As we enter the month of April, the 2022 NFL Draft season is approaching its apex. The last scouting reports are coming in, and NFL teams are finalizing their draft boards and processes. That’s also true for me—though I’m hoping to get you quite a few more scouting reports over the next few weeks.
With things seemingly started to quiet down for the Atlanta Falcons on the free agency and trade fronts, we may finally have an clearer picture of the roster heading into the draft. The team has continued to add affordable veterans to bolster areas of need, including the recent additions of Damiere Byrd at receiver and Rashaan Evans at linebacker. There are still a huge number of needs, however, and the best way to address them at this point is with a strong draft class.
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
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-trades” variety. Taking the recent trends and Pro Day performances into account, along with the recent free agent signings, let’s take another shot at improving this roster...
Round 1, Pick 8: EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
What was once considered impossible may have a slight chance of occurring, as one of the top pass rushers and overall prospects in the draft is starting to fall a little in the draft order. I personally don’t get it and don’t believe it’s likely to happen, but it did in this simulation. The Falcons sprint to the podium to select Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, who was going #1 overall in some mocks just weeks ago.
Thibodeaux is a prototypical 3-4 OLB at 6’4, 254. He’s an elite athlete (9.6u RAS) who can win with explosiveness, bend, and power at the point of attack. Despite anonymous scouts questioning his effort and “love of the game”, in reality Thibodeaux plays hard and with great competitive toughness. I love his array of pass rush moves and he is very savvy with his hands and counters. He’s also better against the run than expected, with good tackling and ability to keep contain on the outside. Atlanta shouldn’t overthink the selection if teams are foolish enough to allow him to fall to 8.
Round 2, Pick 43: OT Daniel Faalele, Minnesota
The rebuilding of the trenches continues with an offensive tackle in Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele. Faalele’s stock has cooled a little after his Combine testing came in lower than expected (2.39 RAS), but the raw upside of Faalele’s 6’8, 384 pound frame is undeniable at this point in the draft. He’s never going to wow you with speed or agility in zone concepts, but he’s so long and overwhelmingly powerful that it almost doesn’t matter. Faalele opted out of the 2020 season and has limited experience playing football. As such his technique and football IQ both need considerable work before starting at the NFL level.
Faalele would be coming to an ideal situation in Atlanta, as he’d be able to sit behind Kaleb McGary and Elijah Wilkinson for the 2022 season. But you simply can’t develop the type of length, size, and strength that Faalele offers. His All-Pro ceiling is well worth waiting for, particularly when it seems like Atlanta is just beginning a multi-year rebuild.
Round 2, Pick 58: WR John Metchie III, Alabama
Pick received from Titans.
The Falcons have been making small moves at wide receiver to help fill out the depth chart with at least serviceable NFL options, like Auden Tate and Damiere Byrd, but this unit is still in desperate need of a talent infusion. Alabama’s John Metchie III would be a terrific value this late in the draft, as he’s got WR1 upside as a do-it-all threat in the passing game. An ACL tear in the SEC Championship is likely the only reason he’ll be available this late, but he should still be available for most of the 2022 season.
Metchie has terrific deep speed and has been a dominant downfield option for Alabama over the past few seasons. He has continued to develop the other areas of his game, and was utilized pretty much everywhere in 2021. Metchie is excellent after the catch and is a capable option on in the short-passing game, including screens and manufactured touches. He can line up anywhere, including out wide and in the slot, and produce for the offense. Metchie would be a big boost to Atlanta’s existing weapons and would take some of the attention off of Kyle Pitts.
Round 3, Pick 74: TE Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina
Speaking of adding weapons, the Falcons aren’t done yet. Metchie gives Atlanta a good outside and slot option, but there’s still a big hole on the depth chart that carries added importance in Arthur Smith’s scheme: TE2. The offense struggled in 2021 without a reliable secondary option there—Lee Smith won out as a good blocker, but didn’t offer much in the receiving game, and Hayden Hurst never worked his way into a significant target share. Atlanta depends on the blocking of that secondary TE, so they need to make sure to add a capable dual-threat at the position.
Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely could be a perfect fit, both in terms of value and need. Not only was Likely one of the most productive receiving TEs in college football in 2021 with 59 receptions for 912 yards (15.5 YPR) and 12 TDs, he’s also a very capable blocker. Likely didn’t test out as well as expected overall (4.83 RAS), but his explosiveness is terrific and he plays a lot faster than his times. He’s versatile and lined up all over the formation in college: in-line, out wide, in the slot, and as an H-back. Likely would give the Falcons another legitimate receiving threat at TE who can also block, taking some of the pressure off of Kyle Pitts and the receiving corps in 12 personnel. Likely’s presence also allow Pitts to line up more frequently on the outside.
Round 3, Pick 82: RB Breece Hall, Iowa State
Pick received from Colts.
The offensive renewal continues, as the Falcons take a swing at adding an impact runner to take some of the pressure off of new QB Marcus Mariota and the passing game. Iowa State’s Breece Hall was one of the top runners in all of college football in 2021, piling up 253 carries for 1472 yards (5.8 YPC) and 20 TDs in just 12 games. He was also a solid if unspectacular receiver, with 36 receptions for 302 yards (8.4 YPR) and another 3 TD. Measuring in at 5’11, 220, he certainly fits the mold of an Arthur Smith running back.
While it was obvious Hall was a fast and explosive runner based on his tape, I don’t think anyone expected him to test out as well as he did at the Combine (9.96 RAS). Hall is a homerun threat if he hits the open field with 4.39 speed, and he’s explosive through the hole. Despite his athleticism, Hall actually runs with a patient, decisive style. He’s not as physical a runner as you might expect from his measurables, but he’s still solid in this area and wins in short yardage with his vision and explosiveness. Hall isn’t going to provide a ton on passing downs, at least right away, but he’s a tremendous runner and would give the Falcons a big boost to their rushing attack.
Round 4, Pick 114: CB Alontae Taylor, Tennessee
Even after the signing of Casey Hayward to man CB2, the Falcons would be wise to invest in a developmental long-term starter opposite A.J. Terrell. Hayward should be able to handle the position over the next two years, but adding a prospect like Tennessee’s Alontae Taylor at this point in the draft makes a ton of sense. Taylor measured in with good size for the outside at 6’0, 199, and showed off elite athletic traits with a 4.36 40-yard dash and 10’8” broad jump at the Combine (9.04 RAS).
A wide receiver convert, Taylor has just four seasons under his belt at the position. He’s gotten better and more comfortable with experience, and had his best season in 2021 with 60 total tackles (41 solo), 1.0 TFL, 2 INT, and 6 PD. Taylor is fairly comfortable in zone coverage now, but still needs development and technique work in man. He’s physical and reliable in run support, and his athletic profile gives him a starter’s ceiling in the NFL. Taylor would be a depth player in 2022, but could potentially take over for Hayward (or allow him to move to the slot) in 2023 and beyond.
Round 5, Pick 151: P Matt Araiza, San Diego State
I was planning to take a linebacker here, but it ended up working out since the Falcons just signed Rashaan Evans—so the need at the position isn’t quite as dire. That being said, I’m sure this pick will make a lot of fans angry. But it shouldn’t. The fact is, the Falcons are a rebuilding team, and they (so far) haven’t signed a starting punter outside of former UDFA Dom Maggio. 2021 starter Thomas Morstead remains a free agent—and is visiting with the Dolphins this week. There’s clearly a need at the position, and a really good prospect available in the draft.
San Diego State’s Matt Araiza may be the most talented punter to come out of the draft in recent memory. He’s got absurd range and averaged 51.2 yards per punt on 79 punts (!!) in 2021. Araiza is also a solid field goal kicker (73.5% FGs made in his career), which adds to his value. The Falcons aren’t really tanking and will probably be trying to win close games with defense and a (hopefully) improved run game—which will make field position (and thus, punter) all the more important. Araiza, who could realistically be a long-term Pro Bowl starter, is simply a good value at this point in the draft. Fifth-round picks rarely turn into starters (just 4 out of 18 since 2010 for Atlanta), and I doubt a pick at another position moves the needle for Atlanta more than Araiza would. So, I hope you enjoy my first ever punter selection in a mock draft.
Round 6, Pick 190: WR Justyn Ross, Clemson
At this point in the draft, the Falcons are looking for developmental prospects, special teams standouts, or high-upside guys with questions. Clemson’s Justyn Ross has a legit ceiling as a potential NFL WR2 with ability on the outside and in the slot, but his medical situation is concerning. Ross had spinal surgery in 2020 that caused him to miss the entire season, and he wasn’t quite the same player in 2021 after his return. How teams view his long-term health prognosis will likely determine whether he’s drafted in this range or earlier.
If healthy, Ross offers a lot of upside as a big-bodied possession receiver. He’s not an impressive athlete (2.59 RAS), but does offer terrific size at nearly 6’4, 210. Ross runs pretty good routes overall and displays good ball skills, excelling at the catch point. However, he’s never going to create a ton of separation, and will instead rely on his physicality, catch radius, and contested-catch ability to make plays. That skillset is valuable, particularly for Arthur Smith’s offense, and Ross is a capable and willing blocker in the run game as well. I think the Falcons would be smart to take a shot on Ross’ upside on Day 3.
Round 6, Pick 213: EDGE Charles Wiley, UTSA
Compensatory pick from Alex Mack.
This late, it’s basically “pick your favorite prospect” out of a ton of similarly-ranked guys. I had a chance to talk with this player, Charles Wiley, on Falcoholic Live. After watching some of his tape and checking his athletic testing, Wiley definitely fits the profile of the type of player Atlanta targets late. He actually reminds me a little of 2021 5th-rounder Adetokunbo Ogundeji, who was also a powerful OLB with developmental upside.
Wiley might be a bit more pro-ready than Ogundeji, although he’s not quite as long or bendy. Instead, Wiley is stronger and better against the run, and offers elite straight-line speed and explosiveness. Wiley is a very effective bull rusher who wins with effort and is very good in pursuit. RBs and QBs struggle to outrun him if he breaks free, and he’s tenacious in his fight to make plays. His draft stock could be anywhere in the Day 3 range, but if he’s still available this late, I’d take him here instead of risking him as a UDFA.
What are your thoughts on this mock draft class for the Falcons? Post your own mock drafts in the comments below!