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Atlanta Falcons Go Pass Rush in Mel Kiper’s Latest Mock Draft

The Atlanta Falcons received excellent grades for their work in free agency. With their work all but done on offense, is it time to address the defense in the NFL Draft?

Mel Kiper Jr., the Godfather of NFL Draft analysts, thinks so in his latest mock draft on ESPN+. He has the Falcons selecting former Alabama Crimson Tide star Dallas Turner at No. 8 to address the pass rush… or lack thereof.

“This is another pairing that makes too much sense,” wrote Kiper Jr. on ESPN+. “It’s a combo of biggest positional need and best available prospect, as Turner is No. 9 on my Big Board. The Falcons, of course, made the biggest splash in free agency by signing quarterback Kirk Cousins, but their defense is mostly the same. They have to get better along the defensive line; as I mentioned in my Mock Draft 2.0, they ranked last in the league in pass rush win rate (30.9%) last season.

“Turner had 22.5 sacks over three college seasons, and he improved his pressure rates every season. He’s the clear No. 1 edge rusher in this class. New coach Raheem Morris would get the best out of him.”

One could argue that the Atlanta Falcons defense has actually taken a step back. They lost defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Veterans Calais Campbell and Bud Dupree did good work for the Falcons last year and are free agents. Starting cornerback Jeff Okudah signed with the Houston Texans.

The Falcons have holes at edge, cornerback and safety. Despite the Falcons three-consecutive top-ten picks, there hasn’t been a great fit at edge. Obviously with the benefit of hindsight, Micah Parsons is an elite pass rusher, but he was considered an inside linebacker coming out of Penn State.

Otherwise, he doesn’t fall to the Dallas Cowboys at No. 12 in the 2021 NFL Draft.

This is a chance for the Falcons to fit a round peg into a round hole. Jared Verse of Florida State will also be under consideration here. If one of the top receivers fall to No. 8, the Falcons may consider Rome Odunze of Washington or Malik Nabors of LSU to be superior prospects.

A sneaky need for this team is offensive tackle. Jake Matthews is 32-years old, and Kaleb McGary has had his problems in pass protection.

No, the Falcons won’t go quarterback at No. 8. However, they’re in prime position to trade back with the Minnesota Vikings (No. 11), Denver Broncos (No. 12), or Las Vegas Raiders (No. 13). A trade back could net them Turner, Verse, or UCLA’s Laitu Latu and premium picks in a deep second round.

Falcons fans are rightfully wary of getting their hopes up for a franchise that historically disappoints. However, this Atlanta Falcons team is set up for a big step forward from the doldrums of the last seven seasons.

Will they take that step?

It’s the hope that kills.

Scott Kennedy
Scott Kennedy is an Atlanta native and 20 year media veteran including time as Director of Scouting at Scout.com, Managing Editor at 247Sports, VP Content Operations at Sports Illustrated and more. Scott has appeared as a recruiting and NFL Draft analyst on dozens of media including ESPN, NFL Network, USA Today, NY Times, and more.
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