Heading into Week 14, the Falcons are sitting at 4-8 having just blown another opportunity to upset the Saints due to Dirk Koetter’s ineptitude. It’s a sad state of affairs for an Atlanta offense loaded with talent, but it’s what we’ve come to expect from this coaching staff.
The good news is that loss, coupled with some other teams around Atlanta winning, has pushed the Falcons up the projected draft order to 8th overall. I still expect the team to finish around 6-10, though even that is not a given considering the difficulty of the remaining schedule. One way or another, Atlanta is likely to wind up right around where they are now—give or take a few spots. With that in mind, let’s get to another mock draft scenario.
There are a number of paths the Falcons could take with their draft, and much depends on their decision at GM and HC. It could be a QB for the future, or a defense-heavy approach to “win now”. Both options are viable and make sense—and in part will depend on the players available at each spot. For instance, in the Week 13 Edition of my mock draft, I had the Falcons taking a defense-heavy “win now” approach at the top of the draft. I’ll be going in a bit of a different direction today…
Round 1, Pick 8: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
With the Falcons slightly higher in the draft order, they’re now in prime position to select a QB of the future if they so choose. In this scenario (with no trades, obviously), Atlanta had both Trey Lance and Zach Wilson on the board to choose from. With the knowledge that this player will have 1-2 seasons to develop before being forced to play, the decision was pretty easy for me. I chose Trey Lance, and I wrote about why he’s a tantalizing prospect in my QB prospect watch:
If you’re looking for the ultimate boom or bust QB prospect in this draft class, it’s probably North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. Lance burst onto the scene with an incredible season in 2019, where he threw for 2786 yards with a 66.9% completion rate and 28 TDs to 0 INTs. Despite those impressive passing numbers, he was even more dangerous with his legs: Lance put up 1100 yards (6.5 YPC) and 14 TDs on the ground to add to his passing totals.
Lance is an exceptional athlete with the build of an NFL QB at 6’3, 224—basically the same size as Justin Fields. He’s got some really impressive throws on tape and looks to have a very strong arm. Lance can hit all areas of the field with accuracy and velocity and clearly has NFL capability. The issue is that he has all of one season to his name, as NDSU played just a single game in 2020. Lance almost certainly needs a season or two to acclimate to the NFL due to his lack of experience, but that could actually make him a perfect fit for the Falcons. With Ryan likely to stick around through 2021 at minimum, Lance could have the time he needs to develop into a high-end NFL QB.
Round 2, Pick 40: EDGE Hamilcar Rashed Jr., Oregon State
By taking a QB at the top of the draft, the Falcons hurt their ability to add multiple impact defenders in 2021. But they can still add a quality player at either EDGE or CB, and in this scenario, the value at EDGE was drastically better—a whopping 8 CBs went in Round 1. Oregon State’s Hamilcar Rashed Jr. is one of my favorite Day 2 prospects and would make an excellent addition to Atlanta’s defensive line.
Rashed Jr. has good size and length at 6’4, 238 and combines it with very good athleticism. He’s explosive off the snap, has sufficient power to threaten with a bull rush, and plenty of bend to turn the corner. Rashed Jr. is a very well-rounded EDGE prospect who has been dominant against both the run and pass, and can be relied upon on all 3 downs. His 2019 season was magnificent (14.0 sacks, 22.5 TFL), but a shortened 2020 hasn’t allowed him to replicate it. Rashed Jr. needs to refine his hand usage and continue to learn additional pass rush moves and counters, but he’s got a very good ceiling for an early Day 2 pick.
Round 3, Pick 72: RB Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
The offensive rebuild continues with an investment in the future at RB. Atlanta desperately needs an infusion of talent at the position and a new starter, as both Todd Gurley and Brian Hill are likely to be gone in 2021. Chuba Hubbard could be a perfect fit for the Falcons in the third round, and I talked about why in my RB prospect watch:
One of the top RB prospects from the 2019 class, Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard put together an incredible 2094-yard season (at 6.4 YPC) with 21 TDs last year. He elected to return to school, in part due to the incredible number of talented RBs coming out in that class, but it seems like that may have been a poor decision. Hubbard has been having a down year in 2020, in part due to injury, and that has hurt his draft stock.
That could be a good thing for the Falcons, however, who likely need to wait until Day 2 or early Day 3 to select a RB. Hubbard’s film reminds me a bit of a bigger, more athletic Devonta Freeman. His vision, patience, and elusiveness are easily his best traits, and he excels in a zone scheme attack. Hubbard does have good size at 6’0, 207 and pairs it with quality athleticism, including the long speed to break off big gains. His notable weaknesses are pass protection—where he needs more development—and his receiving ability. Hubbard simply isn’t a natural pass catcher and will need to work to improve in this area to be a true 3-down back in the NFL.
Round 4, Pick 109: S Richie Grant, UCF
With Ricardo Allen a likely cap casualty and Damontae Kazee a free agent, the Falcons need to invest in a potential starter at the position. That could be difficult given the way this draft started, but luckily the 2021 safety class is exceptionally deep. UCF’s Richie Grant would be a tremendous value pick for Atlanta early on Day 3, and I talked about his skillset in my safety prospect watch:
UCF’s Richie Grant could likely have been a late Day 2 pick in the 2020 draft, but chose to return to school for his senior season. Grant is a high-end free safety prospect with excellent range and instincts in single high coverage. His ball skills are impressive and he’s also shown the ability to matchup in man coverage from the slot. While Grant isn’t overly physical, his tackling technique is sound and he rarely misses. Much like Cisco, Grant can be over-aggressive with trying to jump routes and reading the QB—leading to some mistakes in coverage. Grant looks the part of a starting NFL free safety and could be good fit for the Falcons on Day 2.
Round 5, Pick 148: CB Tyreke Johnson, Ohio State
In this scenario, the Falcons missed out on an impact CB early in the draft and are forced to look for diamonds in the rough on Day 3. This probably necessitates the re-signing of Darqueze Dennard and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, both of which shouldn’t be prohibitively expensive in 2021. There are no slam-dunk prospects in the fifth round, but there are players with upside like Ohio State CB Tyreke Johnson.
A former 5-star recruit, Johnson never really seized a major role at Ohio State. That’s not entirely an indictment of him, considering he had to play behind a line of first round picks in Denzel Ward, Jeffrey Okudah, Damon Arnette, and even Shaun Wade this year. That being said, Johnson has never really stood out. He’s a terrific athlete with prototypical size—all the potential is there for him to become an impact player. But the question remains: why hasn’t he? Maybe a quality NFL coaching staff can find a way to unlock those gifts, and that’s a worthwhile gamble in the fifth round.
Round 5, Pick 178: WR Justyn Ross, Clemson
The Falcons need help in their WR corps, particularly with the depth behind Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Jones is getting older and has struggled with injuries in 2020, but Ridley and Russell Gage have been about as good as you could hope. However, with Jones off the field, there is a distinct lack of size on the outside. Clemson’s Justyn Ross could be the perfect complement—and could be a potential steal for teams willing to give him time to heal from his surgery.
Ross has had two exceptional seasons for Clemson, including a freshman year where he functioned as a deep threat (averaging an incredible 21.7 YPR to go along with 1000 yards and 9 TDs) and a sophomore season where he was more of a possession receiver (66 receptions, 865 yards, 13.1 YPR, 8 TD). He’s got tremendous size at 6’3, 205 and pairs it with excellent physicality, both at the catch point and as a blocker. Ross has good long speed and is great at tracking the ball downfield, but has struggled with drops at times. He’s not a tremendous separator and isn’t particularly sudden or fluid—he wins with length and strength. Ross could miss time even into 2021—it’s not fully known how long his recovery will take—but if there’s a chance he can be what he was at Clemson again, that’s a total steal in the late fifth round.
Round 5, Pick 179: OL Cordell Volson, North Dakota State
OL is another position that got pushed down the board, but the Falcons still need to find ways of adding depth at the position. North Dakota State’s Cordell Volson has played mostly at tackle in college, and has been quite good against his level of competition. At 6’6, 312, he’s got good size and length. Athletically, he’s sufficient at tackle but would be exceptional at guard. He’s strong and has dominant flashes as a run blocker coupled with a nasty demeanor.
Volson could give the Falcons some flexibility on the offensive line. I think his best fit is probably at guard, but he could also function as the swing tackle. That could free up Matt Gono to play LG if Atlanta elects to move on from James Carpenter in the offseason. Or, if Volson impresses at guard, perhaps he can take over the job long-term. The step-up in competition will be big, so there’s a risk in depending on Volson in his rookie year, but the Falcons might not have any better options considering their cap situation.
Round 6, Pick 186: DB Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse
The Falcons still need to add depth in the secondary, and at this stage of the draft you’re looking for projects with upside. That pretty neatly sums up Syracuse’s Ifeatu Melifonwu, who is the brother of former Atlanta draft crush Obi Melifonwu. Both players are tremendous athletes with great size, with Ifeatu measuring in at an impressive 6’3, 198. Melifonwu has some versatility to his game and is capable of lining up at both safety and CB.
Physically, Melifonwu has the ceiling of an impact player. Much like his brother, he’s still very raw and needs a lot of development to reach that potential. His run support and overall physicality are also lacking at this stage. I’m not sure if the team will view him as a safety or CB, but the Falcons could use depth at both spots. Melifonwu might not offer much outside of special teams play in his rookie season, but he has the potential to turn into a versatile contributor down the road.
Round 6, Pick 211: EDGE Joshua Kaindoh, Florida State
With Allen Bailey almost certainly leaving the team in 2021 as a cap casualty, the Falcons could use another big base package EDGE in the rotation. Physically, Kaindoh is extremely impressive: he’s got a massive, long, and well-built frame at 6’7, 265. Despite that size, he’s surprisingly mobile and has shown some ability to bend and make plays in space. Kaindoh is strong and powerful at the point of attack and has the look of an impactful run defender at the NFL level.
Unfortunately, a strong start to the 2019 season—where Kaindoh had already amassed 9 tackles, 2.5 TFL, and a sack in just 3 games—was derailed by a season-ending leg injury. Kaindoh hasn’t managed to replicate that play in 2020, though some of that likely has to do with the overall malaise of FSU this season. I don’t think he’s athletic enough to be an impact pass rusher in the NFL, but Kaindoh has the strength and build to make an impact on early downs from Day 1.
Round 7, Pick 229: WR Dazz Newsome, North Carolina
With Justyn Ross potentially missing time in 2021 due to his uncertain recovery timetable, the Falcons still need to find a way to bolster the WR depth for the upcoming season. Luckily, a very intriguing WR prospect fell quite a bit due to the overall strength of the WR class: North Carolina’s Dazz Newsome. A weapon out of the slot, Newsome was North Carolina’s top target in 2019, piling up over 1000 yards (14.1 YPR) and 10 TDs.
At 5’11, 190, Newsome has decent size for the slot and pairs it with exceptional quickness and good deep speed. He’s a deep threat who can also contribute in the short-to-intermediate area due to his yards-after-catch talent and acceleration out of his breaks. Newsome’s hands are smooth and he’s fearless across the middle of the field, making him a great relief valve for an offense. He hasn’t been able to replicate that tremendous production thus far in 2020, and his small route tree and size probably limit him to a slot-only role in the NFL. However, Newsome can be an instant contributor with WR3 upside and offers the Falcons another quality weapon to build around.
What are your thoughts on this 2021 mock draft scenario for the Falcons? Share your own mocks in the comments below!