Falcons ‘aligned’ for NFL draft: 5 players on their radar screen

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith.
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Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith.

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith’s first draft together in their collaborative relationship is approaching.

The NFL draft is set to be held April 29 through May 1, and a report that the two sides are split was disputed. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Fontenot is more focused on a quarterback, while Smith is fine with Matt Ryan.

While Fontenot was not available to comment on the matter, it was made clear that Fontenot and Smith are “aligned.”

The Falcons hold the fourth pick in the draft and will look to pivot the franchise from a 4-12 season to being competitive again.

With Jacksonville, the New York Jets and San Francisco set to take quarterbacks with the first three picks, the Falcons will have a chance to draft the most talented position player in the draft.

That could be either Florida tight end Kyle Pitts or Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell. Or, the Falcons could take a quarterback, or they could trade out of the spots and amass picks for the rebuilding of one of the league’s shakiest defenses.

Here are five players on the team’s draft radar screen:

1. Penei Sewell, LT, Oregon: The Falcons could face a tough call between Sewell and Pitts.

“If it’s me in the chair, I’m looking at the chance to get a five-year guy that I can put a contract on, possibly six years if I franchise the guy, versus a tight end that I’m going to have to have a quarterback to get him the ball,” one long-time NFL executive told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He’ll work as a blocker, but he’s not really going to help in the run game.”

The Falcons could start Sewell inside at left guard if he can’t beat out Jake Matthews. But Pitts is enticing.

“He’ll make some plays, the tight end,” the executive said. “He’ll be effective maybe 15 plays out of 65. The left tackle has got to be there 65 out of 65. When you really look it, it’s hard to (take the tight end) if the left tackle is legit. If he’s just a position guy, you can get that later.”

But what if Pitts goes on to be the next Travis Kelce?

“The tight end can play,” the executive said. “He’s going to be that guy. He’s going to make plays wherever he goes. Passing up on certain guys are hard.”

2. Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida: Pitts finished his career at Florida with 100 catches for 1,492 yards (14.9 average) and 18 touchdowns. He became Florida’s all-time leader for receiving yards by a tight end and ranked second in career receptions at the position.

Some compare Pitts with former Georgia Tech and North Cobb High standout Darren Waller, who’s blossomed with the Raiders over the past two seasons.

Pitts has a longer wingspan – 83-3/8 inches -- than any wide receiver or tight end in the NFL over the past 20 years.

“With my wingspan, that gives me an advantage versus people (defensive backs) that maybe have shorter arms,” Pitts said.

While Pitts’ skills as a receiver are elite, his blocking will need some work.

“I would say my weaknesses is hand placement in the run game,” Pitts said.

3. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State: He played in 12 games in 2018 as a freshman at Georgia behind Jake Fromm and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team.

Fields was granted a waiver from the NCAA that allowed him to play immediately for Ohio State. In 2019, he ranked third in the country in touchdown passes, with 41. He threw only three interceptions.

Some scouts have latched on to Fields’ poor showing against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game when he completed 12 of 27 passes (44.4%) for 114 yards and two interceptions.

Ohio State’s recent quarterbacks haven’t fared well in the NFL, and Dwayne Haskins was released by Washington in only his second season in the league. He signed with Pittsburgh.

“I’m not sure,” Fields said when asked about the negative perception of Ohio State quarterbacks. “I don’t know those guys personally. I don’t know their work ethic. I don’t know what they were taught.

“I know Dwayne got taught a little bit similar to what coach (Ryan) Day was teaching. In all honesty, I think I’m different from those guys. I know my work ethic is unmatched.”

4. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU: After the scintillating performance in which Chase caught nine passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns in the College Football Playoff Championship game against Clemson, he opted out of the 2020 season to concentrate on his professional career.

Chase, who’s 6-foot-1 and 208 pounds, dazzled the NFL scouts at his Pro Day workout before a crowd that included Fontenot, offensive coordinator Dave Ragone and wide receivers coach David Brock.

Chase allegedly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds, but the times coming out of LSU have been suspect. He had a 41-inch vertical and 11-foot broad jump which points to the explosiveness of his lower body.

The sure-handed receiver played as a freshman and caught 23 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns in 2018. The following season, he combined with quarterback Joe Burrow to help lead the Tigers to the national title.

He caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns, which included that stellar title-game showing.

5. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama: Surtain, who’s 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds, is widely considered the top cornerback in the draft.

His father, Patrick Surtain, played 11 seasons in the NFL from 1998 to 2008. He was drafted in the second round by the Miami Dolphins and went on to make All-Pro once and was selected to three Pro Bowls.

Surtain believes he’s ready for the NFL after going against former Alabama wide receivers Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith over the past two seasons in practice.

“Going against those guys in practice helped me (to get) better as a player, going against them, competing against them,” Surtain said. “Every week you are confident going into the game because you are not going to face many receivers like them.”

Surtain left Alabama after his junior season. He made 38 consecutive starts and was a unanimous first-team All-American. He allowed 25 yards receiving or fewer in 10 of 13 games last season.

Falcons’ 2021 draft position: Here are the top 10 picks in D. Led’s Mock Draft 4.0:

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence (QB, Clemson)

2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, (QB, BYU)

3. San Francisco 49ers: Justin Fields (QB, Ohio State)

4. Atlanta Falcons: Penei Sewell (OT, Oregon)

5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase (WR, LSU)

6. Miami Dolphins: Kyle Pitts (TE, Florida)

7. Detroit Lions: DeVonta Smith (WR, Alabama)

8. Carolina Panthers: Jaylen Waddle (WR, Alabama)

9. Denver Broncos: Trey Lance (QB, North Dakota State)

10. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain (CB, Alabama)

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