What are the Falcons planning in the 2023 NFL Draft? If we knew we’d tell you, but like everyone else, we’re looking at past choices, interest and visits, and the potentially insightful tidbits that insiders are passing along to us. Sitting at #8 in the first round and with plenty of picks, Atlanta could take this upcoming top pick and the larger class in a number of directions.
A couple of directions seem less likely today than they did a month or even a week ago. With the trade for Jeff Okudah, the Falcons have stacked up enough talent at cornerback (and enough players, period) that it would be a surprise if they went with a corner at #8. Ditto quarterback, where the team has thrown its public support behind Desmond Ridder and signed Taylor Heinicke early enough in free agency to seemingly quash talk of the team drafting someone in the top ten at the most pivotal position.
Still, our assumptions are only assumptions, while Terry Fontenot and company try to line things up for a couple of weeks from now. A recent report from ESPN’s Matt Miller, part of a larger article with ESPN’s Jordan Reid concerning draft scuttlebutt for all 32 teams, challenges the quarterback assumption slightly and raises a couple of intriguing positional possibilities for the draft’s second day. Let’s take a quick look at what Miller had to say.
Falcons like safety, wide receiver on draft’s second day
To quote Miller:
“The source also mentioned wide receiver and safety as areas Atlanta will attack on Day 2 of the draft. Brian Branch (Alabama) is the top-ranked safety in the class and won’t be on the board long if he makes it to Day 2. Atlanta could use him in the slot or on the back end next to new signee Jessie Bates III.”
The safety bit fits for a couple of reasons. The Falcons have spent quite a bit of time with Branch and Florida State safety Jammie Robinson and have been linked to other draft-eligible safeties, so the interest piece would appear to fit. The need might as well if you assume the Falcons will want to deploy three safeties at times and mix-and-match who is on the field, given that their depth chart beyond Bates, Richie Grant, and Jaylinn Hawkins at safety is quite barren at the moment. Snagging a player like Branch to pair with Bates and Grant would give the Falcons one borderline elite safety and a pair of potentially very good young ones, allowing Ryan Nielsen to get creative and enjoy the kind of stellar safety play he often had in New Orleans.
Wide receiver makes sense because the position is still a bit starved for talent. Drake London is good already and may be great sooner than later, but Mack Hollins is a stopgap second receiver with terrific blocking chops, Scotty Miller a speedy option who has never had more than 33 catches in a season, and...well, then you’re just betting on upside with Jared Bernhardt, Frank Darby, and so forth. Given that Hollins and Miller are useful players but not world beaters and are both only under contract for one year, getting another receiver with upside who can play opposite London over the long haul is a smart move.
The Falcons have reportedly used six of their top 30 visits to meet with receivers, including potential second day selections Rashee Rice and Jayden Reed, so the interest matches the need here. Rice would not surprise me in the slightest in the third round.
These seem like good projections and/or guesses, in other words, and if the team doesn’t address either spot on the second day I’d bet pretty heavily they’ll do so on the third.
Falcons taking a hard look at quarterbacks, remain unlikely to draft one
That’s my takeaway from Miller’s brief notes:
“Sources close to the Falcons say they are taking a serious look at the quarterbacks in the class, but the team is comfortable with 2023 third-rounder Desmond Ridder under center. According to the source, who has knowledge of their plans, the Falcons would need a ‘dream scenario’ to take one of the quarterbacks in the top 10.”
Miller goes on to say his read on the situation is that the Falcons would snap up Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud if they fell, especially all the way to #8, which seems like an unlikely scenario to say the least. That appears to be just a guess, though.
Again, the Falcons have certainly shown interest in the top quarterbacks in this class, using top 30 visits on Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Kentucky’s Will Levis. If they absolutely fell in love with one of those players and they made it to #8, I’m not going to be the one to rule out the team taking them. I just don’t believe they’re going to make a move up for one of those two players, and it seems unlikely that any of them are going to make it to the Falcons in the first place.
Atlanta could still be playing a chess game with their decision to anoint Ridder and bring in Taylor Heinicke, trying to convince teams that they’re not in the market for a rookie quarterback, but that seems overly convoluted for a team that simply could’ve sat out free agency and traded up to the third pick to ensure they got a top option. Barring a big fall for a top player—and maybe even if that fall happens—the Falcons seem set at quarterback for 2023.
I’d consider these worthwhile nuggets rather than a concrete indication that the Falcons are planning on hitting safety and wide receiver in rounds two and three, especially given that they haven’t shown a strong inclination to attack the draft by positions of need. Still, their pre-draft interest in both positions means Miller has a good shot at being correct when the dust settles at the end of the month.
If this is the case, which receiver and safety prospects are you most interested in for the draft’s second day?