21 October 2020

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Draft Preview: Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons have yet to recover from their infamous 28-3 choke to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. The Falcons have yet to reach the playoffs since 2017 and this past year they extended their playoff absence to 2 years making it the first time they have missed the playoffs in consecutive years since the 2013-2014 season.

Atlanta got off to a rough start in 2019 as they were 1-7 by week 8 and everyone had already crossed them out of the playoff race and speculations began to grow that the Falcons would move on from long time head coach Dan Quinn after the terrible start. The Falcons quickly put those speculations down as they would finish off the season strong going 6-2 to finish off the season with a record of 7-9 and on a 4 game win streak good enough to have them finish 2nd in the NFC South.

The Falcons have improved their offensive weapons with the addition of running back Todd Gurley who signed a 1-year deal after being unexpectedly dropped by the Los Angeles Rams. Atlanta still has some holes to fill throughout their team and with their 6 total draft picks they could fill some of those holes up. Here are some positions the Falcons could look to address in the Draft.

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Cornerback

Atlanta’s secondary allowed the 11th most passing yards per game in 2019 with an average of 244.9 yards per game which turns out to be an average of 7.7 yards per passing play. The Falcons released former 2013 1st round pick, Desmond Trufant, after 7 years of being with the team they felt it was time to move on and add some fresh legs at cornerback.

Trufant was the best player in Atlanta’s secondary last year as he recorded a team-high 4 interceptions and 7 pass deflections. His departure from the team will be felt in the secondary if they don’t find a replacement. Atlanta’s current starting corners Isaiah Oliver who is heading into his 3rd year in the league and lined up opposite of Oliver is Kendall Sheffield who is entering his coming off his rookie year. Oliver had a decent year as he had 1 force fumble and 11 pass deflections, Sheffield could have had a better year as he only had 3 pass deflections and 1 forced fumble it may be too soon to tell but Sheffield has some flaws that he must work on before being capable to become a starter he may even fit better being a backup.

A prospect who can become Atlanta’s new cornerback is C.J Henderson who for many teams is drawing great comparison to Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marcus Peter as they both have the same play style. In Henderson’s final year at Florida, he recorded 11 pass deflections, he is the type of player where you have to watch his play instead of looking at his stats to see how good he truly is. At 6’1 and 204 lbs, Henderson has great size and speed that allowed him to go up against top talent receivers and was able to keep up with some of the fastest receivers while playing for Florida. Henderson has the ability to become an instant starter for the Falcons and will make an immediate impact in their secondary.

Defensive Tackle 

The Falcons announced early in the off-season that they would not be bringing back former 1st round pick Vic Beasley after his contract was up and decided they would move on from the 1x pro bowler. Beasley was a starter for Atlanta in for most of the 5 years there and was a key piece in the d-line as he was the team leader in sacks this past season with 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 12 QB hits. Despite his 8 sacks the defense failed to get to the quarterback throughout the season as they were tied for 29th for the most sacks with only 28 sacks and with the departure of Beasley they could have less in 2020.

Atlanta has made efforts to try and boost up their defense by adding linebacker Dante Fowler who knows how to get to the quarterback as he had 11.5 sacks, 16 QB hits and 2 forced fumbles for the Los Angeles Rams last year. The Falcons could still add a defensive tackle to make their line better as the Falcons may keep Fowler at linebacker instead of putting him on the d-line and draft a defensive tackle with their 2nd round pick.

Atlanta could look to pick up Benito Jones who is coming off a solid year for Ole Miss as he recorded 5.5 sacks, 4 pass deflections, and 1 interception in his final year at Ole Miss. Jones has always kept his consistency during his tenure playing for Ole Miss as each year he had at least 5 sacks for the season. The only concerning thing about Jones is his lack of athleticism he displayed at the Senior Bowl which pushed teams away from him and caused his draft stock to fall. Despite his limitation with his athleticism Jones can be a good run stuffer for the Falcons and can definitely become a starter, it may not be instant but after a couple of games as a backup, he can definitely be a starter.

Center

The Falcons don’t need an immediate replacement for the center for the 2020 season but they do need one for the future as their current starting center Alex Mack is going to be entering his 12th season in the league and there is some thought he may retire after the 2020 season. Mack has been healthy for all of his career as 11 out of 12 years he has started all 16 games at center and has been a consistent blocker allowing a few amount of sacks per year.

Along with entering his 12th season, Mack is currently the only center the Falcons have on the team which is not ideal for an o-line depth chart. A team should always keep a plan b on the side just in case Mack was to go down with an injury or something unexpected happens.

A player who can be Atlanta’s center for the future is Jake Hanson who was one of Oregon’s top blockers last year and has always been able to hold his own weight against top defenders. Hanson has very good hands when it comes to pass blocking and does a decent job in run blocking for Oregon, but the best attribute is he is reliable as he made 34 straight starts for the Ducks. He may not be just ready to become a starter in the NFL, but that’s perfect since Mack while being the starter for 2020 he can take Hanson under his wing and mentor him so he can be the starting center for the future.

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