Long-time NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. released his second mock draft on Tuesday, and he has the Atlanta Falcons taking Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner with the No. 8 overall pick.
Full Mel Kiper Jr. Mock Draft on ESPN
Kiper had the Falcons taking cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. of LSU with his first mock draft, but injury concerns surrounding Stingley could push him down on draft day.
“I’m going to stick with the same position for the Falcons at No. 8 but switch the prospect,” wrote Kiper Jr. on ESPN.com. “Gardner is rising since the second half of the season and has a great shot at being the top corner in April’s draft. He allowed just eight catches for 60 yards in 13 games.”
“Why Gardner over Derek Stingley Jr.? NFL scouts just haven’t seen Stingley playing to his 2019 level over the past two seasons,” continued Kiper Jr. “He has a high ceiling, but he played in just three games in 2021 and was so-so in 2020. Stingley won’t work out at the combine, but he will have a chance to rise again if he puts up excellent testing numbers at his pro day. Gardner is a safer prospect at this point. This also is a spot to watch for an edge rusher, and the Falcons have an extra second-round pick because of the Julio Jones trade with Tennessee.”
The Falcons pass rush was woeful in 2021, and the 2022 draft class is thick with edge rushers. In Kiper’s mock, only Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Falcons pick by NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah, are off the board at edge.
He has the Falcons passing up the likes of Travon Walker, Jermaine Johnson, and David Ojabo among others.
Gardner would pair nicely with the Falcons’ A.J. Terrell who was first-team All-Pro by Pro Football Focus to form one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL. The Falcons would have the ability to directly address the pass rush with a pair of second-round picks.
Terrell and Gardner would give Falcons’ defensive coordinator Dean Pees more flexibility to bring pressure with blitzes as the coverage would be tighter on the back side.
Atlanta finished dead last in the NFL in sacks last season with just 18… a whopping 11 behind the 31st ranked Philadelphia Eagles.
Considering Kiper has Johnson, Ojabo, and Walker lasting until the teens, the Falcons could consider trading back to pick up more picks while addressing their needs at edge should the board fall that way on draft day.
The Falcons have needs at virtually every position. There will be a premium-position player available at No. 8.
Kiper has the Falcons selecting cornerback Sauce Gardner.
That could very well be the pick in April.