The Atlanta Falcons have the No. 8 pick in this year’s NFL Draft. With a need at virtually every position, it’s almost assured the Falcons can follow their “best player available” draft strategy and still fill a need.
One of those needs at a premium position is offensive tackle. Former first-round pick Kaleb McGary struggled mightily in his third year. The Falcons’ right tackle was graded by Pro Football Focus (PFF) as the 59th best tackle of 83 who logged enough snaps to qualify.
Offensive tackle looks to be one of the strengths of this upcoming draft class, and one player whose stock is on the rise is Trevor Penning of Northern Iowa (UNI). Penning was the only offensive lineman who was named a finalist for the Walter Payton award given to the best offensive player in the FCS.
Penning was a standout at the Senior Bowl where he quickly increased his reputation of playing through the echo of the whistle. Penning didn’t do a lot of talking, but he was always looking to finish the play or leave a little extra on a block.
He measured 6’6 3/4″ and 330 pounds at the Senior Bowl, with just under a seven-foot wingspan. He was a teammate of Spencer Brown who the Falcons passed over in the third-round last year. Brown started the final 10 games of the season for the Buffalo Bills, including their two playoff games.
Penning looks like he could be the fourth offensive lineman to be drafted behind Evan Neal (Alabama), Ikem Ekwonu (NC State), and Charles Cross (Mississippi State).
Would No. 8 be too high for Penning?
Luke Patterson has Penning mocked to the Baltimore Ravens at 14 on NFL Draftwire making Penning a possible trade-down candidate if the Falcons get the right offer or aren’t sold on a player at No. 8 and are looking to move back.
There has been talk about trading Calvin Ridley as well. If Ridley were to fetch a first-round pick in the teens, Penning would be well in play.
He looks to be an immediate upgrade over McGary, but he also played guard at the Senior Bowl, and he looked good doing it. His versatility makes him a safer pick knowing that he could play multiple positions and likely be an upgrade at guard or tackle.
Falcons’ starting left tackle Jake Matthews is 30-years old and coming off arguably his worst season. PFF ranked him 38th of 83 tackles in the league. Matthews would be tougher to move this year, because his dead cap number is $19.5 million according to Spotrac. Meaning, even if the Falcons decided to move Matthews in 2022, he would still count $19.5 million against their salary cap.
Matthews has the second-highest salary cap number of any tackle in the NFL for 2022 behind Houston’s Laremy Tunsil.
Typically a team wouldn’t want to spend a top-ten draft pick on a right tackle, but bringing in a guy like Penning would mean an eventual move to left tackle insuring a bigger return on a top-10 draft pick.
There has been a lot of talk about this being a down year in the NFL Draft.
Maybe at the top of the draft where there doesn’t seem to be a star name at quarterback, but this draft is deep in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
Penning is just one of dozens of prospects available in the first and second round that we’ll feature in the coming weeks that could make an immediate impact with the Falcons.