For the first time in a while, the Atlanta Falcons have a top 5 draft pick. In the lead up to the 2021 NFL Draft, we’re going to be looking at several directions the Falcons could go with the fourth overall pick, and making a case for each. This is who the Atlanta Falcons should draft.
When you look at the Atlanta Falcons, from top to bottom, the one thing that sticks out is that they’re not exactly devoid of talent. They’ve a quarterback capable of passing for 4000 yards, regardless of the circumstance. They’ve a pair of top tier receivers, and a burgeoning tight end to compliment. They have a couple playmakers on defense, in the form of Grady Jarrett and Dieon Jones. There’s even hope in their secondary, with A.J. Terrell posting a genuinely good rookie campaign.
Regardless, that defense still needs work. It hasn’t been good for a while, regardless of the promise shown from a handful of individuals. A lot of that comes down to poor play from the secondary, Terrell aside. With the fourth pick in the 2021 draft, the Falcons might be best placed to add serious help to that group. The Falcons should take a cornerback.
I understand the rationale against taking a cornerback with this pick. We’re a season removed from taking a cornerback in the same round, and to double dip with the same position feels a little wasteful. Bear in mind, however, that the Falcons gave up the most passing yards, the 3rd most completed passes, and the 5th most passing touchdowns, in 2020. Against the pass, the Falcons have been, frankly, rubbish. A lot of that is down to a fairly aemenic pass rush. A lot more of that is down to an underpowered coverage group.
At the time of writing, the Falcons have only 3 cornerbacks on the books heading into 2021. The aforementioned Terrell is capable of taking another step forward, and is the de-facto CB1 on this roster, regardless of who comes in as a free agent. Behind him, however, we have Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield. Oliver struggled mightily in the early stages of 2020, but came into his own a little down the stretch. The decision to move him inside, as a slot corner, seemed to pay off. As the CB2? No thanks. Kendall Sheffield is a player a lot of us had high hopes for after a solid rookie season, but year two wasn’t the leap we, and he, would have hoped for. He remains an intriguing piece, though it’s clear he’ll need to do a lot in year three to realise his potential.
It should be very obvious that this is a group that needs bolstering to improve in 2021. Even if the side opts to bring back Blidi Wreh-Wilson, or Darqueze Dennard, it’s still a suboptimal collection. Fortunately, there are more than a handful of top end talents available in the draft.
The kids are elite
The undisputed jewel of this year’s cornerback crown is Patrick Surtain II. You’d expect the son of a three time pro-bowl, and former all-pro, cornerback to know a thing or two about playing the position. And you’re right to expect that. Surtain II may not be quite the ball-hawk his dad was just yet, but don’t put that against him. No one registers 37 career interceptions overnight. Surtain II is, however, a true lockdown corner. Capable of stepping in day one and holding down one side of the field. He might not garner the “generational” tag assigned to Okudah last season, but he’s damn good.
If you want someone capable of coming down with the ball every week, Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley is your guy. Farley opted out of the 2020 season, owing to the COVID pandemic, but his numbers over his two seasons in Virginia are ridiculously impressive, nevertheless. 6 interceptions, 19 passes deflected, and a touchdown. That’s more INTs, and only 5 fewer passes deflected, than Surtain, in a season less. You can safely assume that he would have added a bunch more to both figures had he played in 2020. He is the guy with the upside.
The best thing? Both are likely to be available with the fourth overall pick. The great quarterback rush is in full swing, and it’s starting to feel inevitable that the first three picks will be quarterbacks. Of course, you can expect some teams attempting to move into those positions (likely from Miami), but still. At four, the draft proper could well start, and the Falcons are best placed to kick it off.
The NFL has, for better or worse, become a predominantly passing league. For the Falcons to be a successful side, both in 2021 and beyond, they need to start fielding a defense capable of defending the pass. Adding a potentially elite cornerback early wouldn’t resolve those issues immediately, but it would certainly go some way to helping. The Falcons would be wise to make that move.