Perfect Picks: Atlanta Falcons
By Thomas Willoughby
With the NFL Draft approaching we will be looking at each team and evaluating where they need to improve. In this particular series we will run a seven round mock using the Draft Network Mock machine and find the ‘Perfect Picks’ for each franchise.
We will highlight five players that could help each team. This would usually include a ‘flex’ pick where we give you two ways a potential pick could go depending on how the board falls. However, with the amount of early picks the Falcons have, We’ve elected to forgo that this time.
In 2019, Atlanta banked heavily on an improved offensive line turning their fortunes around, using two first round picks on an Offensive Guard and Tackle respectively. The Falcons have drafted at least one player in the secondary in the past 8 consecutive drafts. Will that trend continue? Or are Thomas Dimitroff and co. satisfied at the back end of their defense?
Round 1 - Pick 16 - A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
Epenesa has been discussed previously, so I’ll do my best to not repeat the fine words of Josh Edwards. Simply put, however, Atlanta’s defensive line is a joke on a good day. Soft against the run, and inexplicably pathetic in their attempts at getting to the Quarterback. Former 6th overall pick, Vic Beasley Jr, has been jettisoned. Unless the Falcons trade it to move up for Chase Young, Epenesa is his replacement. A welcome one, at that.
Epenesa does everything the Falcons lack right now. Most importantly, his 2018 and 2019 sack totals of 10.5 and 11.5 suggest a consistency a beating Quarterbacks up that they haven’t seen since John Abraham donned the red and black nearly ten years ago. Epenesa’s ability to play almost exclusively in the backfield (30.5 tackles for loss in that same timespan) will help Atlanta’s aforementioned soft run defense as well. Assuming Epenesa falls to 16, Atlanta would be wise to pull the trigger on an immediate upgrade to their flagging d-line.
Round 2 - Pick 47 - J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State
A combination of injuries catching up with him, and a significant chunk of change associated with him, will lead to Devonta Freeman’s release from the Atlanta Falcons this off-season. Freeman was once one of the most exciting running backs in the game, and was rewarded accordingly. His production in 2018 and 2019 do not match the salary, and so he will likely move on from the team that drafted him 6 seasons ago. That leaves a hole on the ground, and one we have filled by J.K Dobbins in the first of Atlanta’s two 2nd round picks.
Dobbins is a future star in the NFL. With over 2000 ground yards, and 21 touchdowns, in 2019, Dobbins proved himself to be a true feature back, someone the Falcons require in 2020. A running back room of Ito Smith, Brian Hill, Quadree Ollison, and Kenyon Barner, is hardly terrifying, and the addition of Dobbins into that rotation would actually make the Falcons offense somewhat three dimensional, in spite of the play caller.
2nd Round - Pick 55 - Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
Anyone familiar with the Thomas Willoughby brand will be aware of how oblivious of the college game I am. I’ll watch a game or two a season, but compared to the other (frankly superb) voices at The Touchdown, my knowledge is neither vast, nor bountiful. I bring this up because, outside of the top guys, Trevon Diggs is a player I have *actually* heard of. Imagine my shock seeing him available at 55. You better believe I snapped him up.
While they improved in the second half of the season, Atlanta’s secondary struggled again in 2019. Injury to Keanu Neal and Desmond Trufant didn’t help, but the prevailing talent did not step up whatsoever. With that in mind, Atlanta would be getting a player that excels in zone coverage, something Isaiah Oliver just does not. The Falcons have expressed their delight at the talent in this years Cornerback class, and Diggs is one of the better options available. If nothing else, the pick would make this tweet come true and, truly, that is all that matters.
I hope the Falcons draft Trevon Diggs so I can, unsuccessfully, get a chant of “Diggs, Diggs will tear you apart, again” going at Wembley.
— Thomas Willoughby – Game of the Year Edition (@Willo290592) January 12, 2020
Mid Round Gem - Pick 109 - Nick Harris, IOL, Washington
Despite investing heavily in 3 guards and a tackle across free agency and the draft in 2019, Atlanta allowed Matt Ryan and Shaub to hit the deck 50 times, good for 6th worst in the league. At the same time, at 33 years old and with a year left on his contract, the consistently excellent Alex Mack’s time in Atlanta is coming to an end. With this in mind, combined with owner Arthur Blank’s expectation that Atlanta draft a left guard, Nick Harris fills both needs in the 4th round.
The key here is versatility. Having dabbled at both Offensive Guard and Center in his time at Washington, Harris represents an opportunity to plug in between Jake Matthews and Alex Mack for the 2020 season, with a view to slide across once Mack’s time is up. His mobility is a huge plus, especially when you take into account how screen-heavy the current Falcons offensive playbook is. While there may be growing pains, he would be a very intriguing option long term.
Late Round Sleeper - Pick 139 - Julian Blackmon, S, Utah
A pick for depth purposes, but one that could yield considerable results for Atlanta. Keanu Neal is a magnificent player, and one I wish, with all my heart, will play for the Falcons for the next 10 years at a high level. The unfortunate reality is Neal has now suffered season ended injuries in two consecutive seasons, and, as such, durability has become a legitimate question mark. With that in mind, Julian Blackmon carried the sort of upside that Atlanta should seriously consider. Blackmon’s tackling ability is a major plus, especially in the role he would likely play in the event Neal does miss game time again. The ideal insurance pick.
Draft in full
1st Round – A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
2nd Round – J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio
2nd Round – Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
3rd Round – Hunter Bryant, TE, Washington
4th Round – Nick Harris, IOL, Washington
5th Round – Julian Blackmon, S, Utah
7th Round – Kendrick Rogers, WR, Texas A&M
Feature Image Credit: Josie Leppe (Associated Press/Shutterstock)