Falcons have a chance to land a Top 10 draft pick

Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons tackles Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams during the 2018 Cotton Bowl.

Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons tackles Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams during the 2018 Cotton Bowl.

If the NFL draft were held today, the Falcons would select eighth overall.

With the Falcons eliminated from the playoff race, it’s natural to start looking at the players who’ll be available in the 2020 draft, which will be held April 23-25 in Las Vegas.

The unofficial start to the draft season begins with the Senior Bowl on Jan. 25 in Mobile, Alabama.

Including Falcons draft picks Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary, the Senior Bowl had 10 first-round draft picks, the most since 2011. That was a major accomplishment considering there were only 56 underclassmen in the 2011 draft, compared to 111 in the 2019 draft.

“We’ve got a big year to follow up, but I feel better about this year’s roster,” said Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, a former NFL scout.

Last season, the Falcons were also eliminated early. They won their final three games to go from picking fifth to 14th. With that pick, they selected Lindstrom out of Boston College. Tampa Bay selected LSU linebacker Devin White with the fifth overall pick.

“There are some position of strengths that were really thin last year,” Nagy said. “Everything is kind of cyclical. The (offensive) line was really good last year. It’s a little bit down this year. There are a couple of junior tackles that are going to get taken high in the first.

“There are some really good developmental prospects, but there are not as many guys that are NFL ready that going to come in be starters like guys like Lindstrom. Not many guys like that, especially on the interior. The interior (offensive) line is kind of thin.”

The will be plenty of NFL level skill position players at cornerback, wide receiver and running back in the upcoming draft.

“It might be the best wideout class I’ve done in 21 years of scouting,” Nagy said. “The running back class is deep and talented. Quarterback is a little thin. (Defensive) line is strong again. Linebacker is good. The biggest difference in the (offensive) line is down a little bit.”

Cincinnati (1-12) are the favorites to land the top pick and many are projecting that they’ll take LSU quarterback Joe Burrow.

A lot of the pre-draft drama will revolve around injured Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and his hip injury. He was projected to be the top quarterback taken before the injury, but now may slip to later in the first round.

The New York Giants (2-11) would likely take Ohio State defensive end Chase Young in the second position.

Miami (3-10) will be major players in the 2020 draft. Right now, they have three first-round picks after trading Minkah Fitzpatrick to Pittsburgh and Laremy Tunsil to Houston.

Washington (3-10), Detroit (3-10), Arizona (3-9-1) and Jacksonville (4-9) are the other teams currently drafting in front of the Falcons.

Washington, Detroit and Arizona don’t need quarterbacks, while Jacksonville could be in the market for one. The Falcons want as many quarterbacks as possible to be selected before their turn so that a good position player falls to them.

With the eighth pick last season, Detroit took tight end T.J. Hockenson from Iowa.

Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who’s been compared to Falcons safety Keanu Neal, would be a nice fit for the Falcons at the eighth slot.

Here’s a look at the top 10 players in the 2020 NFL draft:

1. Joe Burrow, quarterback, LSU: The former Ohio State transfer led the Tigers to the SEC championship and the No. 1 seed for the college football playoffs. Burrow set school records for passing yards (4,715), passing touchdowns (48), passing yards per game (362.7), completions (342), total offense (5,004) and total offense per game (384.9) this season. He also broke SEC records for passing yards and passing touchdowns in a season.

2. Chase Young, defensive end, Ohio State: An elite pass rusher, he flashed on the scene in 2018 after Nick Bosa was injured and finished with 9.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last season.

3. Derrick Brown, defensive tackle, Auburn:  He's 6-foot-5 and 318 pounds and is very difficult to block. NFL teams want big tackles who can collapse the passing pocket. He was named the SEC defensive player of the year after getting 12.5 tackles for losses, four sacks and two forced fumbles. He was selected as the SEC defensive lineman of the week three times and was named a finalist for several awards including the Outland Trophy.

4. Justin Herbert, quarterback, Oregon:  He's 6-6 and 237 pounds and is the classic drop back quarterback. He can make all of the NFL throws and is proficient working off play-action fakes. He entered the season as the top-rated quarterback, but was passed by Burrow.

5. Jerry Jeudy, wide receiver, Alabama: All-SEC selection with dynamic speed. He's a smooth and fluid route runner. Jeudy had 25 touchdown receptions over his two-plus years for the Crimson Tide and ranks second all-time in school history, behind only Amari Cooper's 31. He ranks fifth on the Crimson Tide's career receiving yards list with 2,538 yards on 153 catches.

6. Jeff Okudah, cornerback, Ohio State: At 6-1 and 200 pounds, he's a physical shutdown cornerback. He suffered a concussion in the Big Ten title game, but returned to the action in the second half. He's a nominee for the Jim Thorpe award, which goes to the nation's top defensive back. 

7. Jalen Hurts, quarterback, Oklahoma: The play of Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes and Kyler Murray in the NFL have teams re-thinking the position. Hurts helped himself immensely by transferring from Alabama and guiding Oklahoma to the college football playoffs. Hurts went into the bowl season ranked fourth nationally in completion percentage (.718; OU record is .709 by Baker Mayfield in 2016), seventh in rushing touchdowns (18; second among QBs) and 10th in passing touchdowns (32). Hurts averages 279.5 passing yards and 96.5 rushing yards per contest.

8. Andrew Thomas, offensive tackle, Georgia: He won the SEC's Jacobs Blocking trophy after a fine season. A former AJC Super 11 prospect from Pace Academy will likely be the first lineman taken in the draft.

9. Isaiah Simmons, linebacker, Clemson: At 6-4 and 225 pounds, he can play near the line of scrimmage and, as a former safety has coverage skills. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has compared Simmons to Neal.

10. Alex Leatherwood, offensive tackle, Alabama: He started at guard as a sophomore before moving to left tackle last season to replace Jonah Williams.


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