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2023 NFL Draft: Walking through Falcons’ first-round scenarios

Fans are eagerly awaiting the selection. What route might the Falcons choose?

NFL: APR 25 2019 NFL Draft Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tomorrow night, the draft will finally be here, and with it clarity for the team’s plans with their top ten selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. That will be welcome after yet another busy offseason where the team’s future has been debated hotly and a variety of potential picks have been tossed out over the past few months for the team’s No. 8 selection.

This is an attempt to cover off every draft scenario the Falcons might engage in on Thursday night, at least broadly. These are sorted in rough order of how likely I think they are, which is to say your mileage may vary, but should help give an idea of how many different directions the team can elect to go in tomorrow.

Falcons stay at No. 8 and draft an EDGE

Players impacted: Arnold Ebiketie, Calais Campbell, DeAngelo Malone, Bud Dupree, Lorenzo Carter

If Atlanta goes this route, they’ll add a top-tier talent to a group that is far more crowded than it was a couple of months ago. Ebiketie and Campbell will likely retain major roles, but Dupree, Carter, and Malone will see a potentially drastic reduction in their snaps for the 2023 season. The Falcons will boast, if everything goes well, one of the more talented edge rusher rotations they’ve had in recent memory, and they’ll have a quality young core with Ebiketie, Malone, and the 2023 rookie going forward. Given that they’re rumored to be interested in Nolan Smith, Tyree Wilson, and Lukas Van Ness, this still feels like a very strong possibility to me.

Falcons stay at No. 8 and draft a cornerback

Players impacted: Jeff Okudah, Mike Hughes, Dee Alford, Darren Hall, Cornell Armstrong

A.J. Terrell is locked in on the top of the depth chart in Atlanta, but everyone else will find their roles impacted if the Falcons pick a player like Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez. The team may elect to ease the rookie a bit, but chances are good that the player they select will start. The question would be whether Okudah remains outside with the rookie taking nickel snaps to begin the year, which would push everyone else into a reserve role, or whether Okudah would duke it out with that player for the starting role this summer. Either way, the Falcons would be counting on having a tremendous starting tandem for the long haul.

Falcons stay at No. 8 and draft an offensive lineman

Players impacted: Jalen Mayfield, Matt Hennessy, Justin Shaffer

Peter Skoronski from Northwestern seems the likeliest choice here, but Paris Johnson from Ohio State is also a strong possibility. If he was drafted, he would be the odds-on favorite to be the starting left guard in Week 1, pushing everyone else down the depth chart or potentially off the roster entirely. The short-term play here is that the rookie would take on left guard and give the Falcons a tremendous guard tandem, something Terry Fontenot saw his team benefit from when he was in New Orleans’ front office. The long-term play is that if Jake Matthews or Kaleb McGary exit in the next couple of years, you could move that player to tackle or elect to keep them at guard if they thrive there. Either way, it’s an investment in having the strongest possible offensive line to protect Desmond Ridder and pave the way for Tyler Allgeier and company.

Falcons stay at No. 8 and draft RB Bijan Robinson

Players impacted: Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson, Avery Williams, Caleb Huntley

Drafting Robinson would give the Falcons one of the most potent rushing attacks in the NFL, and Robinson’s utility as a pass catcher should boost their short passing game. Allgeier will be RB2 for this team and should still be looking at 10+ touches per game, but Patterson may shift to a larger role as a receiver and Williams and maybe Huntley will be on hand in case of emergencies. The Falcons will attempt to ease the burden on Desmond Ridder by boasting the kind of rushing attack few teams can boast, and potentially give them one of the best running backs in the league over the next few seasons to go with a very potent, physical runner in Allgeier. The question is whether the Falcons, who had one of the league’s most effective rushing attacks without Robinson a year ago, are willing to make that level of investment in an increasingly devalued position; I suspect they are not.

Falcons trade down

Players impacted: TBD

With all the buzz about moving down, this scenario is only this low because it takes two to tango, and there are no guarantee the Falcons will find suitors for the No. 8 pick. There are too many potential variables here to sketch out every scenario, but the net effect is that the Falcons will still land a useful starting-caliber player in the first round, with the opportunity cost associated with not picking at No. 8 and the added benefit of additional draft capital now and likely in the future.

If the Falcons feel comfortable that they can get a top-tier player a little later on—Bijan Robinson would seem to top the list, but Lukas Van Ness or Nolan Smith are also options in the 15—it’s a possibility. There should be plenty of talent available at 8 that will be intriguing for Atlanta and the team needs teams interested in moving up to get this done, but the reports about their interest in moving back are tough to ignore.

Falcons stay at No. 8 and draft a quarterback

Players impacted: Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke

It’s not an impossibility, but it still seems unlikely. The Falcons did not need to name Ridder the starter or add Heinicke with a clear charge to be the backup if they had any interest in drafting a quarterback, and all indications are that their room is complete (with Logan Woodside potentially hitting the practice squad and Feleipe Franks as the de facto third quarterback). Taken at their word or by the sum of their actions, Atlanta’s out on quarterbacks.

That said, if the Falcons have fallen in love with one of these options, say C.J. Stroud or Will Levis, and they do fall to No. 8, it’s possible we’ll get the curveball. The Falcons would likely look to flip Heinicke or Ridder in the aftermath of this scenario, with the remaining quarterback potentially earning starts early on while the team brings their prized rookie along. If we also take this team at their word about best player available and no spot on the roster being truly sewn up, we have to consider the possibility that the best player available is a quarterback for the Falcons.

Falcons stay at No. 8 and draft a wide receiver

Players impacted: Mack Hollins, Scotty Miller, Jared Bernhardt, Frank Darby

I view this as a very unlikely outcome, but let’s consider it nonetheless. Getting TCU’s Quentin Johnson would set the Falcons up with a pair of huge targets on the outside, and it would push Mack Hollins to a role as a useful reserve with blocking chops rather than the team’s No. 2 option. Miller would presumably still man the slot at times, with Hollins doing the same when the Falcons just want to give teams fits with large lads. Bernhardt, Darby, and others would be pushing for reserve roles. Atlanta’s thought process here would be to give Desmond Ridder as many capable targets as possible, with Drake London, the rookie, Kyle Pitts, Hollins, Miller, and Jonnu Smith providing a formidable group.

Falcons trade up for a top pass rusher

Players impacted: Arnold Ebiketie, Calais Campbell, DeAngelo Malone, Bud Dupree, Lorenzo Carter

This is the only other trade-up scenario I can really see happening, though a quick jump up for Bijan Robinson or a cornerback like Christian Gonzalez is a very remote possibility. Will Anderson and Tyree Wilson would be the names to watch here, and this would be about the Falcons trying to lock in an elite pass rusher to push a retooling defense over the hump in the years to come. The likely cost of doing so and the question marks around whether Anderson or Wilson are really those kinds of players means this is, despite the many mock scenarios outlining it, an unlikely sort of outcome.

Falcons trade up for a quarterback

Players impacted: Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke

This seems even more unlikely, for the reasons above and the added costs of trading up to snag a quarterback. The team would have to view one of the signal callers in this draft as being so likely to be a high-end quarterback that they’d be willing to surrender a future first round pick and additional capital to go to them, and they’d have to view Ridder as an untenable long-term option at quarterback despite everything they’ve said to this point.

That said, it’s one of the only reasons you’d move up significantly in this draft, so it’s here in case the Falcons have a big move up their sleeve. I can’t see it happening.

What scenario do you see unfolding on Thursday night?