Report card: Falcons earn ‘A’ for fulfilling some needs

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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The Falcons added a safety and an offensive lineman in the NFL Draft Friday.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons went into the NFL draft with nine picks and came out of it with eight players who have a clear path to help the team in the future.

While they didn’t clearly stick to the “best player available” metric, the class is pretty strong and will help to address some needs. Because of that, they earned an “A.”

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“All eight picks, three picks (Saturday), we really helped this football team,” Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said. “And now once the draft ends, we’ll get into the eighth round, and we’re going to continue to add good football players.”

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Falcons' GM and coach discuss the team's 2022 draft.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

There were some issues that needed to be addressed during the grading process.

Why USC wide receiver Drake London over Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson and Alabama’s Jameson Williams?

Why Montana State linebacker Troy Andersen when Georgia’s Nakobe Dean, the Butkus Award winner, was still on the board?

Why Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder over Liberty’s Malik Willis?

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Some of the draft picks will step in right away, while others – including Andersen and Ridder – will need some development from coach Arthur Smith and his veteran NFL staff.

The Falcons vowed to take the best player available on the board and not reach for players. Taking Ridder in the third round required a great deal of patience that could pay major dividends down the road.

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Falcons GM Terry Fontenot, coach Arthur Smith discuss the selection of Drake London with the No. 8 pick in the 2022 NFL draft.

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But did they take the best player available by selecting Ridder over Willis? Willis was rated higher by several draft analysts going into the draft. Willis, who played at Westlake and Roswell High, went 12 picks later to Tennessee.

Fontenot said they took the best player available with the eighth overall pick in London. We couldn’t find anybody who had him rated over Wilson and Williams. He was ranked third in the AJC’s position-by-position series, CBSsports.com, NFL.com and by Dane Brugler of The Athletic.

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But the Falcons like bigger receivers, so London was No. 1 on their board. He’s a tough zone buster who can work the underneath routes.

“I see a good Z (off-the-line receiver),” said former NFL receiver Laveranues Coles on The33rdteam.com. “I don’t see him lining up at X (on the line) every time and getting separation.

“The offense that he goes into will have to fit in his skill set, and the offensive coordinator will have to work with him, moving him around to allow for him to get open based on scheme. He’s not a guy that you can just look up every time and expect him to get open at X (on the line).”

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Drake London talks to the media in Atlanta Friday, hours after being selected by the Falcons with the eighth overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Also, the Andersen over Dean selection was initially a draft head-scratcher.

Andersen looks like a fine prospect, while Dean is smaller. Some contend that Dean benefited from playing behind Georgia’s massive defensive line. It also hurt Dean that no one had a good 40-yard dash time on him and the medical reports were not good. He has pectoral, labrum and knee issues.

All of those issues caused Dean, who thought he’d done enough on film, to drop to the third round to the Eagles, where he could continuing playing behind big Jordan Davis.

So, all of those concerns were addressed.

While you can argue the Falcons didn’t stick to their best player available strategy, they appeared to fill some needs along the way.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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Falcons' Arthur Smith, Terry Fontenot disclose the team's needs prior to the 2022 NFL draft.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

“You can say we have needs everywhere,” Smith said. “That’s not a shot at anybody currently on our roster, it’s just where we are currently in the building process.”

Arnold Ebiketie, with his elite-level explosion and agility numbers, should immediately help the anemic pass rush. Throwing a strong blocker such as Justin Shaffer into the offensive line mix can only increase the competition along one of the team’s weakest units.

The Falcons gave up pick No. 43 and their fourth-round pick (114) to move up five spots to 38th to get Ebiketie.

“The reason we traded up is we had him high on the board,” Fontenot said. “We wanted to go up and get him.”

The Falcons believe they drafted the best players available.

“I’d say we stayed true to the integrity of the board, and we don’t want to reach at any points,” Fontenot said when asked if they were surprised that Ridder was available at 74. “That scouting department led by Kyle Smith working along with the coaches in a collaborative effort do a great job setting that board. We stayed true to the board and took the best players off.”

Here’s a look at each player:

» First round (eighth overall) – Drake London, WR, USC

Fontenot’s take: “We love the way the young man is wired ... as a player, he’s big, he’s athletic, the versatility, things he can do on the field, the catch radius. We are very excited to make him a Falcon.”

Smith’s take: “We felt pretty comfortable with his speed and everything, on tape. We are not going to discuss internal measurements we had on guys. But you just watch the tape, he’s plenty fast enough.”

» Second round (38th overall) – Arnold Ebiketie, OLB, Penn State

Fontenot’s take: “We call him AK. ... We added a pass rusher that wins a lot of different ways. He’s got variety (of moves), and he plays with motor ... he’s going to fit in here. He’s going to come in here and go to work.”

Smith’s take: “If you’re going to say that stuff (being tough and physical) and you don’t go get those guys, you’re just a hypocrite. You want a fast team, go get some fast players. If you want a tough team, go get guys that are tough.”

» Second round (58th overall) – Troy Andersen, LB, Montana State

Fontenot’s take: “Troy Andersen, man, excited about that player. You look at his measurables, high football IQ, the things he can bring to this defense, we couldn’t be more excited. Again, makeup, skill set.”

Smith’s take: “We had good background on him ... the coaching side, (new running backs coach) Mike Pitrie was with him early in his career. He is a rare athlete, a guy that clearly, when people say, oh, that guy is a football player, the guy has got great instincts, played multiple spots, he’s got great spatial awareness, certainly his measurables are off the charts, but you don’t take guys just on measurables, the guy can play.”

» Third round (74th overall) – Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati

Fontenot’s take: “Desmond Ridder, big athletic makeup, traits, tools.”

Smith’s take: “Des, he’s made of the right stuff, too. We have a lot of good background on him. Obviously, you watch the tape, you saw what he did at that program in Cincinnati, you felt very comfortable when you see him. And when you got to meet him in person – I’ve got a ton of respect for Luke Fickell and the program in Cincinnati. Des went in there, and he won.”

» Third round (82nd overall) – DeAngelo Malone, OLB, Western Kentucky

Fontenot’s take: “He is another pressure player that plays with violence and toughness any game you put on. So very excited about that group.”

Smith’s take: “It was refreshing that some of those guys (including Malone) were at all-star games.”

» Fifth round (151st overall) – Tyler Allgeier, RB, Brigham Young

Fontenot’s take: “Four-down player, first and second down, the way he can run the ball, third down, he can catch and protect. Fourth down, the value he brings in the kicking game.”

Smith’s take: “Great football player. We expect him – certainly he’ll be in that room. Jobs are wide open, right? We know his first-, second-down production. With all the backs, it’s a different game to protect in the NFL, and you’re betting on the makeup and athletic ability and spatial awareness that he has. It’s something we’ll have to develop. We love his yards after contact ... the opportunity is there. The running back room, wide open.”

» Sixth round (190th overall) – Justin Shaffer, OG, Georgia

Fontenot’s take: “Big Justin, adding a big, powerful offensive lineman with the right makeup, another Cedar Grove, local. He said that DeAngelo is his cousin … But he’s excited.”

Smith’s take: “He’s a big, nasty mauler.”

» Sixth round (213th overall) – John FitzPatrick, TE, Georgia

Fontenot’s take: “(We took) a big tight end, also local. We have a clear vision for what he’s going to be ... big athletic man. So, there’s not a lot of men that big walking around and can move like (him).”

Smith’s take: “Obviously, big John. (We want) guys that have functional football intelligence and are coming in here to compete, and they are going to continue to work to improve. That’s what we are looking for with these type of players.”

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