Draft week is finally here.
The Falcons head into the 2022 NFL Draft looking significantly different than how they did when Terry Fontenot and Artur Smith were hired in 2021. They have moved on from franchise cornerstones in wide receiver Julio Jones and quarterback Matt Ryan, and this year's draft will mark a massive step toward a new era for the Falcons.
That all starts with the eighth pick in the NFL draft.
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The Falcons select four picks lower than they did last season after finishing 7-10 in 2021. Tight end Kyle Pitts was the easy decision for the Falcons last season, a pick they had locked in for a significant amount of time ahead of the draft. Pitts was the Falcons' best offensive weapon in 2021, earning Pro Bowl honors in his first season and breaking many rookie records.
This year, however, is a complete 180. The Falcons are unsure who they will be picking at eight or if they will even keep the pick.
"When was the last time we sat here, and everyone doesn't know who the first and second picks are?" Fontenot admitted.
After San Francisco traded ahead of the Falcons in last year's draft, they were all but certain that Pitts would be there for the taking.
"This year, that's not the case," Fontenot said. "We're sitting at eight, so we try our best to anticipate who's going to go in front of us, but we have to be prepared for many different variables and different scenarios."
One of those different scenarios is trading the eighth pick.
While the Falcons are in dire need of talent, especially young talent, to build the cornerstones of this franchise, they may feel that a trade back in the draft could give them added value in future drafts or even this one, while still getting a high impact player.
There's also the chance that the Falcons will trade up. They have five picks in the top 82 selections, so putting a package together to move up and grab a player they believe to be a star would not be a challenge.
"We're always going to talk to the teams ahead of us and the teams behind us," Fontenot said, "and we're going to talk to the other 31 teams to communicate. … We just have to make sure we're intentional. We go through every single scenario to determine what we're gonna do."
Another major challenge for the Falcons, and front offices across the league, is drafting players recovering from injuries. The two biggest names are Alabama's Jameson Williams and Michigan's David Ojabo. Williams would have likely been the first receiver off the board if it were not for a torn ACL in the National Championship game. Ojabo was a consensus first-round pick, linked to the Falcons in many mock drafts and projections, but suffered a torn Achilles at his pro day.
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Fontenot said they rely on the team doctors and training staff to determine whether a player will be available to play next season, if they will return to form, among many other questions.
"You weigh the player's talent compared to what we're gonna get on the back end and how long he's gonna be out for," Fontenot said. "We're not doctors; we're not experts in that area, so we lean on them."
As for the players on the Falcons roster heading into next season, Cordarrelle Patterson poses the same questions about his place in the offense as he did heading into last season. Patterson played mainly at running back mainly in 2021, where he saw career highs across the board on the ground, but also shined at wide receiver, where he led the team in receiving touchdowns.
With the Falcons' wide receiver core bereft of a true number one target, Patterson could spend more time catching passes than he did in 2021.
"Appreciate what CP did for us last year [and] what he's gonna do for us in the future," Arthur Smith said. "... He's gonna move around at a lot of spots."