The 2023 NFL offseason is officially in full swing for all 32 teams after the Super Bowl wrapped up on Sunday. That means the official draft order will follow shortly, with the NFL Combine following at the end of the month. For those of us interested in the Atlanta Falcons, however, the offseason started awhile ago.
The first major events on the offseason calendar are now in the books, and I learned a lot from my week covering the Senior Bowl. As always, weigh-ins and performances in Mobile have a significant impact on the draft stock of players—particularly those who were able to differentiate themselves from their peers on Day 2 and Day 3.
Armed with several days of notes and tape study, it’s time for another seven-round mock draft for the Falcons. This one will focus on some of the players who elevated their stock at the Senior Bowl and who could potentially wind up on Atlanta’s radar. The Falcons have shown a clear affinity for Senior Bowl prospects over the first two years of the Arthur Smith/Terry Fontenot regime, with 10 players selected so far.
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Round 1, Pick 8: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
The Falcons would be wise to consider all options at pick 8, as this year’s draft class is deep but not particularly top-heavy. I know the overwhelming fan opinion is that Atlanta must draft a defensive lineman with their first pick, but boxing yourself into a corner like that is very unwise. Instead, the Falcons should sit back and see how the board falls. In this mock, one of the top cornerbacks in the class was still on the board while three edge rushers went before this pick.
While it’s possible I’ll have Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon as my CB1 when my final grades are done, I expect Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez to be the first DB taken in the 2023 NFL Draft. The reasons are obvious: he’s got a prototypical frame at 6’2, 200 with terrific length, and looks like an elite athlete at the position. On tape, Gonzalez took a significant step forward in 2022 after transferring to Oregon from Colorado. He’s a scheme-versatile talent with the movement skills to excel in man, and the instincts to thrive in zone. His ballhawking ability also improved markedly with 4 INTs and 7 PDs.
The only concerns with Gonzalez are his lack of physicality—he’s a mediocre tackler with a thin frame who could stand to gain a bit of good weight and improve his run support ability—and the fact that he’s only got one year of elite tape to his name. Still, Gonzalez has clearly flashed the ability to become a scheme-diverse lockdown CB1. Pairing him with A.J. Terrell could potentially give Atlanta one of the best young cornerback duos in the NFL for years to come.
Round 2, Pick 45: DT Siaki Ika, Baylor
Heading into 2022, I thought Baylor’s Siaki Ika would establish himself as a late-first rounder thanks to his outstanding combination of size (6’4, 350), athleticism, and continued development as both a pass rusher and run defender. Instead, Ika took a step back as a run defender and is currently a massive projection. But make no mistake: Ika is that rare nose tackle who offers legitimate three-down upside. I’d even go so far as to say that Ika is currently a better pass rusher than run defender.
This is a player who needs a clear development plan, but with Atlanta’s recent coaching changes he could be exactly the type of project that Ryan Nielsen would take on. Ika is a dynamic athlete for his size, but is carrying bad weight. I think a concerted effort to drop ~20 pounds and play in the 330-340 range would enhance his pass rush and give him more juice against the run. The flashes of plus play against the run are there, but Ika currently gets washed by double teams due to a lack of length. While it might sound counterintuitive, I think Ika is a better fit as a shade-nose in a 4-3 as opposed to a true two-gapping 0T in a 3-4.
There’s a lot of work to be done here, but Ika has enormous upside. In the past I generally shied away from mocking project defensive linemen to the Falcons, but Nielsen’s background in consistently developing these players gives me renewed hope for a selection like this.
Round 3, Pick 76: EDGE K.J. Henry, Clemson
The polar opposite of the Ika pick, Clemson’s K.J. Henry is a polished, NFL-ready power rusher on the edge who offers tremendous ability against the run. He’s got excellent size and length at 6’4, 260 and is battle-tested in the trenches. Henry’s hand usage and block shedding ability against the run are elite, and he’s quick to diagnose and shut down plays. He plays with a high motor and fiery competitive demeanor, and although he’s a fairly average athlete, has enough juice to push the pocket and create disruption.
Henry is not a dynamic pass rusher, and compared to his toolset against the run, his pass rush counters are surprisingly lackluster. There could be some untapped upside there if he further develops his pass rush plan, but Henry’s value currently comes from his ability against the run. He’s an immediate impact starter on early downs—a role that the Falcons desperately need to upgrade—and provides enough as a power rusher that he’s not a liability on passing downs. Henry is a high-floor value pick late on Day 2.
Round 4, Pick 110: LB Ivan Pace Jr., Cincinnati
One of the most impressive players at the Senior Bowl, Cincinnati’s Ivan Pace Jr. immediately quieted concerns about his size by dominating in both the practices and the games. Yes, the size is something to keep in mind: at a little over 5’10, 230, he’s certainly not a prototypical NFL linebacker. But the production is undeniable: Pace had the third-most TFL in college football with 20.5, and added 9 sacks as well.
Pace is clearly an elite athlete at the position, and plays with a fiery “all-out” demeanor that leads to him always finding himself around the ball. His best trait might be his burst, as Pace’s ability to close on opponents, shoot gaps as a blitzer, and fly to the ball in coverage appears special. He’s also a physical hitter and a reliable finisher despite his size. The concerns with Pace are some over-aggressive tendencies, struggles to shed blocks due to a lack of length, and limitations in man coverage against tight ends. I’m willing to overlook those things in a Day 3 pick, and firmly believe Pace can be a high-end starting linebacker in the NFL if he’s deployed properly.
Round 4, Pick 113: OT Blake Freeland, BYU
Until we hear otherwise, I’m expecting Kaleb McGary to return to Atlanta in 2023—either on the franchise tag or on an extension. In that case, the Falcons would be wise to invest in a swing tackle/developmental starter later in the draft. BYU’s Blake Freeland got off to a very rough start at the Senior Bowl, but I loved how he took coaching and applied it very quickly. After struggling with his punch timing and getting out-leveraged in 1-on-1s on Tuesday, Freeland rebounded in a big way on the final two days of practice.
Freeland’s size immediately stands out: at 6’8, 305, Freeland has outstanding length and knows how to use it to his advantage. He’s a dominant run blocker who has flourished in a wide zone attack thanks to his strength, length, and athleticism, making him a clear fit for the Falcons. As a pass protector, Freeland is a smart player who knows how to use his length and strength to stifle rushers. Leverage will always be an issue with Freeland, as will some lateral mobility limitations thanks to his massive stature. I think Freeland can immediately stick as the swing tackle in Atlanta thanks to his run-blocking prowess while Dwayne Ledford works to perfect his technique in pass protection.
Round 5, Pick 160: WR Jonathan Mingo, Ole Miss
One of the pleasant surprises for me in Mobile—he didn’t even make it into my “receivers to watch” column—Jonathan Mingo was consistently impressive throughout the week of Senior Bowl practices. At over 6’1, 226, Mingo is a thickly-built receiver who looks more like an Arthur Smith running back. That carries over to his game as well, as Mingo is a dangerous run-after-catch threat thanks to his agility and physicality. He’s a very tough tackle, particularly for smaller DBs, and is effective at beating press thanks to his strength at the line. That also carries over to his run blocking, where Mingo would definitely fit in with the Falcons.
While Mingo is a good overall athlete, I don’t think he possesses anything more than average long speed. Instead, Mingo offers an enticing package of traits as a short-to-intermediate receiver who can make contested catches and break tackles for additional yardage. Atlanta could certainly use a receiver like that to help round out the depth chart, and Mingo’s prowess in the run game should help him get on the field early in his rookie season.
Round 7, Pick 226: RB Evan Hull, Northwestern
While the Falcons running back room looks to be in good shape with Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson in 2023, the depth could certainly use a talent infusion. Northwestern’s Evan Hull was a standout at the Senior Bowl who made a ton of plays as a receiver out of the backfield, and that’s a niche that Atlanta could certainly stand to add to their backfield. He’s not just a receiving specialist though, as Hull is a good all-around back at 5’10, 214.
While he’s not overly dynamic, big, or physical, Hull checks all the boxes and is capable of executing anything asked of him. He’s got good vision, is decisive with the ball in his hands, and possesses strong contact balance to create in short-yardage situations. Hull is a well-developed route runner with tremendous hands and above-average movement skills. He’s also a capable, if relatively untested, pass blocker. Other than his receiving ability, Hull lacks standout traits, but I like his skillset as a potential do-it-all RB3 in Atlanta.
Round 7, Pick 249: S Daniel Scott, Cal
Another player who was a pleasant surprise at the Senior Bowl, Cal’s Daniel Scott was one of the most consistent safeties in coverage throughout the week. With good size at over 6’0, 210, Scott showed off his athleticism and coverage instincts by notching interceptions and making plays on the ball every single day. He was also one of the best safeties in man coverage during the 1-on-1 drills, showing an ability to match up with both tight ends and receivers effectively.
On tape, those traits continue to stand out. Scott is a rangy safety on the back end who has also played in the slot on occasion, and his coverage instincts and ball skills are a big plus. So why is he going so late in the draft? For starters, Scott will be 25 during his rookie season and will be one of the oldest rookies in the NFL. On tape, however, Scott’s biggest issue is his tackling. It’s downright appalling at times. His technique is really bad and he doesn’t show the physicality you’d expect from a safety. I don’t think it’s a lack of effort, but it’ll have to be cleaned up for Scott to make it in the NFL. Still, for the price of a late-seventh round pick, I think Scott’s coverage ability is worth taking a swing on.
What do you think about this potential draft class for the Falcons? Leave some of your own draft takes in the comments below.