Falcons matter greatly again — on draft day, at least

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

New Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot explains reasoning behind taking best available player, over need in NFL Draft.

These past few months must have been so blah for the football fans in places such as Tampa Bay and Kansas City, Green Bay and Buffalo. The price of victory now is seeing only the back of Mel Kiper’s hair, as he trains his raptor-like gaze upon the top of the NFL draft.

Those places had all their fun in-season. Now they lie at the seabed of the draft order, virtually ignored. Where’s the sex appeal in a 31st pick, when all the greater rewards for incompetence have been picked over like the cashews in a bowl of mixed nuts?

This period between the Super Bowl and the draft (beginning April 29) belongs to the losers. This is the Falcons’ time. So, enjoy.

This is the most relevant the Falcons have been since that long-ago playoff appearance of 2017. In fact, the Falcons occupy perhaps the most fascinating spot in the first round. Some say this No. 4 pick is so pivotal, so filled with the first real intrigue of the night, that they believe the draft won’t really start until the Falcons make their decision.

Who knew going 4-12 could be so much fun? If the side effects of such a season — irritability, loss of appetite for football, difficulty breathing in the game’s final minutes — weren’t so serious, you might want to make it a habit.

Draft Day 1 holds so much possibility for this franchise. This will be the Falcons’ first top-10 pick since 2015 and their highest since taking Matt Ryan No. 3 in 2008.

With past top-5 picks, the Falcons stumbled upon two Hall of Famers — Claude Humphrey and Deion Sanders.

With top-5 picks they’ve also chosen Aundray Bruce and Bruce Pickens. So, from top to bottom, let’s make this a Bruce-free draft, shall we. Not even Pitt lineman Bryce Hargrove or Tennessee defensive back Bryce Thompson. That’s too uncomfortably close, just a vowel away. This is too important a draft to take any sort of chance.

But the fascination with this first pick also comes at a price. There are so many very plausible options and so much debate preceding each one that whatever the Falcons do, they likely will disappoint a sizeable segment of their base.

Those taken with celebrity and name recognition will demand the Falcons follow the theme established by the first three picks and take whatever quarterback remains. Especially if there’s the chance to bring Justin Fields home. There would be a certain symmetry to the pick. Fields sat and languished at Georgia for a year, and now he may do the same with the Falcons.

There seems to be this sense that after this year they’re not going to take any more quarterbacks, so you better grab one now or you’ll be stuck with Ryan until he’s too old to lift a football above his shoulder. A bit of restraint, please. We’re dealing with a McRib sandwich-type situation here. There is the perception of scarcity, but relax, there’ll be another chance to make poor choices in the future.

Those who fancy themselves bargain hunters, those who believe the buy-one-get-one is the best deal since the Louisiana Purchase, will be all for trading down in the search of additional draft picks. This just may be the smartest choice, even if it is the one most lacking pizzazz. And pizzazz is so important these days.

The Falcons’ larder is not exactly bare, but still could use the kind of restocking that usually requires a multi-national airlift. They haven’t gone 18-30 these past three seasons on a full belly of talent.

Those who can never have enough offensive material — no, we’re not talking Amy Schumer — will desire Florida tight end Kyle Pitts. This guy has spectacular written all over him. He stays healthy, he’s going to be a star. And he’s a splendid fit for a team that traditionally wilts in the red zone and one whose new coach builds much tight end into his scheme. Taking a glitzy pass-catcher in times of great need, though, does have the feel of using your last $6 to buy an Us magazine.

And then there are those who invest only in the money market, always pass on the left and whose last meal would be Salisbury steak. They will tell you that Oregon tackle Penei Sewell is the safest choice. Never mind that the Falcons already have invested three top-3 picks in offensive lineman the past two years. Or that another former first-round tackle, Jake Matthews, just had his contract restructured and is not going anywhere. There’s a new coaching staff that just might possess the moxie to believe it can coach up the linemen on hand.

The Terry Fontenot-Arthur Smith combo could not have come along at a more telling moment for the Falcons. Their first draft together may well be their most important. And it’s bound to reveal much about their style and philosophy.

For all the bad losses and turmoil of the season past, the reward is a place of honor at this year’s draft. Eat your heart out, Tampa Bay.

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