the team winds up with. Fontenot did mention that the team could trade up or down—how illuminating—but you have to take him at his word that both are a possibility without knowing who the Falcons are keying on and what they’ll do if that player isn’t going to get to them.

You can read this any number of ways, but my thinking post-Matt Ryan trade has been that the Falcons can’t wait to draft a quarterback unless they genuinely do not like any of the ones in this class. This is a team that can’t be sure they’ll be in a good position to draft one of the top players at the position a year from now, or that injury, an ineffective season, or some other unknown variable winds up throwing the quarterback rankings that seem solid right now into chaos by the time April rolls around. When you’re on the cusp of having a ton of cap space and in need of ending what’s likely to be a five-year run of losing seasons in Atlanta, you have to try to address the most critical position on the roster over the long haul if there’s anyone intriguing that will be available to you. Unless the draft shakes out in a very weird way, expect them to take a quarterback.

Which one will they take? We don’t know, but Smith did talk about “accuracy and decision-making” being the most important variables. Wildly speculate based on that to your liking.

Both Smith and Fontenot spoke about the importance of high floor players, which I did find legitimately interesting. You can build a pretty good roster out of players who are not superstars but are good, and if you trust your player development and coaching staff, you should want to bring in players you know can contribute right away who still hopefully have upside you can tap into.

Again, most of what the Falcons said on Tuesday isn’t concrete and doesn’t reveal much of anything about where they’d headed with the No. 8 pick and the many picks they hold on Days 2 and 3 of the draft. The chaos will make for an entertaining and nerve-wracking Thursday night for all of us watching from home, and I can only imagine the same will be true in Flowery Branch.