Falcons’ new collaborative power brokers ready for the draft

Before being named general manager and head coach, Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith, were in different conferences and only basically familiar with one another’s work.

They met for the first time in-person at Mercedes Benz Stadium back in January and shortly thereafter set out to try to turn around the fortunes of the Atlanta Falcons.

Their first big test is the NFL draft, which will be held Thursday through Saturday in Cleveland.

The first round will start at 8 p.m. Thursday. The second day (rounds two and three) will start at 7 p.m. Friday and the third day (rounds four through seven) will start at Noon Saturday.

The collaboration between Fontenot and Smith will be on display as the Falcons try to restock their personnel and start climbing out of the NFC South cellar.

“He’s obviously very smart and he has strong opinions and he doesn’t have an ego,” Fontenot said of Smith. “If he has an ego, I haven’t seen it yet in all of our time together. He’s a great listener. He does a great job of whether it is myself or the coaches or scouts in terms of listening and allowing everyone to have a voice. It’s been great collaboration.”

Smith said: “It’s the same way I feel about Terry. This transition has been unbelievable. We obviously didn’t know each other well coming into it. I feel very fortunate to be working with Terry. It happened. Both of us listened. We listened to the other coaches, the other scouts and that’s what we want. We mean what we say and that part has been great. Obviously, we are excited going into (Thursday) night.”

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith comment on the owner’s role in selecting the top pick in the draft and beyond.

Also, owner Arthur Blank has a role in the pre-draft process that was revealed on NFL Network by former assistant manager Scott Pioli, who was with the Falcons from 2014 to 2019. He said the owner supports his decision makers.

“He’s been awesome,” Smith said. “We’ve leaned on him for multiple ... whether if it’s a role as a mentor with some of the hard decisions that we’ve had to make so far. He’s going to ask questions and we’ve got to have the answers to why we want to do stuff. That’s in any businesses. We all have bosses and that’s the way it should be.”

Having the owner around didn’t seem to bother Fontenot.

“It’s been great,” Fontenot said. “He’s been giving us unwavering support and like Arthur said, he has a lot of experience and a lot in business in general so we can discuss anything with him in all aspects of the business. He’s always available for that. He’s given us every resource we need. He’s empowered us and he trusts us to make the right decision.”

The Falcons, who have heavily studied the quarterbacks in the draft, are set to make the fourth overall pick in the draft.

“We have a plan at quarterback,” Fontenot said. “There are some good quarterbacks that will go in the first round. If you look historically there have been quarterbacks that …from the first round, the mid-rounds and the late-rounds. There are different ways to acquire quarterbacks.”

The Falcons have not picked this high in the draft since they took Matt Ryan at No. 3 in the 2008 season. He’s the lone quarterback on the roster after Matt Schaub retired and Kurt Benkert was released.

“We have to go through the whole process and evaluate every quarterback, top to bottom,” Fontenot said. “Turn over every stone and make sure we are going through that whole process with those players. We understand that we have to add quarterbacks to the roster. There are a lot of good ones and a lot of good options.”

Former Clemson standout Trevor Lawrence, of Cartersville, is expected to be the first player taken in the draft followed by BYU’s Zach Wilson and Alabama’s Mac Jones.

The Falcons would then have their option to take Ohio State’s Justin Fields, of Harrison High, or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance with the fourth overall pick and land their quarterback of the future.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot says the team has narrowed its choices for the No. 4 pick, but is prepared if they trade back.

“When you’re picking at four, we are trying to take an impact player,” Fontenot said. “Whether if it’s a player that is going to sit or a player that is going to play right away. We want to bring in an impact player that fits the culture that has the right makeup and we have a clear vision for that player. Whether if it’s someone that is going to sit or someone that is going to play day one.”

A lot of the draft analysts and even the odds makers in Las Vegas have the Falcons taking Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, who’s projected to be a star in the NFL.

“Kyle Pitts, he is a special young player,” Fontenot said. “I would say there are a lot of players in the draft like this, He’s also a special young man. If you look at his make-up and him being only 20 years old. He is a very talented player….there are a lot of good players sitting right there at that spot. We are going to be looking at a lot of talented players.”

Oregon tackle Penei Sewell could help buttress the Falcons’ offensive line, which has given up 133 sacks over the past three seasons.

“We’re going to go as the line goes,” Smith said.

Fontenot contends that the Falcons are prepared to trade back if the right deal comes along.

“We have to weigh the options in terms of if we trade back compared to the player that we could get at four or if we trade back, what would be the value be,” Fontenot said. “You have to weigh all of those different variables and scenarios so we know the players we are talking about and we’ve gone through the different things that could happen.

“You never know what is going to happen at that exact moment, but we know the players that we are talking about.”


QUARTERBACKS: How far will Justin Fields drop in draft? | Top 10 QBs

RUNNING BACKS: Plenty of prospects to pick from | Top 10 RBs

WIDE RECEIVERS: Draft deep with talent | Top 10 WRs

TIGHT ENDS: Ability to create mismatches is key | Top 10 TEs

OFFENSIVE TACKLES: A ‘nasty’ bunch | Top 10 OTs

OFFENSIVE GUARDS/CENTERS: The men in the middle | Top 10 C/OGs

END RUSHERS: Pass on this draft stock | Top 10 DEs

DEFENSIVE TACKLES: One star among lackluster block | Top 10 DTs

LINEBACKERS: Deep class for position | Top 10 LBs

CORNERBACKS: Plethora of options for first two rounds | Top 10 CBs

SAFETIES: Falcons likely will add position player | Top 10 Safeties

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