Cover 9@9: Assistant GM Kyle Smith on the state of the roster post Cousins-Penix moves

Hit-rate, bust-rate, Green Bay model, luxury item and the defense
072822 Flowery Branch, Ga.: Atlanta Falcons vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith speaks to members of the media during training camp at the Falcons Practice Facility Thursday, July 28, 2022, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

072822 Flowery Branch, Ga.: Atlanta Falcons vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith speaks to members of the media during training camp at the Falcons Practice Facility Thursday, July 28, 2022, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (Jason Getz /

1. The no spin zone: Falcons assistant general manager Kyle Smith spoke with the media recently and several topics – in addition to why the Falcons drafted Michael Penix Jr. – were discussed.

We’re going to use the blog this week to catch everyone up on those other topics.

He was asked about why the Falcons didn’t try to improve the defense, which was ranked 11th (yards allowed, 321.1), 20th (rushing yards allowed, 118.2), eighth (passing yards allowed, 202.9) and 18th (points allowed, 21.9).

“It’s always best player available on our board and how that board falls to us,” Smith said. “The confidence and conviction we have in the players that are there available to us. You know, we when you have a lot of different players up there at different positions. We do value certain positions over other positions and if it’s all equal, you’re looking at need.”

Some positions – i.e. quarterback – are more valuable than others.

“You’re looking at positional values, you’re looking at all those things,” Smith said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve been the same. We’ve been consistent that way. Use free agency to set yourself up for the draft so you can go in there and pick best player available for you.”

2. Why both Quarterbacks? Smith was asked why the team needed both quarterbacks. It was surmised that they could have spent the free agency money on defense if they knew they were taking Penix.

(That would have been a major gamble and they could have ended up J.J. McCarthy or Bo Nix because of need).

“Well, there’s like we believe, but that’s not….you’re getting into the hypotheticals of it all,” Smith said. “If everything was the same and we went in there we didn’t hit say we didn’t have any quarterbacks on our roster. We just sit there at eight and pick a quarterback…That’s the way the process works. It is no different than what we’ve done in ‘21. We identify first in February, how many quarterbacks that we think are going to go it could be 12. In the first round, six, eight, whatever it is this year. We thought there would be six. I was wrong. I thought four would go before us. But thought there would be six that would go.

“So, now you take that number. We think there’s going to be 12 first-round quarterbacks this year. We shut the doors and take all the grades and we take all the scouts opinions and coaches opinions (and look at) character, makeup, everything that goes into it.

“Raheem and Terry’s job is to sit there and say of these 12. Who are we going to (take)? Who (are) the guys we believe in? Who are the conviction guys? Who are we going to pull the trigger on?....This is the first year that we sat there and there was one that we would (select).”

Predicting how many draftable quarterbacks in the draft is key and how high they’d be selected. The Falcons clearly weren’t certain that Penix would be there at eight.

“So, essentially what we’ve done is, we have Kirk Cousins, who we believe in,” Smith said. “What we did to get Kirk Cousins should tell everybody what we believe about Kirk Cousins. He’s our guy. We set ourselves up. In the draft, Michael Penix was there and it’s a quarterback, a young quarterback that we believe in. We pulled the trigger. I mean that’s that’s kind as clear as I can say it.”

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Kirk Cousins speaks during his introductory press conference at the Falcons practice facility in Flowery Branch on Wednesday, March 13, 2024.
Miguel Martinez/

Credit: Miguel Martinez

icon to expand image

Credit: Miguel Martinez

3. The Falcons knew an uproar would ensue: Most of the draftniks had the Falcons taking defense, either Alabama outside linebacker Dallas Turner, UCLA defensive end Laiatu Latu or Texas defensive tackle Byron Murphy.

“Part of the reason I think that nobody had us taking (a quarterback) was because we have a quarterback,” Smith said. “We have Kirk Cousins. If we signed a one-year quarterback in free agency or you don’t do anything… you get put into the category of they could take one. There were still teams beyond the top 12 that we think could take quarterbacks. It just how does it fall out? So, you’re just trying to prepare yourself either way.”

The Falcons take a five-year approach. Are they OK at the position for the next five years? Cousins will be 36 when the season starts. Unless he’s Georgia Blanda (48), Tom Brady (45) or Brett Favre (41), then he’s not playing into his 40s.

“We feel we’re in a great position because we’ve got Kirk Cousins, who we believe in to the highest degree,” Smith said. “We have Michael Penix that we believe in. So, for the next five years again, we feel great about the position minimum.”

30 visits, medicals: Smith was asked why didn’t Penix come in for one of their top 30 visits and how did they check on his medical history.

“So, the medicals, that all happens at the combine,” Smith said. “We had Michael Penix and a lot of other guys scheduled for 30s. But we made our private visit. We kind of checked the box (and said) let’s utilize another 30 on somebody else that we need more information.”

4. Hit-rate, bust-rate at QB position: The Falcons were well aware of the historical hit-and-bust rate at quarterback and they were right in the middle of the recent bust-rate of the 2021 draft.

In perhaps the greatest quarterback draft ever back in 1983, there were big hits and three solid players. John Elway (more than 51,000 yards passing), Jim Kelly (35,000) and Dan Marino (61,000) were all taken and currently are in members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Tony Eason (11,000 yards passing), Ken O’Brien (25,000) and Todd Blackledge (5,000) were also taken in that draft, all ahead of Marino.

In the 1999 draft, Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith went 1, 2, and 3. Duante Culpepper went 11th and Cade McNown 12th. Akili Smith and McNown were busts.

“It’s the hardest position to evaluate….Those numbers that we’ve all seen and look at, that tells you that, but I think…. the mistakes that you make, that anybody probably makes at the position is because you need it so badly,” Smith said. “Everybody knows that we all know how badly that position is needed.”

In 2021, when the Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance went 1,2 and 3, the Falcons took a tight end with the fourth overall pick, passing on Justin Fields and Mac Jones.

“Our philosophy is not just to take a position,” Smith said. “We believe in if you’re taking that position, you have to believe in that guy (and that he) is going to be the guy. That’s why you’re taking them.”

Since the rookie salary cap was put in place after the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, teams have been more willing to gamble on quarterbacks in the draft. There’s no major salary cap penalty if the player doesn’t work out.

“Since the rookie slotting has come, I think you’re seeing more of them go because the financial hit is what you can get out of,” Smith said. “I guess it is probably why more Hey, roll the dice, take a shot, those type of things, but we don’t believe in the take-a-shot business. We got to have conviction in our minds if we’re going to take that position. This is the first time that we were staring down the barrel to do that.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Michael Penix Jr. meets the media the day after being selected by the Falcons with the No. 8 pick in the 2024 NFL draft.

5. The Green Bay Model: Falcons coach Raheem Morris referred to the Green Bay model of having Jordan Love sit behind Aaron Rodgers for three years in a development plan.

“There’s pieces to this and that philosophy,” Smith said. “Yes, it’s the most important position so you know, solidify yourself and double down if you have to. If you have conviction on guys, take them.

“But obviously our situation is different than theirs was. Kirk, just signing Kirk and (with him) just coming here, obviously Brett Farve and in Aaron Rodgers where there and solidified in those roles. So, there are differences, but the philosophy is the same if you have…..if you believe in a guy, take the guy, you know, especially at that position.”

6. Much debate and blowback: Again, the Falcons knew the move would be controversial.

“No, I’m not surprised because again, if what we were talking about with, really the three ways that you can acquire a guy,” Smith said. “Essentially, we’ve done that in different, it’s a different order. It’s a different way. It’s different, but it’s still saying the same thing.

So, I think what makes this unique is kind of the timing or the order in which it happened. No, I wasn’t surprised because I don’t know if it’s been done before. So, that’s why the discussion. Yeah, we understood that there’s probably going to be a lot of discussion about this.”

7. Luxury item for a 7-10 team?: Getting the quarterback of the future with a roster with some obvious holes seemed like a luxury item to some.

“Again, it goes back to just it’s more about that position and take it in steps of like Kirk,” Smith said. “We feel good about our roster, but we feel great about Kirk. That’s why we went and got Kirk and that position is very important….(It’s) no different than if, like we said if you were to go and trade and give up picks for a veteran quarterback and bring him in, you’re sacrificing draft capital in the future to win now because you have that position. So yeah, we feel good about our roster.

“In our minds, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but in the personnel side, you never feel like you’re a piece away. Like that’s not my job. My job is to always continue to find something else like that’s what we do every day is watching tape and how can we upgrade? How can we go to the CFL? These new leads find something to upgrade. We’re always constantly trying to upgrade if it makes sense.

“We’re not going to try to force something and panic and try to go do this because we didn’t address this position in the draft. …We’re not going to panic. We feel good about our roster. We do. But that doesn’t mean we feel as a personnel (guy) hey, we’re one piece away and this changes everything. No, we’ll continue to build. Stay disciplined on what we believe in, both through the draft and free agency and keep executing that way.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot provided answers (with a smile) in response to the creative one final question from the AJC's D. Orlando Ledbetter.

8. Depth chart: Here’s the updated post-draft depth chart with the rookies (drafted and undrafted):


QB – Kirk Cousins, Taylor Heinicke, Michael Penix Jr., John Paddock

RB – Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, Avery Williams, Carlos Washington Jr., Jase McClellan

FB – Tucker Fisk, Robert Burns

WR – Drake London, Josh Ali, Austin Mack, Greg Washington, JaQuae Jackson

Slot WR – Rondale Moore, Ray-Ray McCloud

TE – Kyle Pitts, Charlie Woerner, John FitzPatrick, Austin Stogner

LT – Jake Matthews, Tyler Vrabel, Barry Wesley

LG – Matthew Bergeron, John Leglue, Ryan Coll

C – Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil, Jovaughn Gwyn

RG – Chris Lindstrom, Kyle Hinton, Nolan Potter

RT – Kaleb McGary, Storm Norton, Ryan Swoboda

WR – Darnell Mooney, KhaDarel Hodge, Chris Blair, Isaiah Wooden

DEFENSE 3-4 alignment

DE – Zach Harrison, Kentavius Street, Demone Harris, James Smith-Williams, Brandon Porlus

NT – David Onyemata, LaCale London, Tommy Togiai, Eddie Goldman, Zion Logue

DT – Grady Jarrett, Kentavius Street, Ta’Quon Graham, Willington Previlon, Ruke Orhorhoro

LOLB – Arnold Ebiketie, Ade Ogundeji

LILB – Kaden Elliss, Donavan Mutin, Milo Eifler

RILB – Troy Andersen, Nate Landman, J.D. Bertrand

ROLB – Lorenzo Carter, DeAngelo Malone, Breland Trice

CB – A.J. Terrell, Antonio Hamilton, Jayden Price, Anthony Sao

Nickel CB – Mike Hughes, Dee Alford, Trey Vaval

FS – Jessie Bates III, Micah Abernathy, Tre Tarpley III

SS – DeMarcco Hellams, Richie Grant, Lukas Denis

CB – Clark Phillips III, Natrone Brooks, Kevin King


K – Younghoe Koo

P/H – Bradley Pinion, Ryan Sanborn

LS – Liam McCullough

PR – Ray-Ray McCloud or Avery Williams

KOR – Ray-Ray McCloud or Avery Williams

9. Draft position by position series:


WIDE RECEIVERS -- Don’t sleep on Washington’s Rome Odunze among talented wide receivers | Top 10 WRs

RUNNING BACKS -- ‘Day two is going to be the running back day,’ an analyst says | Top 10 RBs

TIGHT ENDS -- Ex-Georgia standout Brock Bowers is the top tight end | Top 10 TEs

QUARTERBACKS -- After Caleb Williams, is Jayden Daniels or Drake Maye the next quarterback? | Top 10 QBs

OFFENSIVE LINE -- Mims, Van Pran-Granger could help NFL teams in the trenches | Top 5 C, OG, OTs

DEFENSIVE LINE -- T’Vondre Sweat’s recent arrest will impact his status | Top 5 DTs, DEs

LINEBACKERS -- Dallas Turner likes to hit quarterbacks | Top 10 LBs

CORNERBACKS -- Alabama cornerbacks Arnold, McKinstry ready for next level | Top CBs

SAFETIES --Javon Bullard’s instinctive play style should translate well in NFL | Top 10 safeties

SPECIAL TEAMS -- NFL draft: New kickoff return rules to boost special-teams players | Top 10 special

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