We’re full speed ahead into our coverage of the 2023 NFL Draft, with the Shrine Bowl wrapping up and my live coverage of the upcoming Senior Bowl kicking off on Tuesday. The Atlanta Falcons secured the 8th overall pick and have eight total picks per current projections. Thus far, I’ve stuck to four-round mock drafts while I continued to learn more about the late-Day 3 prospects. No longer: I’m ready to give you the full 7-round experience for all of you who care deeply about who the Falcons might select with the 249th overall pick.
The Senior Bowl will undoubtedly shake up the draft rankings, and we know how important the event is for the Falcons. Over the first two drafts of the Arthur Smith/Terry Fontenot regime, Atlanta has selected ten players who participated in the event. That’s a really big number, and emphasizes the value that these All-Star events have for NFL teams.
But, just for fun, here’s a pre-Senior Bowl mock draft for the Falcons featuring a number of my favorite prospects at the event. I’ll conduct another one at the end of the event to compare how things have changed.
This is the written version, but you can also find the mock draft on all your favorite podcast platforms! You can listen to it directly here:
Round 1, Pick 8: OT Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State
I’ve already mocked two edge rushers to the Falcons (Isaiah Foskey at 15 back in Week 13, and Myles Murphy at 8 last week), so it’s time to try a different approach—although the hire of Ryan Nielsen as the new defensive coordinator probably keeps EDGE as the most likely pick. For this mock I’m going to continue to focus on bolstering the trenches, but this time on the offensive side of the ball.
While I’m still undecided on who my OT1 will be between Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. and Georgia’s Broderick Jones, I’m going to go with Johnson Jr. here. Both Johnson Jr. and Jones possess prototypical NFL size and length along with outstanding athletic traits, but I’m giving Johnson Jr. the edge for the Falcons for a few reasons. For one, Johnson Jr. is currently a better pass protector, and that’s harder to coach up. Second, Johnson Jr. has extensive experience at left guard—where he was an elite player for Ohio State before transitioning to left tackle.
The selection of Johnson Jr., or any top OT for that matter, gives the Falcons a huge talent infusion on the offensive line. Whether McGary is extended, franchise tagged, or allowed to walk in free agency, that’s something the team still needs despite major strides in 2022. Johnson Jr. gives Atlanta a lot of flexibility to get their best five on the field, as he can slot in at left guard or right tackle. He’s also a potential long-term heir to Jake Matthews at left tackle.
Round 2, Pick 45: EDGE Nolan Smith, Georgia
While I elected to pass on a top Georgia prospect at 8, I’m going to chase another one at the top of the second round in edge rusher Nolan Smith. Smith is a bit of a challenging evaluation, as he lacks traditional size at 6’3, 235, but you’d never know it by watching his film. Put simply, Nolan’s play against the run defies logic. He’s a terrific run defender despite his size limitations who is adept at setting the edge and making terrific tackles.
Smith has outstanding athletic traits, with the explosiveness and bend to potentially become an elite speed rusher at the NFL level. That athleticism also translates to plus play in zone coverage and elite range as a pursuit player. Right now, he’s much more polished and effective against the run, as he doesn’t have much of a pass rush plan or many moves at his disposal. I do think Smith could stand to add some weight while maintaining his athletic ability, and while the sky is the limit as a pass rusher, he’s got a lot of growing to do. It’s possible the hire of Ryan Nielsen pushes Atlanta more towards a traditional 4-3 end (like Clemson’s K.J. Henry), but Smith was simply too tempting to pass up here.
Round 3, Pick 76: CB Garrett Williams, Syracuse
The Falcons have A.J. Terrell in place at one corner spot, but the rest of the room is full of question marks. Casey Hayward is a potential cap casualty, while slot starter Isaiah Oliver is a free agent. The other guys (Darren Hall, Dee Alford, Cornell Armstrong) haven’t proven themselves as more than depth options thus far. No matter how you slice it, the Falcons probably need to add another cornerback—whether through free agency or the draft. With a Terrell contract looming and a potential big signing coming at safety (Jessie Bates plz), Atlanta would probably be best served with a draft pick.
Luckily, this is a deep and talented cornerback class that should have starting-caliber talent available throughout Day 2. Syracuse’s Garrett Williams was a potential early-Day 2 pick before suffering an ACL tear early in the 2022 season, and that injury could see him fall a little. Williams is a feisty, competitive corner with a scheme-versatile skillset. He’s got a good frame for the position (6’1, 190) and plays with physicality at the catch point and against the run. Williams has high-end instincts in zone coverage with an aggressive ballhawking mentality. He’s also effective in man coverage, though he has struggled at times with elite deep speed. Williams checks a lot of boxes and would be an ideal fit for the Falcons at this point in the draft.
Round 4, Pick 110: S Jammie Robinson, Florida State
The Falcons have a solid safety duo in Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins, but they’re lacking star power and a physical enforcer in the secondary. I think the “star power” could be addressed with a big signing in free agency, but what about the enforcer? That’s where Florida State’s Jammie Robinson comes in, a player who I touched on in my Senior Bowl safety preview:
Florida State’s Jammie Robinson is a versatile defensive back with experience playing box safety, deep safety, slot corner, and even linebacker. His frame is on the smaller side at 5’11, 200, but Robinson packs a mean punch as a tackler and is a tremendous competitor. Robinson has excellent overall athleticism with high-end short-area quickness and lateral mobility, and has been a primary leader on the Florida State defense. While Robinson has enough range to handle deep responsibilities, I like him better as a split safety or in the box. His instincts and ferocity are maximized closer to the line of scrimmage.
Round 4, Pick 113: WR Jayden Reed, Michigan State
The Falcons have steadily improved their pass-catching corps under Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot, but there’s still room for improvement. Drake London has proven himself as the WR1 and Kyle Pitts should be one of the NFL’s most dynamic tight ends with better QB play, but the team is still lacking a high-end WR2 and a short-yardage, run-after-catch option. While it’s tough to find a WR2 at this point in the draft, the team can definitely still find a run-after-catch specialist. Enter Jayden Reed, who I covered in Sunday’s Senior Bowl receiver preview:
One of the most versatile receiver prospects in the class, Michigan State’s Jayden Reed has been on my radar for the Falcons for awhile. While Reed lacks the size (5’11, 215) and elite athletic traits to be a top pick, he makes up for it with an experienced, well-rounded skillset. Reed has played pretty much everywhere on offense, from outside to the slot, lined up in the backfield, and as a returner on special teams. His best trait is his yards-after-catch ability, where Reed possesses exceptional physicality and contact balance. Reed has terrific hands and is a polished technician, with a detailed and extensive route tree. He’s an ideal WR3 for the Falcons whose best traits fill a big need, while his ability to line up anywhere should help him see the field immediately.
Round 5, Pick 160: LB Dee Winters, TCU
The Falcons linebacker room is a work in progress, and the shift to a Ryan Nielsen defense—which is likely to be similar to the Dennis Allen defense in New Orleans—will likely emphasize the group even further. Veteran starter Rashaan Evans is a free agent who could be re-signed, and the other starting spot is likely to be filled by 2022 second-rounder Troy Andersen. Still, the team needs more talent at the position, particularly in coverage. TCU’s Dee Winters could be an ideal fit on Day 3, and he’s someone I already covered in my Senior Bowl linebacker preview:
Another small linebacker (6’1, 230) and defensive back convert, TCU’s Dee Winters was a team captain and primary leader for TCU during their CFP Championship run in the 2022 season. He piled up 14.5 TFL and 7.5 sacks, showcasing his ability as a lethal blitzer against the run and pass. Winters is a very good athlete with excellent lateral mobility, short-area quickness, and long speed. His DB background shows in his coverage, where he’s effective in both zone and man coverage assignments. As a run defender, Winters is more of a run-and-chase player and will be most successful as a WILL—and this is bolstered by his penetration ability as a blitzer. Winters needs to continue to develop his instincts and decision-making as a run defender, but I think he’ll wind up going on Day 2 due to his leadership traits and coverage ability.
Round 7, Pick 226: DT Jalen Redmond, Oklahoma
I’ve been able to hit most of the Falcons needs so far in this mock, but the one big omission was the interior defensive line. Luckily there’s still some talent to be had late in the draft if Atlanta is willing to roll the dice on a bit of a unique prospect with some off-field issues in his past. Here’s what I had to say about Oklahom’a Jalen Redmond in my Senior Bowl interior defensive line preview:
A unique prospect on the defensive line, Jalen Redmond is a challenging evaluation. A former defensive end, Redmond was asked to bulk up and play all along the interior at Oklahoma. The result is a bit of an “in-between” frame at 6’2, 279 and a player who hasn’t gotten a ton of snaps at a single position. Redmond’s athleticism is exceptional, with a lethal combination of explosiveness and power that has led to some really impressive reps. I love his motor and he’s also got a fairly well-developed set of counters along with good hand usage against the run. However, Redmond has had some off-field issues (DUI in 2020) and will be 24 during his rookie season.
Round 7, Pick 249: WR Tre Tucker, Cincinnati
It’s tough to find contributors in the seventh round at most positions, but wide receiver is one of the exceptions. While the Falcons already added a versatile run-after-catch threat in Jayden Reed, there’s one spot in the lineup that could be questionable if Olamide Zaccheaus doesn’t return in free agency: slot receiver. While it’s not an emphasized role in Arthur Smith’s offense and shouldn’t be considered a primary need, it’s still important enough to warrant consideration. So when Cincinnati’s Tre Tucker—a player Desmond Ridder has extensive experience with—was still available, it’s a pick that makes a ton of sense.
First things first: Tucker is an undersized (5’9, 175) slot-only receiver, which is why he’s still around this late in the draft. Other than that, however, Tucker offers a lot of plus traits. He’s a high-end athlete with deep speed, explosiveness, and very good short-area quickness. Tucker may be small, but he doesn’t shy away from contact and is fearless when running routes over the middle. His catch radius is limited, but his hands are strong and very reliable. The existing chemistry with Ridder shoud help Tucker hit the ground running and give him a very good chance to make the roster and contribute early in his career.
What do you think about this potential draft class for the Falcons? Leave some of your own draft takes in the comments below.