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Falcons mock draft 2023: Post-Free Agency Edition

With the first wave of NFL free agency in the books, how has the Falcons draft strategy changed? We take a look at a potential 7-round mock draft scenario for Atlanta in the 2023 NFL Draft.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL NOV 19 Illinois at Michigan Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2023 NFL Draft is getting closer and closer, with the most of the major pre-draft events behind us—including the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. We’ve still got Pro Days and official visits trickling in, but evaluations are nearly complete. The next biggest factor in the pre-draft process is NFL free agency, where teams can often address many of their biggest needs with veterans available on the open market.

Finally armed with salary cap space for the first time in years, the Atlanta Falcons were busy over the first week of free agency. Many of the biggest needs, including DT and OT, have been addressed with additions or re-signings. There’s still a lot of room for improvement and young talent on this Falcons roster, and that’s where my latest full Falcons mock draft comes in.

2023 MOCK DRAFTS: Week 13 | January | Pre-Senior Bowl | Post-Senior Bowl | Post-Combine | Post-Free Agency

Today’s mock takes a look at how things have (or haven’t) changed for the Falcons in the 2023 NFL Draft, based on their remaining needs after free agency. I’ll be taking you through all seven rounds and all seven picks. Which, by the way, are currently the following:

Atlanta Falcons 2023 NFL Draft picks

  • Round 1, Pick 8
  • Round 2, Pick 44
  • Round 3, Pick 75
  • Round 4, Pick 110 from Titans (Julio Jones trade)
  • Round 4, Pick 113
  • Round 5, Pick 159 from Jaguars (Calvin Ridley trade)
  • Round 7, Pick 224 from Raiders (Bryan Edwards trade)

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:

You can also watch the video version of the mock draft on our YouTube channel, or through the embed below:

Round 1, Pick 8: CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

The Falcons have been busy in free agency thus far, but their early moves have only really knocked one position down the board: offensive line. It’s still very possible the team considers a top prospect who can play guard and/or tackle (Paris Johnson Jr., Peter Skoronski), but I think it’s a little less likely. Right now, based on who is likely to fall to 8, I think Atlanta is most likely to end up with a cornerback. Since I’ve already sent Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez to the Falcons, we’ll go with Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon this time around.

At first glance, Witherspoon is not as physically impressive as Gonzalez. He did not work out at the Combine, so the athletic testing is still a bit of a question mark, and came in at a rather average 5’11.5, 181 with decent length (31” arms, 42nd percentile). However, pop on the tape and you’ll see why some have Witherspoon as CB1: he’s simply outstanding on the field, with phenomenal instincts in both man and zone coverage and a nasty, physical style of play. I have no questions about Witherspoon’s technique or ability in coverage, his tape is that good.

He doesn’t have the sky-high elite CB1 ceiling of Gonzalez due to his average size profile, but Witherspoon is undoubtedly more pro-ready and is a much more impactful and polished player at this stage. Next to an existing high-end CB1 in A.J. Terrell, you could argue that going with the more polished player in Witherspoon makes a ton of sense if Atlanta is looking to immediately improve their secondary. Witherspoon is a tone-setter who will bring a ton of competitiveness to the group, and he’s absolutely worthy of a top-10 selection.

Round 2, Pick 44: EDGE Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State

While Atlanta added an impact starter on the interior with David Onyemata, the edge group is still in need of a big talent infusion. Lorenzo Carter’s return and the signing of hybrid LB/EDGE Kaden Elliss will help, but Atlanta needs another impact player to build out the rotation. A true star EDGE isn’t walking through that door unless Will Anderson Jr. or Tyree Wilson fall to 8, so the best the Falcons can do is stock the cupboard with plus complementary pieces who can all bring something special to the table. That’s where Kansas State’s Felix Anudike-Uzomah comes in.

Anudike-Uzomah has been a consistently disruptive pass rushing specialist over the past two years, with 11.0 sacks in 2021 and another 8.5 sacks in 2022. The first thing that stands out watching him is how advanced he is in terms of his pass rushing arsenal and his ability to execute a pass rush plan. It’s really rare to see that from such a young player, particularly someone with just two years as a starter. He’s got a solid frame at 6’3, 255 is explosive off the snap. There’s some technical work necessary as a run defender, but none of it is alarming and should be correctable with coaching. Anudike-Uzomah is likely to be a pass rush specialist as a rookie, but could grow into a full-time starter by his second season and give Atlanta a trio of talented young edge rushers.

Round 3, Pick 75: S Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M

I went into this mock expecting to take a receiver at pick 75, but the options were rather underwhelming. Instead, I went with the best player left on the board in Texas A&M safety Antonio Johnson. You may be a bit confused as to why I’d target Johnson when Atlanta just signed Jessie Bates III to a big deal, but once you learn Johnson’s game, I think you’ll understand. Atlanta needs an impact player in the nickel, and right now the spot is probably going to be manned by veteran cornerback Mike Hughes. Hughes hasn’t been great in the slot historically, and his size makes his ability to matchup with tight ends and big slot players dicey.

Johnson is perfect for that job with a 6’2, 198 frame and high-end long speed (4.52s 40). He played a versatile role for Texas A&M, taking a lot of snaps as a slot defender and box safety. Johnson is a physical player and a big asset in run support, and he’s also very comfortable matching up with tight ends and “big slot” receivers in coverage. His competitive fire and high-energy style of play lead to a lot of production. I think he needs a specialized role in the NFL, as Johnson is far better with the play in front of him and should be kept as close to the line of scrimmage as possible. Atlanta’s defense would really benefit from adding Johnson’s physicality and versatile skillset to the secondary, and he’s a terrific value here.

Round 4, Pick 110: LB Daiyan Henley, Washington State

The defensive talent infusion continues with one of my favorite players from the Senior Bowl. Washington State’s Daiyan Henley took control of the huddle in Mobile and was one of the best linebackers in attendance. He also impressed at the Combine with an 8.55 RAS, including a 4.54s 40 (94th percentile) and 10’5” broad jump (93rd percentile). Atlanta added a hybrid player in Kaden Elliss, but still need more help at linebacker. Here’s how I described Henley’s game in my Senior Bowl preview:

One of the biggest risers this year, Daiyan Henley spent his first five (!) seasons at Nevada. A former wide receiver and defensive back, Henley had only played two years at linebacker before transferring to Washington State for the 2022 season. The increase in competition didn’t slow him down at all, and Henley responded with his most productive year: 106 total tackles, 12.0 TFL, and 4.0 sacks. The athleticism immediately pops off the tape when watching Henley, as do his instincts in coverage from his former positions. He’s also a powerful and eager tackler, which helped make the LB transition much easier. Henley is a bit on the small side at 6’2, 232, and will likely need to continue developing as a linebacker, but the upside is there for a versatile long-term starter.

Round 4, Pick 113: OT Warren McClendon, Georgia

Full disclosure: this pick was originally Coastal Carolina NT Jerrod Clark. Given the recent reinstatement of Eddie Goldman and the potential signing of Calais Campbell in the near future, I elected to change this pick to the offensive trenches instead. While Atlanta did just re-sign swing tackle Germain Ifedi for another year, they’d be wise to continue to invest in building the depth up front. Georgia’s Warren McClendon is a perfect early-Day 3 fit as a versatile lineman who can play out at tackle or on the interior.

McClendon came in a little on the small side for an OT at 6’4, 306, but does have tremendous length with 34.5” arms. A battle-tested three-year starter with experience going up against some of the toughest defensive linemen college football has to offer, McClendon lacks high-end traits but checks all the boxes of a versatile NFL reserve. He’s a polished pass protector with enough athleticism and power to create holes in the run game. McClendon’s ceiling is probably only that of a solid NFL starter, but he’s a reliable player and a good pickup at this point in the draft.

Round 5, Pick 159: WR Andrei Iosivas, Princeton

In this scenario, the wide receivers went off the board much earlier than expected, so the Falcons needed to pivot to a different strategy. Instead of getting an instant-impact player, Atlanta targets a developmental prospect with sky-high potential in Princeton’s Andrei Iosivas. Iosivas disappointed a bit against the higher competition at the Senior Bowl, but turned in a spectacular Combine performance with a 9.92 RAS.

Iosivas is a size/speed weapon at over 6’3, 205 who ran an incredible 4.43s 40. He’s also incredibly explosive with 92nd percentile jumps and possesses excellent lateral mobility—there isn’t a single athletic or size box he doesn’t check. Iosivas is a pretty limited route runner but is good at the routes he does run, so I think there’s hope that he can adjust to a more complete tree in time. I also think he’s a bit inconsistent in terms of his hands—he’s got some highlight-reel grabs and some frustrating drops on film. The potential is there for Iosivas to turn into a capable NFL WR2 in time, it just may take a year or two.

Round 7, Pick 224: RB Deneric Prince, Tulsa

The Falcons need depth at running back with Damien Williams released and Caleb Huntley’s health a significant question mark heading into the 2023 season. We could still see a veteran signing here (and I’d be very surprised if there were no additional moves), but the final round of the draft is always an excellent place to take shots on high-upside runners. Atlanta needs a dynamic runner to pair with the more bruising style of Tyler Allgeier, and Tulsa’s Deneric Prince tested out as the most athletic RB in the class with a 9.87 RAS.

Prince’s testing was all the more impressive given his size: at nearly 6’0, 216, Prince is far from a change-of-pace back. I won’t claim to have watched much of his film, but what I saw was actually a prospect who runs with a fair amount of power and contact balance to complement his athleticism. Prince needs to refine his vision and his footwork as there’s a lot of wasted movement in his game at the moment, and his effectiveness as a third-down option is questionable due to limited passing-game production and mediocre blocking. Still, I’d happily spend the late pick to make sure Atlanta is the one to bring him in to training camp.

What do you think about this potential draft class for the Falcons? Leave some of your own draft takes in the comments below.