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The Falcons finished the 2020 season with a 4-12 record, earning the fourth-overall selection in the 2021 NFL draft. Atlanta’s last top-five pick came in 2008 when the team drafted quarterback Matt Ryan third overall.
With as many as six quarterbacks potentially going in the first round this year, many are projecting the Falcons to draft Ryan’s eventual replacement. For this mock, I went in a different direction and focused on finding players that can help Atlanta win now.
Round 1 - Pick No. 4: LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
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Many draft analysts have the Falcons taking a quarterback with their fourth-overall selection. However, Atlanta is grossly over the cap for 2021 and the team has only 31 active players on the roster. Plus, Ryan's contract makes him tough to move. While the Falcons do in fact need a backup quarterback, the team doesn't have the luxury of selecting a player just to sit for two or three years. Considering that Falcons president Rich McKay has been clear that the team wants to win now, I went the route of bolstering Atlanta's linebacker group by taking Micah Parsons at No. 4. This selection was a toss up between Parsons and Oregon OL Penei Sewell, but I opted for the linebacker because Falcons head coach Arthur Smith doesn't necessarily require blue-chip linemen for his scheme to be effective. With the addition of Dean Pees as defensive coordinator, Parson could slot in well on the edge and give the Falcons what Dante Fowler failed to give in 2020.
Round 2 - Pick No. 35: RB Michael Carter, North Carolina
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Michael Carter benefited greatly from his participation at the Senior Bowl. The running back out of North Carolina was declared the top ball carrier throughout the week on the National Team due to his impressive showings during practice. Despite splitting time with fellow draftee Javonte Williams in college, Carter managed to post over 1,200 yards on the ground with nine scores. He even added nearly 300 more yards as a receiver. "On day one of practices, he showed off his burst and speed," stated Zach Patraw of Sports Illustrated. "He took the top off of the defense on a few occasions during 7-on-7s and held his own against linebackers in pass protection." Since Michael Turner left Atlanta, the Falcons have failed to come up with a long-term solution at the position. Last season, the team tried bringing in veteran Todd Gurley, but his performance will likely leave the former All-Pro looking for his third team this offseason.
Round 3 - Pick No. 68: SS Richie Grant, Central Florida
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There is a very realistic scenario where the Falcons have no returning starting safeties in 2021. Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee will become free agents and Ricardo Allen is a leading candidate to being released to clear cap space. This leaves the safety position as a top priority position to fill and the Falcons could find themselves a day-one starter in Richie Grant from Central Florida. Grant was a prospect that teetered between day two or three, but his performance in the Senior Bowl may have solidified his spot as a day-two prospect. While he isn't known for having elite speed or size, you cannot deny Grant's ability to cover ground and make plays on the ball. In addition to his downfield coverage skills, Grant has shown the ability to hold his own in man coverage. His best collegiate season came in 2018, recording 108 tackles, six interceptions, three passes defended and two forced fumbles.
Round 4 - Pick No. 99: CB Ambry Thomas, Michigan
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The Falcons definitely need help along the defensive perimeter. Michigan cornerback Ambry Thomas has the athletic ability to become a day-two selection but will likely fall to day three. At 183 pounds, the corner will need to put on some weight or he will easily get out-muscled against larger receivers. Thomas would also need to work on his spacing as his eyes tend to stay in the backfield, causing him to lose sight of his man on occasion. Despite those concerns, Thomas could post a 40-time that helps his draft stock. His speed allows him to stay within the pocket of opposing receivers as long as he keeps his man in sight. Thomas' athleticism will allow him to disrupt and break up passes downfield. Thomas opted out of the 2020 college football season but posted reasonable numbers in 2019. His 38 tackles, two fumble recoveries and three interceptions were career-high marks for the young corner.
Round 5 - Pick No. 132: OL Deonte Brown, Alabama
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The Falcons have spent the past two drafts building up their offensive line, and 2021 should be no different. Atlanta has addressed needs at each position of the offensive line except for the left guard spot. I project the Falcons go after Alabama's big man Deonte Brown late in the draft to bolster their guard competition and add depth Brown's performance in 2020 led him to be named first-team All-SEC and was a part of an Alabama team that rolled their competition each and every week. Brown could play a crucial role in developing a ground game in Atlanta. However, there are some glaring concerns with Brown. At 350 pounds, weight becomes an obvious concern that must be addressed. Brown could compete for a starting role in 2021 but will have a long road ahead of him, mainly as a result of his weight. It's much harder to throw around that weight at the NFL level as opposed to college. Not to mention, Brown lacks the versatility to play at the tackle or center positions.
Round 6 - No. 163: EDGE Charles Snowden, Virginia
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At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, Charles Snowden is a tower coming off the edge. He uses his length to leverage himself off of blocks and can also be beneficial in pass coverage. In 2018, Snowden broke up eight passes, grabbed two interceptions, forced two fumbles and recorded 62 tackles. For the 2019 season, Snowden had 72 tackles and five sacks. However, Snowden's lean frame doesn't give him the power he needs to perform at a consistent level. The Virginia EDGE needs wide open space to get around the edge and struggles in short burst moments to create pressure. If Snowden can produce on a consistent basis, he could be considered a late-round gem. Both Parsons and Snowden could elevate the Falcons' defense and give Dean Pees some more tools to work with next season.