The Atlanta Falcons 2021 NFL Draft class is official, which means it’s time to review how the team did. First-year General Manager Terry Fontenot made some noise in his maiden draft with the Falcons. He and new head coach Arthur Smith hinted at the direction they envision Atlanta to take in this draft class. Accounting for trades and two compensatory picks, Atlanta selected nine players over the draft’s seven rounds. In all, they obtained the following players.
- First-round, 4th overall: Kyle Pitts, tight end, Florida
- Second round, 40th overall: Richie Grant, safety, UCF
- Third round, 68th overall: Jalen Mayfield, tackle, Michigan
- Fourth round, 108th overall: Darren Hall, cornerback, San Diego State
- Fourth round, 114th overall: Drew Dalman, center, Stanford
- Fifth round, 148th overall: Ta’Quon Graham, defensive tackle, Texas
- Fifth round, 182nd overall: Adetokunbo Ogundeji, defensive end, Notre Dame
- Fifth round, 183rd overall: Avery Williams, cornerback, Boise State
- Sixth round, 187th overall: Frank Darby, wide receiver, Arizona State
Atlanta Falcons 2021 NFL Draft Grade: 8.0/10
NFL Draft Review: Atlanta Falcons
The Best Player: Kyle Pitts
Atlanta selected the first non-quarterback of the 2021 NFL Draft at fourth overall. With Justin Fields and Mac Jones on the board, Fontenot and Smith backed long-time franchise quarterback Matt Ryan to turn the team’s fortunes around in year one of the new regime.
Pitts is an athletic freak for the tight end position. Many fans are scared by the labeling of Pitts as a tight end, they shouldn’t be. List him as a wide receiver, and line him up there and he’ll the job just as well as any other receiver in this class. He’s big enough, fast enough, and runs routes like a receiver.
Smith must have a plan for how to get the best out of Pitts as a rookie. The options are endless but it’s important not to overwhelm Pitts by expecting him to line up all over the formation in year one. With Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, and Hayden Hurst already in the building, how Smith sets about carving out a role for Pitts in this explosive offense will be fascinating to watch in 2021.
Ultimately this front office could be graded years from now on their decision to pass on the quarterbacks that came after Pitts. However, the former Florida Gator won’t be concerned. He’s the most exciting receiving prospect of the draft class and a home run hit for Atlanta.
The Head-Scratcher: No Quarterback At all?
The front office can be forgiven for not selecting a quarterback fourth overall. Ryan’s newly restructured contract ties the two sides together for at least the next two seasons. The contract carries the potential for a lot of dead money on the cap if Atlanta wants to move on from Ryan in 2022 ($40,912,500) or 2023 ($15,612,500).
However, Fontenot may be able to stomach the 2023 dead cap hit. Making it all the more intriguing as to why he didn’t select a developmental quarterback in what was considered a draft full of such prospects. Even more interesting, Ryan has been an iron man most of his career but aged 36 when the new season kicks off, durability has to be a question mark.
Atlanta signed A.J. McCarron to be the team’s backup quarterback for 2021. It would only have benefitted the Falcons to take a swing at a mid-round rookie to develop behind Ryan. There was competition for such prospects as Kyle Trask, Kyle Mond, and Davis Mills all came off the board within the five picks prior to Atlanta’s third-round selection. The teams ahead perhaps sensed Atlanta was in the market for a mid-round quarterback.
If Atlanta was eyeing up one of the above quarterbacks, is this an instance of a rookie general manager not sensing the competition ahead of him? Perhaps. Regardless, Ryan comes away from this off-season with only McCarron for competition in the quarterback room and a huge individual winner.
The Surprise: Darren Hall
This selection falls under the category of a profile preference at cornerback. By most scouts’ grades, Hall was not the best cornerback left on the board near the beginning of the fourth round. He was projected as a developmental prospect and is unlikely to earn a starting role as a rookie. Making this pick somewhat of a surprise by Atlanta.
However, it’s only a minor surprise. Dean Pees is the new defensive coordinator in Atlanta. He must have given the go-ahead on this selection given he will likely have full reigns of the defense with Smith hired as an offensive-minded head coach. Atlanta may see something in Hall that will mesh well with their new scheme.
The Steal: Jalen Mayfield
Some graded Mayfield as a potential first-round pick early in the pre-draft process. The measurables and raw athleticism are exciting but inconsistent tape in a deep class for offensive linemen saw his stock drop. However, Mayfield is expected to challenge for a starting guard spot in Atlanta rather than a tackle position. The position switch could get the best out of him.
The play of the offensive line is crucial in Arthur Smith’s scheme. A powerful run blocker such as Mayfield at guard could be key to the success of the rushing attack. Still only 20, Mayfield is incredibly strong for his age and should develop into an outstanding lineman in Atlanta. He’s the immediate favorite to earn the starting left guard spot. Mayfield would have been selected much higher in previous drafts. In this deep offensive line group, the Falcons land him in the third round.
Most Likely to Turn Heads During Atlanta Falcons Training Camp: Drew Dalman
Center Alex Mack left in free agency, thus creating an immediate need at the position in Atlanta. Dalman has NFL bloodlines as his father played center in the league from 1993 to 1999 on a Super Bowl winning team in the San Francisco 49ers.
Coming out of Stanford, Dalman has the high football IQ coaches will love for the position. He provides competition for the starting center and left guard positions, having played both in college. Although a little undersized, Dalman is tough and his technique is sound. His gritty style, textbook technique, and versatility should turn some heads in training camp.
The selection of Grant in the second round turned some heads with many talent evaluators top safety in the draft Trevon Moehrig still available at the time. Even more so because Atlanta traded up to select Grant in the second round. However, Grant is a solid prospect in his own right. He tracks the ball well (10 interceptions in final 34 college games), is physical enough to guard tight ends in man coverage, and has a good feel for reading the quarterback in deep zone coverage.
The fifth round gave Atlanta an opportunity to add some depth pieces on defense. Ta’Quon Graham offers great size for the defensive tackle position. Adetokunbo Ogundeji improved every year as an edge rusher for Notre Dame in college. The athleticism doesn’t grade out highly but his length and high motor could cause opposing tackles problems. Avery Williams is a burner who went put through running back and receiver drills at his pro day. He’s an explosive athlete who offers immediate help on special teams.
With their final pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Atlanta selected wide receiver Frank Darby in the sixth round. It’s a position of strength for Atlanta meaning it will be difficult for Darby to earn targets as a rookie. However, his combination of size and blazing speed make Darby an impressive deep-ball threat who could stretch the field for the Falcons and open up more space for Jones, Ridley, and Pitts in other areas of the field. This Atlanta Falcons NFL Draft class will bring some star power to the roster in Pitts but the likes of Darby, Ogundeji, Graham, and Williams add some much-needed depth.