Perfect Picks 2024: Atlanta Falcons

By Thomas Willoughby

It was a deeply frustrating season for the Atlanta Falcons. The years in “cap hell” finally came to an end, which the Falcons promptly used to build a professional-level defense to complement their burgeoning offense. The defensive results were pleasing, to be sure. The offensive results, however, were less so.

That led to the firing of 3rd-year head coach Arthur Smith, to be replaced by Raheem Morris, getting a second shot at an NFL head coaching gig. Out, too, is Desmond Ridder, whose season can be described as “up and down” at best, and “very not good” at worst. He was benched twice across the season, and will spend 2024 in Arizona. The Falcons saw Rondale Moore head the other direction in exchange.

The headline, however, will be the addition of Kirk Cousins, to the tune of $180 million, $100mil of which is guaranteed, across four seasons. The rebuild, it’s fair to say, is over. The Falcons haven’t had a winning season since the 2017 iteration. Here are the perfect picks the Falcons can make to ensure that run ends in 2024, and stays ended beyond.

Round 1 - Dallas Turner, EDGE, Alabama

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At the time of writing, the Falcons’ pass rush duo is Lorenzo Carter and Arnold Ebiketie, who have 15.5 sacks between them across their two seasons in Atlanta. Not terrible numbers, but certainly not what you want from your starting rotation. Adding Dallas Turner to that group elevates it into one that’s quite exciting.

If nothing else, Turner is a disruptor. He’s quick, he’s strong, he’s chaotic. He immediately brings something the Falcons do not currently have. There’s plenty of scope for improvement, especially in run defense. As a pass-rusher? You’ll struggle to find a better option in this year’s draft class.

And that’s what the Falcons need, here. For too long Atlanta has propped the league up with pathetic sack numbers. Yes, I know that sacks aren’t the be-all. Of course they aren’t. But consistent pressure has been an issue, too. Turner represents a pressure machine. He logged 55 pressures across 14 games in 2023. That sounds pretty good to me. 

The Falcons need some juice up front, and Turner gives them that out of the gate. More than that, they get themselves the sort of player they’ve been missing for years.

Round 2 - Michael Penix Jr, QB, Washington

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Why are you taking a quarterback in the second round a couple of months after handing one a nine-figure contract? Foresight. Kirk Cousins might have a 4-year contract, but the devil’s truly in the detail with that one. Thanks to contract structuring, Cousins could feasibly be released after two of those years and the Falcons won’t be in too big of a financial hole. Assuming they’re planning for the Kirko experience for two years, then, they’re going to need a plan at the position. Step forward, Michael Penix Jr.

Penix Jr. is such an interesting prospect because everything about his game suggests he’s more than capable of making the leap into the NFL comfortably. He’s got a good arm, his deep ball is really nice, and he throws with wonderful anticipation. He can do the modern scrambling stuff well, too. In the right scenario, a player is waiting to be molded. Behind Kirk Cousins, he’ll have as good as chance as any to be molded.

There are issues, hence him falling into the second round. He does struggle under pressure, more than you’d like. And, while he can do the scrambley stuff, it doesn’t really feel natural. And then there are the injuries. All four of his seasons as an Indiana Hoosier ended with either an ACL tear or an AC shoulder separation. Things have certainly been better at Washington, however, with him playing more games in two seasons there than he did as a Hoosier total.

He’s a long-term pick. But, with the right development program and support, one that could provide the Falcons with the QB succession plan they’ve craved for years.

Mid Round Gem - Blake Fisher, OT, Notre Dame

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The Falcons offensive line, believe it or not, is good. Very good, in fact. Pro Football Network reckons it’s the fourth-best in the NFL. What it needs, however, is a sprinkling of foresight. Jake Matthews is entering his 11th season in the NFL, Kaleb McGary’s contract is structured in such a way that the Falcons are likely to release him in 2025. The future needs to be planned for. Blake Fisher might be that future.

Fisher started two seasons at right tackle for Notre Dame, and is most likely going to end up playing that position in the NFL. While he does a lot of things that you like, his biggest plus is how he attacks the run game. He’s more than capable of driving defensive linemen back and creating space for his backs to exploit. That Bijan Robinson-Tyler Allgeier one-two would certainly enjoy that. 

He does lumber a little, however, and his pass-protection would be affected by that. So, you’re going to need to give him that time to settle. Luckily, the Falcons’ OL is set for 2024. He can be prepared. Not an impact player in the fourth round, but the Falcons can feel good about his addition when they take a look at their bank balance in 2025.

Late Round Sleeper - Chau Smith-Wade, CB, Washington State

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How’s it taken until round 5 to address the glaring hole at cornerback? We can’t reach. That isn’t the Terry Fontenot way. Maybe we hope for Clark Phillips, who did flash in 2023, to make the steps required to become a viable CB2 in the NFL. There are enough veteran options still available in FA for the Falcons to fall back on if they don’t believe that’s possible. Chau Smith-Wade in the fifth round gives them some potential in the draft, mind.

Listen, this feels like a long shot. While Smith-Wade played basically his whole college career outside, his size and shape suggest he’s probably going to be projected inside. But there’s a lot to like here. He sticks to his man like gaffa tape. He’s built for man coverage with the way he keeps his eyes on the QB. He’s not likely to be left behind, in that sense.

He is, however, likely going to become a target for QBs going deep. Not to say he’s bad at defending deep balls, but his wing span, or lack there of, will see him beaten in one-on-one jump balls. Patience will be required.

But there’s enough there to make you think he’s worth taking a swing on. If he’s not playing outside he can easily shift in and make a difference there. Albeit competing with Dee Alford for that starting inside corner role. Low risk, high reward. Can’t ask for more in the fifth. 

Draft in full

Round 1 – Dallas Turner, EDGE, Alabama

Round 2 – Michael Penix Jr., QB, Washington

Round 3 – Braden Fiske, DT, Florida State

Round 3 – Jalen McMillen, WR, Washington

Round 4 – Blake Fisher, OT, Notre Dame

Round 5 – Chau Smith-Wade, CB, Washington State

Round 6 – Zion Tupuola-Fetui, EDGE, Washington

Round 6 – Trey Taylor, S, Air Force

Thomas Willoughby