Whether or not fans view the 2022 draft class as a success for the Atlanta Falcons depends greatly upon two things.
First, as is true for every team, a successful draft class has a great first-round pick. The Falcons need Drake London, to develop into a star and replace suspended Calvin Ridley.
Second, as is true for every organization that selects a quarterback in the first three rounds, this Atlanta draft class will be seen as a success if quarterback Desmond Ridder develops into a starter.
But outside of those two picks, the Falcons addressed needs up and down the roster, filling holes with players who have a lot of potential at the next level.
Casual fans will love London and Ridder if they become stars. They’ll sell jerseys and win fantasy championships. But there’s a lot more to Atlanta’s 2022 draft class.
Penn State defensive end Arnold Ebiketie in the second round at No. 38 overall was arguably the most important player Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot selected the past few days. Multiple draft analysts project Ebiketie as a rotational pass rusher to begin his career.
It would have been nice to add a true defensive difference maker in this draft. The Falcons have lacked that guy since Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks when the team advanced to the Super Bowl.
But if Ebiketie can provide pressure on the quarterback on passing downs and late in games, he will be a very useful player. The Falcons were dead last in sacks last season with only 18 in 17 games. The next worst team in sacks had 29.
Ebiketie also has the potential to eventually become a starter.
“Ebiketie could see action as a sub-package pass rusher early in his career,” wrote NFL analyst Lance Zierlein of NFL.com. “He has the potential to find starting reps as a 3-4 rush linebacker in the future.”
Fixing a pass rush as bad as Atlanta’s doesn’t happen with one player, especially a second-round pick. So Fontenot wisely selected another edge rusher on Day 2 in Western Kentucky linebacker DeAngelo Malone. He had 25 sacks and 48.5 tackles for loss the last three seasons.
Malone spent six years in college, so he’s an older prospect. NFL Draft analyst Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic wrote he is weak against the run, but that he also “has upside as a pass rusher.”
The Falcons also filled another defensive hole on Day 2, selecting yet another linebacker — Montana State’s Troy Andersen.
Andersen is a prototypical second-round pick based on the most basic method of NFL Drafting. He needs more experience and isn’t ready to make an immediate impact coming from an FCS program.
But he has traits. Andersen ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds at the NFL Combine. He’s also 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds.
Furthermore, Andersen is so versatile that he played both offense and defense to begin his college career. Could Arthur Smith utilize Andersen as a bulldozing fullback or goal-line runner?
At the very least, Andersen’s athleticism will give him the opportunity to replace the departed Foyesade Oluokun.
By the way, the pick the Falcons used to draft Andersen was from the Julio Jones trade. Atlanta drafted Malone with the selection acquired from the Matt Ryan deal.
Fontenot returned to drafting offensive players on Day 3. First, the Falcons added BYU running back Tyler Allgeier. They concluded the draft with Georgia guard Justin Shaffer and tight end John FitzPatrick.
Eleven Georgia Bulldogs came off the draft board before the Falcons selected one from the national champions just up the road. It was the first time Atlanta drafted a player from Georgia since Akeem Dent in 2011.
Before Saturday, the Falcons had never picked two players from Georgia in the same draft.
That will make the local fans happy, but Allgeier is the selection to highlight. NFL Draft analyst Louis Riddick of ESPN complimented Allgeier for his power during the ESPN broadcast on Saturday. Zierlein is impressed with his “instinctive, one-cut talent” but adds the runner will “need to prove his explosiveness.”
The Falcons are bringing back Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson, but boosting the running back room with another physical runner was a win for Fontenot.
Add that all up, and that sounds like a decent draft haul. While every player won’t will work out, the Falcons did well at addressing needs with value selections on the last two days of the draft.
Fans may mostly remember London and Ridder, but how the rest of Atlanta’s picks develop will determine if the team takes a step forward this season.