After playing in Super Bowl 51, the Atlanta Falcons now look ahead to the 2017 NFL Draft. A 7-round mock draft for the Dirty Birds.
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The Atlanta Falcons looked as if they had their first-ever Super Bowl win locked up on Sunday night in Houston. Unfortunately for them, there are 60 minutes in a game and Tom Brady will use each one of them. They fell victim to an epic comeback at NRG Stadium, blowing a 25-point lead and ultimately losing the first overtime Super Bowl in NFL history.
Now it’s onto the offseason for the Falcons as they look to not only get back, but to get over the hump. That all starts with the 2017 NFL Draft and how they’re going to approach making their team better and addressing weaknesses.
Despite their success in the 2016 season and then the playoffs, the Falcons still have their flaws. What’s more, there are obvious areas where they could use improvement. With a loaded class in the 2017 draft, they’ll have their opportunity to address those needs and possibly get back to the Big Game in a year.
With that, the Atlanta Falcons are on the clock in the first round of the seven-round mock draft.
Oct 29, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) points to the sidelines during the first half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
Round 1: Malik McDowell, DL – Michigan State
In terms of sheer physical prowess, not many players stand with the stature that Malik McDowell does. The big defensive tackle is a monster of a man, listed at 6-6, 280 pounds. Whenever he’s on, he’s a disruptive force at all times. He can generate pressure up the middle against the pass and can also clog up lanes and make tackles against the run. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons he’s not a higher pick.
While McDowell was injured a bit throughout his final season with Michigan State, that’s not even the biggest worry. There are multiple reports that the big fella’s motor is inconsistent, which also shows up on his tape. For a player as physically imposing as the defensive tackle is, that’s a major concern as he might just rest on his physical laurels and hope that gets him by.
With that said, that makes him a great fit for the Falcons. Not only does he address a big need in the middle of their front four by giving them youth and a potential star in that area of the defense, but Dan Quinn is also the right coach to eliminate those lingering concerns with McDowell. This is a fantastic match of talented prospect and team with a need.
Nov 21, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers offensive linemen Dorian Johnson (53) Brian O’Neill (70) celebrate with fullback George Aston (35) after Aston scored a four yard touchdown against the Louisville Cardinals during the second quarter at Heinz Field. PITT won 45-34. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Round 2: Dorian Johnson, OG – Pittsburgh
Though the Falcons made a concerted effort in the 2016 offseason to improve their offensive line and though their line performed well throughout the season, there is need for both depth and improvement. Particularly at right guard, Atlanta would be wise to look for a young prototypical prospect who can both clear the way for Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in addition to making sure Matt Ryan stays upright.
With that in mind, the Falcons would be wise to go after a player like Dorian Johnson out of Pittsburgh. Listed at 6-5, 315 pounds, the big guard has the frame and body you want to see out of an interior lineman. While he’s not a fantastic athlete, he’s a player that showed time and again throughout his career with the Panthers that he has the ability to succeed in both pass protection and against the run. There are worries about if he can improve his mobility to get down to the second level after winning in the trenches, but he has the frame to where that seems possible still.
Johnson is the type of player that could easily slot into a starting role on the Falcons offensive line from Day 1. The upside for him going forward might not be that of more elite guard prospects in this draft, but those players aren’t available at the end of the second round. Subsequently, Johnson is the best option available and stands as a player that could help Atlanta’s offense stay as lethal as they were in the 2016 season.
Jan 28, 2017; Mobile, AL, USA; North squad quarterback Nate Peterman of Pittsburgh (4) is pressured by South squad defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon of Villanova (92) during the first quarter of the 2017 Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports
Round 3: Tanoh Kpassagnon, EDGE – Villanova
There are a plethora of elite edge prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft that could make an impact. With the Falcons needing to address that moving forward into next season, there’s a chance that they hope to land one in the first round. With McDowell falling to them and then little value being there in the second round, they are then forced to wait. For their troubles, though, they get one of the most intriguing and high-upside players in the draft class: Tanoh Kpassagnon out of Villanova.
Physically imposing at 6-7, 290 pounds, Kpassagnon is a bit of a raw prospect largely because he played at a smaller school in the FCS. While that may be the case, the division where he played in college doesn’t change what he brings to the table physically. For his size, Kpsassagnon is a freak athlete who also boasts solid strength. He can use his length to gain leverage and win his matchup, but also has a solid blend of strength and agility to do so as well.
What’s best about Kpassagnon going to the Falcons again comes back to Quinn. If there’s a head coach in the league that could mold the young man into a star on the defensive side of the ball, it’s the man holding the clipboard for Atlanta. Not only will he help Kpassagnon hone his craft, but will put him in a position to succeed right away in ways that maximize his physical gifts.
Sep 3, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Kevin King (20) points to the stands after making a tackle for a loss against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second quarter at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Round 4: Kevin King, CB – Washington
Frankly, my thought as this mock draft simulation went into the fourth round was to look for quality depth at the safety position. That’s certainly a need for the Falcons and one that seems like something that could be looked into in the middle rounds. However, that’s when Washington Huskies cornerback Kevin King fell to the end of the round and he was too great of a value pick at a position of semi-need to pass up for the Falcons.
King is often overshadowed by the corner who played opposite him at Washington, Sidney Jones. However, the difference between the two players in terms of talent and potential isn’t as vast as some would have you believe. What stands out about King is his size, listed at 6-3, 192 pounds. When in coverage, he has incredible playmaking ability in the air because of that length and is a rangy wall when he’s thrown at and has kept tight on his coverage.
There are concerns with King as he needs to bulk up a bit to help jam receivers at the line in press coverage and to contribute more as a run defender and quality tackler. With that said, the upside is striking with King. He’s a player that could slot into the Falcons secondary and get the reps necessary to learn the position better and develop against NFL caliber talent. If developed properly, he could be a matchup nightmare for opposing offenses down the road.
Oct 8, 2016; Winston-Salem, NC, USA; Wake Forest Demon Deacons linebacker Marquel Lee (8) stands on the field during a timeout in the first quarter against the Syracuse Orange at BB&T Field. Wake defeated Syracuse 28-9. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Round 5: Marquel Lee, LB – Wake Forest
There is certainly young talent in the Falcons linebacker corps, especially when you look at the playmaking ability that Deion Jones displayed as a rookie. However, it’d be a gross error in judgment to say they don’t need more depth at the position moving forward. They need to add someone behind Jones and a player who can potentially slot in as a consistent presence alongside Jones at the second level of the front seven.
Marquel Lee out of Wake Forest won’t be that player right out of the gate. Listed at 6-3, 230 pounds coming out of college, the Demon Deacons product is clearly undersized and needs to add some strength to his game so he simply isn’t bullied upon arrival in the NFL. With that said, what he did display in college was a knack for playmaking and great instinctual play as an inside linebacker.
Lee finished his season with 98 tackles, which is an impressive number in its own right. However, it pales in comparison when you add in the 19 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks that he also gave Wake Forest in his final year in Winston Salem. He’s always involved in plays against both the run and pass. If he can get right through an NFL strength and conditioning program, he’d be a fantastic addition to a Dan Quinn defense alongside Jones.
Oct 3, 2015; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones running back Mike Warren (2) is tackled by Kansas Jayhawks safety Fish Smithson (9) at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Round 6: Fish Smithson, S – Kansas
In addition to being a member of the All-Name Team in the 2017 NFL Draft class, Fish Smithson has the potential to be a high-caliber steal if he were to fall to the Falcons at the end of the sixth round. Though he played for a lackluster Kansas Jayhawks team where wins were a rarity throughout his college career, that was hardly on him. In fact, the safety was a bright spot in the darkness that is Jayhawk football.
Smithson offers a nice combination of size, athleticism, and speed at the safety position as he’s simply an above-average football player at his position in every regard. He’s willing to step up and contribute against the run where he’s an able tackler as well. However, he also possesses the physical tools to show off his range and make plays against the pass on the back end of the defense. When you look at 93 tackles, four interceptions, and two forced fumbles in his final season in Lawrence, you see what all he’s capable of.
While the Falcons selected Keanu Neal in the draft a year ago, they still need depth at the position. Burning a sixth-round pick isn’t a bad way to try and address that and finding a player like Smithson in that spot is quite fortunate. He could be a tremendous playmaker for Atlanta that could really round out their defensive backfield.
Dec 5, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Cougars linebacker Steven Taylor (41) reacts after making a defensive play during the first half against the Temple Owls in the Mid-American Conference football championship game at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Round 7: Steven Taylor, EDGE/LB – Houston
Steven Taylor represents one of the more intriguing prospects in the entire 2017 draft class. The Houston Cougars product was a leader and quite productive player under Tom Herman with his team. However, he’s also a player that has a lot of shortcomings. Most notably, Taylor is a limited athlete with even more limited size, listed at a mere 6-1, 225 pounds. However, he’s a versatile player who could make sense in a Dan Quinn defense in Atlanta.
While he played as a pass rusher on the edge in Houston, his NFL future is a bit more uncertain. There’s a chance that he could drop back to being an inside linebacker to help make up for some of his athletic shortcomings that he’d need to develop as a pass rusher. Then again, his technique as an edge player is refined and he’s a hard enough worker to make you believe he might have success there.
Regardless of where the Falcons would use him, though, Taylor is the exact type of player that Atlanta should be taking a flyer on at the end of the draft. He’s malleable and will work for whatever role he can to contribute to this team moving forward. Even if it’s not with the first-team defense, he’s going to put in the hours needed to be an effective cog in the system. Adding that in the draft as a late-round pick has definite value and is a great way to cap off this mock for the Falcons.