One could argue the Atlanta Falcons returned to the basics this offseason. With NFL free agency, general manager Terry Fontenot focused mostly on the offensive and defensive lines.
But ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay predicted that focus for the Falcons will change in the NFL draft.
The latest 3-round mock draft has the Falcons targeting three positions outside the trenches, including two on the outside.
First, ESPN projected the Falcons to pick Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez at No. 8 overall. Then, the mock draft slotted wide receiver Ole Miss wide receiver Jonathan Mingo to the Falcons at No. 44 in the second round.
Kiper and McShay finished the Falcons portion of the mock draft with Louisville outside linebacker Yasir Abdullah going to Atlanta at No. 75 in the third round.
“How about popping in Gonzalez — who has great speed, size and ball skills — opposite A.J. Terrell? The Falcons gave up 7.3 yards per pass attempt last season (23rd in the NFL), but this duo could smother opposing receivers,” wrote Kiper and McShay about the Falcons targeting Gonzalez at No. 8.
This latest mock draft will definitely disappoint some Falcons fans. Atlanta posted 39 sacks combined during the 2021 and 2022 seasons. That was the fewest in the NFL. The Las Vegas Raiders had the second fewest sacks in the league with 62.
That non-existent pass rush must be fixed and preferably in the first round. But Kiper and McShay projected the Falcons to wait until Abdullah in the third round to target an edge rusher.
“If we’re not giving the Falcons an edge rusher in the first two rounds — after they finished 31st in the league with 21 sacks last season — we have to get them one here,” wrote the ESPN draft experts. “The undersized Abdullah is intriguing. He is only 6-foot-1, but he had 19.5 sacks and 35.5 total tackles for loss over the past two seasons. He is a good player.”
Atlanta, though, has added edge rushers through free agency. Fontenot signed defensive end Calais Campbell and outside linebacker Bud Dupree on the open market. Those players figure to be a bridge to the young edge rushers Atlanta hopefully drafts this spring and next year.
Interestingly, Kiper and McShay sent Mingo to Atlanta a day after veteran Olamide Zaccheaus left for the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency.
“If Atlanta is going to give Desmond Ridder a real shot to be its answer under center, then it better get him another pass-catcher to complement Drake London and Kyle Pitts,” wrote Kiper and McShay. “Mingo is physical and can line up all over the offense. I’ve heard a lot of buzz around his name over the past month or so.”