Cover 9@9: A closer look at the Falcons’ draft plan

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Combined ShapeCaption
Falcons' Arthur Smith, Terry Fontenot disclose the team's needs prior to the 2022 NFL Draft.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

(Here are our nine items on the Falcons at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays.)

1. The no-spin zone: Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot is elated that things mostly have returned to normal as the nation pulls out of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Falcons are ready for the NFL draft, which is set for Thursday through Saturday.

“Well, last year everyone was playing under the same rules, so we had to – and we got everything accomplished that we needed to,” Fontenot said Tuesday. “But I think it is different when you actually get people (players) in the building and … you’re able to be around them a lot more as opposed to being on a Zoom.”

ExploreThe AJC's complete coverage on the Falcons

The virtual draft era is over.

“I think there is a difference being in person and spending more time with them,” Fontenot said. “I don’t know if I could put one specific thing on it and why it’s important. I think being in person and getting that time up close, I think that’s valuable.”

The Falcons picked tight end Kyle Pitts fourth overall last year.

This year, there is more mystery at the top of the draft.

“When is the last time we sat here and everyone doesn’t know who the first and second picks are?” Fontenot said. “It’s unique.”

The Falcons knew three quarterbacks were being selected before they picked last year.

“Especially last year we were sitting here, we were like the first pick of the draft last year because especially once San Francisco traded up we basically knew the first three players that were going to come off the board,” Fontenot said.

Trevor Lawrence went first. The Jets picked BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, and the 49ers selected Trey Lance.

This year, Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, Georgia’s Travon Walker or Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux could go No. 1 overall. The Falcons could fortify their offensive line, but tackles Ikem Ekwonu (N.C. State), Evan Neal (Alabama) and Charles Cross (Mississippi State) all could be selected before the Falcons pick at No. 8.

Florida State defensive end Jermaine Johnson could slip through and be available for the Falcons. That’s our final mock-draft scenario.

Wide receivers Drake London (USC) and Garrett Wilson (Ohio State) would give the Falcons an added weapon to go with Pitts and wide receiver/running back Cordarrelle Patterson.

“Now this year that’s not the case, and we’re sitting at eight,” Fontenot said. “So, we try our best to anticipate what’s going to go in front of us, but we have to be prepared for a lot of different variables and a lot of different scenarios.”

I didn’t know we were supposed to raise our hands like in the second grade, so I didn’t ask my question about how many mock drafts the Falcons ran.

“Whether we have to stack the players and be prepared to take them off how we see them, but we also have to be prepared to have those conversations about moving up, about moving down,” Fontenot said.

ExploreAJC previewing the 2022 NFL draft

So, the Falcons have to keep their head on a swivel.

“I would say yes, there’s so many more variables, but we just have to be prepared for every scenario,” Fontenot said.

The GM said his phone has been busy.

“I would say we still go through the same process,” Fontenot said. “We’re always going to talk to the teams ahead of us and the teams behind us, and we’re going to talk to the other 31 teams and communicate. So, we’re going to have those conversations anyway, regardless.”

The Falcons’ draft board is stacked, but they are ready in case there are some wild surprises.

“In the same way we’re going to stack the board,” Fontenot said. “So I think it doesn’t affect your process. We just have to make sure we’re intentional and we know exactly – we go through every single scenario to determine what we’re going to do.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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Falcons coach Arthur Smith, GM Terry Fontenot speak before the 2022 NFL draft.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

2. Fontenot thanks staff: Fontenot took the time to thank the Falcons staff for helping the team prepare for the draft.

The Falcons have the eighth pick in the draft and five picks in the top 82.

“We’re obviously not finished,” Fontenot said. “The roster-building process is 24/7, 365, so we’re continuing to work through that. We’ll turn over every stone, yet we appreciate the work that’s gone into it up to this point.”

Falcons coach Arthur Smith also thanked the staff.

“Very thankful we have a very collaborative staff,” Smith said. “They’ve done a tremendous job. We’re excited to be a couple days away from the draft. We feel like we’ve had a really productive spring.”

3. Floor or ceiling: When evaluating prospects, Smith was asked if he looks at their floor or the ceiling as the potential.

“Yeah, I think sometimes probably more the floor,” Smith said. “I think anything else you get, you’re certainly trying to enhance and develop, but that’s certainly where mine goes. That doesn’t say it’s right or wrong, but that’s just how my mind operates.”

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4. Fifth-year options: The Falcons have until next week to extend the $13.2 million fifth-year options of guard Chris Lindstrom and offensive tackle Kaleb McGary.

“Well, we have until next week, and so we’re working through that,” Fontenot said. “But we’ll communicate directly with the players and their agents once we make those decisions, and we’ll just keep that internal and private for right now.”

Lindstrom is a no-brainer, McGary not so much.

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Grady Jarrett is a key part of Atlanta's defense. (File photo)

Credit: AP file photo

Grady Jarrett is a key part of Atlanta's defense. (File photo)

Credit: AP file photo

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Grady Jarrett is a key part of Atlanta's defense. (File photo)

Credit: AP file photo

Credit: AP file photo

5. Jarrett contract talks: The Falcons would not update their contract talks with defensive end Grady Jarrett and agent Todd France. Jarrett is set to enter the last year of his contract.

“Well, we’ll keep that private, all those communications between us and Todd and Grady, and we’ll keep those private, and direct with them and keep that in house,” Fontenot said. “But we’ve been clear with how we feel about Grady, the person, the player, all those things. Love Grady, but we’ll keep that in house.”

6. Falcons’ draft order: Overall, the Falcons have five picks in the top 100:

Round 1: Pick No. 8 overall

Round 2: Pick No. 43 overall

Round 2: Pick No. 58 overall (from the Titans)

Round 3: Pick No. 74 overall

Round 3: Pick No. 82 overall (from the Colts)

Round 4: Pick No. 114 overall

Round 5: Pick No. 151 overall

Round 6: Pick No. 190 overall

Round 6: Pick No. 213 overall (compensatory)

7. Draft analysis: Here’s a look at the AJC’s position-by-position draft series:

WIDE RECEIVERSFalcons need to upgrade weapons | Top 10 WRs

RUNNING BACKSPosition has become devalued in draft | Top 10 RBs

TIGHT ENDS Chigoziem Okonkwo survived heart condition | Top 10 TEs

OFFENSIVE LINEEx-UGA lineman Salyer points to wins in SEC trenches | Top 10 OL

QUARTERBACKSMalik Willis now top QB prospect for NFL draft | Top 10 QBs

DEFENSIVE LINEGeorgia dominates D-line talk ahead of draft | Top 10 DL

LINEBACKERSEx-UGA star Dean the latest test of play vs. measurables | Top 10 LBs

CORNERBACKSLots of intrigue in 2022 NFL draft’s cornerback class | Top 10 CBs

SAFETIESGeorgia’ Lewis Cine will knock your block off | Top 10 Safeties

SPECIAL TEAMSSpecial-teams players attracting some NFL draft interest | Top 10 special teamers

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The Falcons' Cordarrelle Patterson runs against the Saints last season. Atlanta re-signed Patterson to a two-year contract. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Credit: AP

The Falcons' Cordarrelle Patterson runs against the Saints last season. Atlanta re-signed Patterson to a two-year contract. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Credit: AP

Combined ShapeCaption
The Falcons' Cordarrelle Patterson runs against the Saints last season. Atlanta re-signed Patterson to a two-year contract. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

8. Falcons’ depth chart: Here’s a look at the current “unofficial” depth chart heading into the draft. It was brought to our attention that safeties are left and right and not designated strong safety and free safety.

Also, we had Cordarrelle Patterson solely at wide receiver but were advised to move him back to running back.

OFFENSE

WR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby, KhaDarel Hodge

TE – Kyle Pitts, Ryan Becker, Brayden Lenius

LT – Jake Matthews, Willie Beavers

LG – Jalen Mayfield, Colby Gossett, Rashaad Coward

C – Matt Hennessy or Drew Dalman

RG – Chris Lindstrom, Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil

RT – Kaleb McGary, Germain Ifedi, Elijah Wilkinson, Rick Leonard

TE – Anthony Firkser, Parker Hesse, Daniel Helm, John Raine

WR – Auden Tate, Damiere Byrd, Austin Trammell, Chad Hansen

RB – Cordarrelle Patterson, Damien Williams, Mike Davis, Qadree Ollison, Caleb Huntley

FB – Keith Smith

QB – Marcus Mariota, Feleipe Franks

DEFENSE

DE – Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson

NT – Vincent Taylor, Anthony Rush, Ta’Quon Graham

DE – Nick Thurman, John Cominsky

OLB – Lorenzo Carter, James Vaughters, Jordan Brailford

ILB – Deion Jones, Dorian Etheridge

ILB – Rashaan Evans, Mykal Walker

OLB – Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Quinton Bell, Rashad Smith

LCB - A.J. Terrell, Darren Hall, Mike Ford, Corey Ballentine, Cornell Armstrong, Lafayette Pitts

FS (Left) – Jaylinn Hawkins, Erik Harris

SS (Right) – Richie Grant, Teez Tabor, Luther Kirk

RCB – Casey Hayward, Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield, Avery Williams, Dee Alford

SPECIAL TEAMS

K – Younghoe Koo

P – Dom Maggio

LS – Beau Brinkley

H – Dom Maggio

PR – Avery Williams

KOR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Avery Williams

9. Free-agency tracker: Fontenot believes what the Falcons accomplished in free agency will help them in the draft.

“That’s the first part of the process in the offseason, and we want to bring in as much as you can in every phase at every position, and when you add, we always want to take the best players off the board in the draft,” Fontenot said. “When you’re adding to those positions, you’re adding competition. I think that helps going into the draft. So that’s really important. That’s something we prioritize.”

With free agency winding down, here’s what the Falcons have done.

Extension

Jake Matthews, LT – Three years, $55.5 million.

Retained

Younghoe Koo, PK – Five years, $24.25 million ($11.5 guaranteed).

Olamide Zaccheaus, WR – $2.4 million tender.

Erik Harris, FS – One year, $1.2 million. ($1,047,500 guaranteed).

Cordarrelle Patterson, RB, WR – Two years, $10.2 million.

Isaiah Oliver, CB – One year, $2.3 million.

Colby Gossett, G – One year, $965,000.

Anthony Rush, DT – One year, $965,000.

Not retained

Foye Oluokun, LB – Three years, $45 million ($28 million guaranteed) with Jaguars.

Russell Gage, WR – Three years, $30 million with Bucs.

Josh Harris, LS – Four years, $5.6 million ($1.92 million guaranteed) with Chargers.

Hayden Hurst, TE – One year, $3.5 million ($2 million guaranteed) with Bengals.

New players

Marcus Mariota, QB – Two years, $18.7 million ($6.7 guaranteed).

Casey Hayward, CB – Two years, $11 million.

Lorenzo Carter, OLB – One year, $3.5 million ($2 million guaranteed).

Damien Williams, RB – One year, $1.62 million. Included $500,000 signing bonus.

Elijah Wilkinson, OL – One year, $1.03 million.

Teez Tabor, DB – One year, $965,000.

KhaDarel Hodge, WR – One year, $1.03 million.

Rashaan Evans, LB – One year, $1.75 million, with $500,000 guaranteed.

Beau Brinkley, LS – One year, $1.2 million with salary-cap number of $910,000.

Damiere Byrd, WR – One year, $1.2 million with $400,000 guaranteed.

Germain Ifedi, OT/G – One year, $1.2 million with $1,047,500 guaranteed.

Dean Marlowe, S – One year, $1.2 million with a signing bonus of $152,500 and $300,000 guaranteed.

Anthony Firkser, TE – One year, $1.2 million with signing bonus of $152,500 and $300,000 guaranteed.

Liam McCullough, LS -- One year, undisclosed.

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