Looking at Draft Picks for the Atlanta Falcons
The Superbowl has come and gone, and neither of the teams involved in it came from the South. That’s a shame, but there’s always next season—and next season is exactly what we’re here to talk about. Before anybody notices it coming, the NFL draft will be upon us, and if the teams of the region want the 2020-2021 season to be better than the one that’s just ended, they’ll all need to act intelligently with their picks.
This brief pause between the Superbowl and the draft also gives a chance for fans to reflect on the season they’ve just seen—and make their own predictions about the future. There’s no football happening right now (unless you’re watching the XFL, which doesn’t contain one single team from the Deep South), and so we replace football action with football fantasy. All of us like to think that we could do a better job than the coach of our favorite team, so we’ve decided to get in on the action and take a look at some fantasy draft picks of our own! We’re focusing on a team that’s going to have a lot of rebuilding to do: The Atlanta Falcons, who were saved from embarrassment last time out only by a sudden and improbable run of victories toward the end of the campaign.
In making these five potential draft picks, we’re trying to think about the balance of the team and staying realistic. Anyone can make idealized choices, but team selection isn’t just a matter of getting the best possible players for every position. Picking a football team is like spinning the reels on an online slots game: you only get to see how things turn out after you’ve paid your money and taken your choice. What looks like it might be a promising lineup might be worth nothing, and what looks like nothing might turn out to be worth everything. That’s what makes UK Online Slots thrilling but also makes team selection a headache for even the most qualified and experienced coach. You get paid out by an online slots game when your symbols line up in the optimal arrangement, and you get success from a football team when your players complement each other rather than get in each other’s way. It’s not necessarily the quality of an individual player that defines a team—it’s how they gel with the players around them.
With that admittedly expansive explanation of our football philosophy out of the way, let’s look at those picks.
Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma (linebacker)
There’s nothing much more to say about this one apart from the others. The Falcons have a clear and pressing need for a new linebacker. Kenneth Murray has been tearing up trees at Oklahoma and should be available when the Falcons’ turn to pick rolls around. There’s talk that the Packers have their eyes on Murray—and they may not be the only ones—but it’s hard not to feel like the Falcons are the best natural fit for the talented kid. Solid in the tackle and clever with his passing, Murray could develop into a new engine room for the Falcons. What also goes in his favor is the fact he can play both inside and out.
Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State (edge)
If you’re a Falcons fan, you probably don’t need us to remind you that the team performed miserably when it came to sacks this season. They finished with a tally of 28, which was 29th in the whole of the NFL. Adrian Clayborn and Vic Beasley are free agents and may be leaving, but bearing in mind that statistic, that might not even be a bad thing in the long run. New blood is required, and there aren’t many better-looking options available than Yetur Gross-Matos. The 6-foot-5 athlete has excellent hands both receiving and pushing and can handle almost any position in defense. He’s picked up eight sacks per season in each of his past two seasons, and there’s no reason why he couldn’t do it at the NFL level.
AJ Epenesa, Iowa (edge)
One single player won’t solve the problems the Falcons have when it comes to sacks, so why not have two? Why not bring in Gross-Matos and also AJ Epenesa from Iowa? The Falcons stand to lose two players to free agency in similar positions, so Epenesa and Gross-Matos might turn out to be ready-made replacements. Epenesa excels at pass-rushing, and most in-the-know sources believe that he’ll be drawn somewhere in the middle of the first round of the draft. That would fall kindly for the Falcons, who have pick sixteen. Epenesa racked up 11.5 sacks to go with his 49 tackles in 2019 and is incredibly fast for a guy who weighs 280 pounds. It would be a risky use of a first-round pick, but if the Falcons don’t take him, someone else definitely will.
Kristian Fulton, LSU Tigers (cornerback)
With all due respect to Kendall Sheffield, Kristian Fulton would represent a huge improvement on what the Falcons have available in this position. We would say the same thing about Isaiah Oliver. Pro Football Focus ranked 125 cornerbacks in the 2019 season. Oliver came in 88th. Sheffield ranked as low as 116. If the Falcons are serious about making improvements, this is one of the key areas in which improvements need to be made. It’s Pro Football Focus we have to thank for putting Fulton on the radar at all—he missed out the All-SEC team picked by coaches, but Pro Football Focus says he should have been one of the first names picked. From 23 career games to date (he missed a lot of games in 2018 due to injury), Fulton has recorded 19 defended passes. Those are the kind of numbers that see you ranking with the top half of the cornerbacks, not the bottom 10 percent.
D’Andre Swift, Georgia (running back)
Consider this a wildcard pick. Our previous four picks assume that the Falcons are going to get to make their choices without anybody else taking them first. In reality, there’s a strong possibility that some of them will be gone, and maybe even an outside chance that they’re all gone. If that happens, they should shoot their shot at one player not everybody will be looking at: D’Andre Swift. He was built to replace Devonta Freeman, and this might be the only chance the Falcons get to make the move. Swift by name and swift by nature, this running back not only finds holes in the opposition line, but he also drags players with him when they try to make tackles. Combine that with his noted pass-catching ability, and you have a player with real NFL potential.
If there are Falcons fans reading this (and we know there will be), we’re sure you have opinions of your own—and they’re probably very different from ours. Leave your take in the comments, and let’s hear your ideal five draft moves.