A top-10 list for NFL draft as Falcons turn to best player available

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Falcons will trust the board.

Implementing a best-player-available strategy approach under general manager Terry Fontenot, the front office will stack its draft board and, for the most part, follow it from top to bottom when selecting players.

Under previous general manager Thomas Dimitroff, the idea was to take the best player available at a position of need. That philosophy has changed to the best overall player regardless of position.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank noted that Fontenot’s strategy will be different than what he’s seen over the past 13 drafts. Given the kind of consistency Fontenot’s old employer, the New Orleans Saints, have displayed over the same time period, Blank is welcoming this change — especially since it’s a process that was well-utilized under former Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.

“Ozzie has always taken the position of philosophically drafting the best player regardless of need,” Blank said. “I would say we have not always done that.”

While the Falcons are in no position to reveal their draft board when the time comes, here’s an aggregate of six draft rankings making up a top-10 prospect list. The rankings compiled are from ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, CBS Sports, NFL Media, Pro Football Focus and The Draft Network.

*Tiebreakers were decided by who received the highest individual ranking from one of the six lists.

1. Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence (aggregate score: 1)

The consensus top prospect in this year’s NFL draft, the Falcons will have zero shot at landing him without a trade to the top spot. If the Jacksonville Jaguars decide to pass on Lawrence, they will be rightfully tarred and featured for doing such an asinine thing.

Best overall rank: Everyone (1)

Lowest overall rank: Everyone (1)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

2. Oregon OT Penei Sewell (aggregate score: 3.7)

Sewell is considered a generational tackle. That could make things interesting if the Falcons agree with this sentiment and he’s available at the fourth overall selection. If the Falcons went this route, either Jake Matthews or Kaleb McGary makes a move to guard. At the same time, Sewell also could begin his career at guard. And there’s a precedent for such a move. The Ravens drafted Jonathan Ogden fourth overall in the 1996 draft. Ogden started at left guard his first season before moving to left tackle in 1997. Ogden lasted 12 seasons in the NFL and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Best overall rank: Kiper, McShay, CBS Sports, The Draft Network (second)

Lowest overall rank: NFL Media (10th)

3. LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase (aggregate score: 4.2)

Opting out of the 2020 season did nothing to hurt Chase’s standing from the six analysts used in this aggregate, as they all believe he is a top-five prospect. As a sophomore in 2019, Chase caught 84 passes for 1,720 yards and 20 touchdowns with Joe Burrow at quarterback. This connection was good enough to capture the 2019 national championship.

Best overall rank: NFL Media (second)

Lowest overall rank: Kiper, McShay, Pro Football Focus, The Draft Network (fifth)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

4. BYU QB Zach Wilson (aggregate score: 6)

Wilson put in a sensational 2020 season for BYU, completing 73.5% of his throws for 3,692 yards, 33 touchdowns and three interceptions. Although those numbers didn’t come against the toughest competition, Wilson’s arm strength and athletic ability showed he has next-level talent. How teams view the top-tier quarterbacks behind Lawrence will be interesting to see.

Best overall rank: PFF (second)

Lowest overall rank: Kiper (14th)

5. Ohio State QB Justin Fields (aggregate score: 6)

After transferring from Georgia, Fields became exceptional and electric as a starter for the Buckeyes. His College Football Playoff semifinal performance against Clemson showed how much of a fighter and leader he can be for an NFL organization. With the need for more mobility and greater athletic ability at quarterback, it will be hard for teams in need at the position to pass on Fields in the top 10.

Best overall rank: Kiper, PFF, The Draft Network (third)

Lowest overall rank: NFL Media (12th)

6. Alabama WR DeVonta Smith (aggregate score: 6.5)

Kiper and McShay ranked Smith ranked ahead of Chase after his phenomenal season. Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner, emerged as Alabama’s top option and caught 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns -- numbers you typically see on a video game. Smith isn’t the biggest receiver at 6-foot-1 and 174 pounds, yet his polished all-around game makes him an intriguing top-10 option.

Best overall rank: Kiper, McShay (fourth)

Lowest overall rank: CBS Sports (10th)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

7. Penn State EDGE Micah Parsons (aggregate score: 7)

Parsons had a breakout 2019 season with 109 tackles and five sacks. Parsons opted out of the 2020 season, which clearly hasn’t hurt his draft stock among the draft analysts. McShay is the biggest believer in Parsons, as he has him ranked as his third-best player in this year’s class.

Best overall rank: McShay (third)

Lowest overall rank: The Draft Network (13th)

8. Florida TE Kyle Pitts (aggregate score: 7)

Not often are tight ends valued and coveted as potential top-10 selections. Pitts, at 6-foot-6 and 239 pounds, is a matchup nightmare when lining up on the outside or in the slot as a receiver. In eight games, Pitts caught 43 passes for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns. Pitts also is formidable as a run blocker, making him a complete option at the position.

Best overall rank: NFL Media (third)

Lowest overall rank: CBS Sports, Pro Football Focus (ninth)

9. Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle (aggregate score: 8)

Waddle was Alabama’s top receiver before his regular season ended prematurely because of a broken ankle. Waddle showed his toughness by returning and playing sparingly in the national championship game against Ohio State. If not for Waddle’s injury, perhaps the draft experts view him as the top receiver in this year’s class. In six total games, Waddle posted 591 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Best overall rank: CBS, Pro Football Focus, The Draft Network (seventh)

Lowest overall rank: McShay (11th)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

10. Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley (11.8)

Farley, at 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds, fits the mold of today’s NFL cornerback. Opting out of the 2020 season, Farley had an impressive season in 2019, with four interceptions and 12 pass deflections. Finding NFL-ready cornerbacks has become much more important with NFL teams passing more than ever before.

Best overall rank: NFL Media (fifth)

Lowest overall rank: McShay (18th)