Cover 9@9: Drafting Justin Fields is ‘no-brainer’ for Falcons

Quarterback Justin Fields throws during Ohio State's Pro Day Tuesday, March 30,2021, at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. (Paul Vernon/AP)
Quarterback Justin Fields throws during Ohio State's Pro Day Tuesday, March 30,2021, at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. (Paul Vernon/AP)

Credit: Paul Vernon

Credit: Paul Vernon

1. The No Spin Zone: After going 4-12 last season, the Falcons are chasing the Buccaneers, Saints and Panthers in the NFC South and didn’t make up much ground in free agency.

While the Saints earned a “four-peat,” winning the division title in 2020, the Bucs went on to capture the Super Bowl. The Panthers finished 5-11.

The Bucs re-signed most of their key players except wide receiver Antonio Brown. The Panthers made a trade for quarterback Sam Darnold and will get Christian McCaffrey back.

In addition to the retirement of quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints, who were $100 million over the salary cap, lost defensive end Trey Hendrickson to the Bengals in free agency. They also lost cornerback Janoris Jenkins, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and nose tackle Malcolm Brown in free agency.

The Saints placed the franchise tag on safety Marcus Williams and tried to replace Hendrickson with Tanoh Kpassagnon, who has seven career sacks over 61 games and 24 starts in four seasons with the Chiefs.

The Saints and Falcons both signed a bunch of second-tier free agents. The Falcons basically replaced Todd Gurley with Mike Davis, who did amass 1,000 yards last season.

Here are the free-agency grades: Bucs - A, Panthers - A, Falcons - B (given the money they had) and the Saints - F.

The Falcons must make up most of the ground in the draft, where they have the fourth pick.

SiriusXM NFL radio analysts Brady Quinn and Charlie Weis were discussing the NFC South on the NFL Blitz show on Tuesday.

Weis believes the Falcons likely will have to pick between Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.

“Because I don’t like any of the defensive players that high, there isn’t one of the defensive players that I would take with the fourth pick,” Weis said. “So, because of that, if I’m the Falcons and I’m picking, if I’m using the pick, I’m either taking the quarterback of the future or I’m taking Pitts.”

Weis has BYU’s Zach Wilson rated as the fourth best quarterback. Jacksonville and the New York Jets have the first two picks in the draft.

“Then the 49ers pick and everyone assumes it’s Mac Jones, we don’t know that either,” Weis said. “If that’s the case, you’d be sitting there with Justin Fields, sitting there at No. 4. You’re the Falcons, are you taking Justin Fields or are you taking Kyle Pitts because you don’t have a trade worth making?”

Quinn quickly answered the rhetorical question.

“Justin Fields because I don’t know that you are going to be in this position again the following year,” Quinn said. “It stinks because Pitts is such a talent and you’d love to get Matt Ryan even more players, guys to throw to, but I think with Julio Jones (and) Calvin Ridley still there, Hayden Hurst who is definitely impactful in the pass game, still, it would be tough for me to think I’m going to be drafting No. 4 again, and I’m going to get a talent. Again, a kid who’s from the state of Georgia. I think there is a little bit of pressure.

“We’ve had callers call-in on the SiriusXM Blitz about that exact subject. If Fields is there and they don’t take him, people are going to be frustrated because there are so many Fields’ fans, who even though he left Georgia and went to Ohio State, they are still pulling for the guy and they’d love to see him in a Falcons uniform.”

Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, of Cartersville, is projected to be drafted No. 1 overall. Wilson is projected to go second, and there is debate over whether the 49ers will take Jones or Fields.

“I have him as the second ranked quarterback,” Quinn said of Fields. “So, in my mind it would be a no-brainer, especially if you’re the organization and you’re saying to yourself, we don’t know how committed we really are to Matt Ryan right now outside of what his contact looks like.”

2. Move to 3-4: Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees said the defense will be multiple, but the team has amassed at lot of former 3-4 players this offseason including Jonathan Bullard, who can play tackle in the 4-3 and end in the 3-4.

Behind defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, there are some steady performers in Tyeler Davison and Steven Means. The rest of the defensive linemen -- Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Marlon Davidson, Deadrin Senat, John Cominsky, Chris Slayton – are unproven at the NFL level.

There’s also the case of Bullard’s former college teammate Dante Fowler, who’s trying to come off an injury-plagued down season.

“I’ll probably be doing a little bit of (end and tackle) all across the line, hopefully,” Bullard said. “The more I can do, the more I can help out. So, my goal is to be able to help anywhere they ask me to. I don’t know exactly where I’m going to be as of now, but I’m sure I’ll learn more over the next few weeks.”

3. Becker signed: Tight end Ryan Becker signed with the Falcons on Tuesday.

Becker, who played at SMU, signed with Arizona as an undrafted free agent in 2020.

Becker, who’s 6-foot-5, 248 pounds, played in 46 games and made 15 starts at SMU. He caught 16 passes for 198 yards and five touchdowns in his college career.

Alabama's Patrick Surtain waits on a play during the second half against South Carolina on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. (Richard Shiro/AP)
Alabama's Patrick Surtain waits on a play during the second half against South Carolina on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. (Richard Shiro/AP)

Credit: Richard Shiro

Credit: Richard Shiro

4. Oddsmakers mock draft: Oddsmakers have the Falcons trading out of the fourth spot and taking Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain with the ninth overall pick and trading back into the first round to pick up Alabama running back Najee Harris with the 31st pick in SportsBettingDime.com’s First Round NFL Mock Draft 1.0, which was released Tuesday.

The Sports Betting Dime First Round NFL Mock Draft 1.0 from the oddsmakers is based upon the actual over/under NFL Draft props being offered by the major sportsbooks including, but not limited to: odds to be a top-5/10 pick, player draft position over/unders, odds to be first player taken at each position, first-round position totals, offense or defense with first pick for each team.

Trades were created to ensure a player was picked in his average draft position by a team with the specific need. The seven first-round picks that were swapped via manufactured trades are indicated with an asterisk.

Last year, the @SBD NFL Mock Draft correctly predicted 8 of the top 13 picks and 23 of the 32 players eventually selected in the first round. Additionally, @SBD was correct that a team would trade up to select Jordan Love, but incorrectly had the Colts jumping to 22 as opposed to the Packers sliding up to 26.

Here’s a look at this year’s @SBD NFL Mock Draft 1.0:

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence
  2. New York Jets - Zach Wilson
  3. San Francisco 49ers - Mac Jones
  4. Denver Broncos* - Justin Fields
  5. Cincinnati Bengals - Kyle Pitts
  6. Miami Dolphins - Ja’Marr Chase
  7. New England Patriots* - Trey Lance
  8. Carolina Panthers - Penei Sewell
  9. Atlanta Falcons* - Patrick Surtain
  10. Los Angeles Chargers* - Rashawn Slater
  11. New York Giants - DeVonta Smith
  12. Philadelphia Eagles - Jaylen Waddle
  13. Dallas Cowboys* - Jaycee Horn
  14. Minnesota Vikings - Christian Darrisaw
  15. Detroit Lions* - Micah Parsons
  16. Arizona Cardinals - Caleb Farley
  17. Las Vegas Raiders - Trevon Moehrig
  18. Miami Dolphins - Kwity Paye
  19. Washington - Dillon Radunz
  20. Chicago Bears - Teven Jenkins
  21. Indianapolis Colts - Liam Eichenberg
  22. Tennessee Titans - Greg Newsome
  23. New York Jets - Jaelan Phillips
  24. Pittsburgh Steelers - Alijah Vera-Tucker
  25. Jacksonville Jaguars - Gregory Rousseau
  26. Cleveland Browns - Jayson Oweh
  27. Baltimore Ravens - Rashod Bateman
  28. New Orleans Saints - Terrace Marshall
  29. Green Bay Packers - Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
  30. Buffalo Bills - Azeez Ojular
  31. Atlanta Falcons* - Najee Harris
  32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Joe Tryon

5. New Director of Sports Medicine: Jake Pfeil, formerly of Florida State, was named the director of sports medicine by the Falcons.

He served as the executive associate director of sports medicine/head athletic trainer at Florida State.

He is certified by the National Athletic Trainers Association Board of Certification and earned his master’s degree in sport administration from Mississippi State in 2002. He graduated from Florida State in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in sport management with an emphasis in athletic training.

Pfeil spent two summers as in intern with the Falcons in 1999 and 2000 and was a seasonal assistant athletic trainer for the club in 2002.

6. Kiper has Falcons taking Lance: ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper has the Falcons trading back to six with the Dolphins and taking quarterback Trey Lance from North Dakota State.

He has the Falcons taking Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau in the second round with the 35th overall pick.

For the record, we’re going to stand on D. Led’s Mock Draft 4.0, which has the Falcons taking the best player available in Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell.

Falcons cheerleaders perform in military-theme uniforms during the game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Falcons cheerleaders perform in military-theme uniforms during the game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

7. Cheerleader tryouts. The Falcons will host a blended audition process to make the 2021 cheerleading squad.

Candidates will submit dance videos virtually during the preliminary and semifinal auditions. Final auditions will take place in person and socially distanced.

Leading to the auditions, a variety of dance and audition prep classes will be offered to the candidates interested in learning about the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders dance techniques and style.

The first virtual dance prep class was Tuesday. Another will be held April 24. Audition prep classes will be held May 11 and June 5.

For more information register here. Follow @ATLCheerleaders on Twitter.

8. Free-agency tracker. The Falcons planned to go value shopping in free agency and have added seven players.

The Falcons have agreed to $11.31 million in contracts and paid out $2.5 million in signing bonuses.

Running back Mike Davis was the lone free agent to receive a two-year deal. The other players have signed one-year deals.

One of the stunners of free agency is that former Falcons safety Keanu Neal received only a one-year contract for $3 million from the Dallas Cowboys.

Here’s a look at the updated Falcons’ free-agency tracker.

CAP CASUALTIES

Ricardo Allen, FS: Released Feb. 18. Agreed to one-year deal with the Bengals.

Allen Bailey, DE: Released Feb. 18.

James Carpenter, OL: Released March 9.

SIGNINGS

--Erik Harris, S: Agreed to terms March 18. He signed a one year, $1.35 million deal and received a $300,000 signing bonus. A total of $600,000 is guaranteed.

--Brandon Copeland, LB: Agreed to terms March 18. He signed a one-year, $1.04 million deal and received a $50,000 signing bonus and $300,000 of his contract was guaranteed.

--Mike Davis, RB: Agreed to terms March 23. He signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal, which included a $1.5 million signing bonus. A total of $3 million of the deal is guaranteed.

--Barkevious Mingo, OLB: Agreed to terms March 23. He signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal. A total of $1.1 million in guaranteed including a $175,000 signing bonus.

--Fabian Moreau, CB: Signed a one-year, $1.27 million deal. He received a $137,500 signing bonus. A total of $987,500 of the deal is guaranteed.

--Josh Andrews, CB: Agreed to one-year contract with guaranteed money. Signed a one-year, $1.27 million deal. He received a $137,500 signing bonus.

--Jonathan Bullard, DT: Agreed to one-year deal. We’re waiting on the terms.

--Ryan Becker, TE: Signed on Tuesday.

TRADES

Lee Smith, TE: Sent a seventh-round pick in 2022 to Buffalo.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Keanu Neal, SS: Did not receive the franchise tag. He signed a one-year fully guaranteed $3 million deal with the Cowboys.

Damontae Kazee, FS: He signed with the Cowboys.

Alex Mack, C: He signed a three-year, $14.85 million deal with the 49ers. A total of $5.6 million was guaranteed.

Darqueze Dennard, CB: Played on a one-year contract in 2020.

Todd Gurley, RB: Played on a one-year contract.

Charles Harris, DE: Signed a one-year $1.75 million fully guaranteed deal with the Detroit Lions.

Brian Hill, RB: Is a valuable special-teams player.

Justin McCray, OL: Signed a two-year, $4 million deal with the Texans and received a $500,000 signing bonus.

Steven Means, DE: He re-signed in free agency after played in all 16 games last season, with 11 starts. Finished with three sacks.

Sharrod Neasman, FS: Solid backup and special-teams player.

LaRoy Reynolds, LB: Speedy special-teamer.

Edmond Robinson, LB: Provided quality depth while playing in 13 games in 2020.

Luke Stocker, TE: Blocking tight end was replaced by Lee Smith.

Laquon Treadwell, WR: Played last season on a one-year contract. Made a couple of plays late in the season.

John Wetzel, OT: Has basically been veteran insurance at tackle.

Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB: Has provided quality depth at cornerback spot. Played in 15 games last season and had three interceptions

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Matt Gono, OL: He signed his $3.384 tender.

Brandon Powell, WR: No tender was made. He signed with the Bills.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

Younghoe Koo, PK: Signed March 11.

Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, DE: Signed March 11.

Tyler Hall, CB: Signed March 11.

Christian Blake, WR: Signed March 11.

Jaeden Graham, TE: Signed March 12.

9. Updated depth chart. Becker joins the ever growing tight end group.

Here’s the updated depth chart:

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 13 Christian Blake

LT 70 Jake Matthews

LG 73 Matt Gono, 66 Willie Wright

C 61 Matt Hennessy, 68 Josh Andrews

RG 63 Chris Lindstrom

RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 71 Willie Beavers

TE 81 Hayden Hurst, 85 Lee Smith, 87 Jaeden Graham, Ryan Becker

WR 83 Russell Gage, 16 Greg Dortch

WR 18 Calvin Ridley

QB 2 Matt Ryan

HB 28 Mike Davis, 25 Ito Smith, 30 Qadree Ollison, 26 Tony Brooks-James

FB 40 Keith Smith

DEFENSE

DE 55 Steven Means, 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 90 Marlon Davidson, 94 Deadrin Senat

DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 99 Jonathan Bullard, 50 John Cominsky, 79 Chris Slayton

DE 56 Dante Fowler

OLB 51 Brandon Copeland

LB 45 Deion Jones, 46 Edmond Robinson

LB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 43 Mykal Walker

OLB 52 Barkevious Mingo

RCB 20 Kendall Sheffield, 22 Fabian Moreau, 29 Chris Williamson

LCB 24 A.J. Terrell, 44 Tyler Hall

NCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 42 Delrick Abrams

FS 23 Erik Harris, 39 T.J. Green

SS 32 Jaylinn Hawkins

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo, 1 Elliott Fry

P 4 Sterling Hofrichter, 9 Dom Maggio

LS 47 Josh Harris

KO 7 Younghoe Koo

KR 14 Chris Rowland

PR 14 Chris Rowland

Here's a quick look at some key stats for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan for the 2020 season and his 13-year career.

Falcons 2021 draft picks

First round: No. 4 overall

Second round: No. 35 (third pick of the round)

Third round: No. 68 (fourth pick of the round)

Fourth round: No. 108 (third pick of the round)

Fifth round: No. 148 (fourth pick of the round)

Fifth round: No. 182 (38th pick of the round, Compensatory pick)

Fifth round: No. 183 (39th pick of the round, compensatory pick)

Sixth round: No. 187 (third pick of the round)

Sixth round: No. 219 (35th pick of the round, compensatory pick)

Seventh round: No. 232 (fourth pick of the round) Tennessee has this pick from Falcons through Miami in Charles Harris deal.