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Bair: How Falcons draft strategy produced intriguing Day 2 haul

Atlanta used picks from Matt Ryan, Julio Jones trades to supplement 2022 class

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Terry Fontenot, Arthur Smith and top Falcons scouts got together on Friday morning, talking strategy heading into the NFL Draft's second day. They came away from that meeting with a consensus on what to do next.

Go get "A.K."

That's Penn State edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie, for those not in the know. The Falcons planned to be aggressive acquiring him early in the second round and did exactly that, giving the New York Giants a fourth-round pick to move up and make it official at No. 38.

Securing a well-respected, well-rounded pressure player sole was the motivation. It had nothing to do with drafting a receiver the day before.

"That wasn't because we didn't take a defensive player in the first round," Fontenot said. "That's because he was the best player on that board."

Sometimes you wait and cross your fingers. Other times you get aggressive to land your guy.

The Falcons did both on a Friday where they had four picks split evenly between the second and third rounds. It turned out pretty well for them, with Ebiketie (No. 38), Montana State linebacker Troy Andersen (No. 58), Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder (No. 74) and Western Kentucky edge rusher Deangelo Malone (No. 82) now on the roster.

There's no telling how those prospects will pan out, but the Falcons landed athletic, aggressive players at positions of need.

"We're really excited about how things went today," Fontenot said. "We got four good players. We added size, speed, athleticism, toughness, makeup, football IQ -- everything we value, we added to this team in all three phases."

We take an inside look at the Atlanta Falcons' war room during the 2022 NFL Draft.

You've probably heard some version of that before, possibly at every late-night draft press conference in the history of ever. It's fair to be skeptical of such proclamations. It's fair to wonder if they're really trusting a draft board or being more reactionary than top brass would like you to believe.

Here's the reason why what Fontenot and Smith are saying is true, and makes tons of sense. They're frank about their lot, candid about the fact their roster needs tons of work. Knock them if you want for not using the word "rebuild," but if you stop worrying about semantics and listen to what they're saying, Fontenot and Smith are giving it to you straight.

This roster won't be properly built in one NFL Draft, or even one NFL offseason. It's going to take time, and the only way to do so is to keep swinging for guys who line up with your core beliefs. That's especially true in the draft, where you can develop players over a longer haul.

"Progress over perfection, right? It's one bite at a time," Fontenot said. "You can't do it all it once, so we add one player at a time. It could've fell where we had two offensive players in the second round and we would've been fine with that because that's how the board fell.

"We're not solving all our problems, right? We're focusing on the process. We're not worried about the outside (opinions), we're focused on bringing in good players."


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Head coach Arthur Smith has talked a ton about assembling a team known for toughness and physicality, a group that never backs down from a fight. That's what the Falcons are focused on getting in younger players tied to them for a longer term. They covet those players, and those are the types of players they're acquiring.

"If you're going to say that stuff [about toughness and physicality] and then you don't go get those guys, you're just a hypocrite," Smith said. "If you want a fast team, go get some fast players. If you want a tough team, go get some tough players. You can push and enhance and develop, but it has been my experience that, if you don't have a strategy, you're just fluff.

"There's certainly a theme to the players we drafted. We felt good about it whether they were offensive or defensive players. It really worked out well. … If you're going to sit here and say you're going to be a tough team, go get tough players. It's as simple as that."

There was as much made during the pre-draft process about having five picks in the top 82 as the No. 8 overall pick. This was their chance to acquire a lot of young talent all at once. It was time to get paid for the Julio Jones and Matt Ryan trades.

I'm sure someone will call me a spin doctor cause I'm writing this for a team site, but I really like their haul to this point. I would say the same thing for an independent outlet, even though I didn't think they should acquire a quarterback in this draft and then they did. They added an intriguing talent at a good spot, and matched talent well with team needs at every turn.

It was clear Fontenot and Smith were thrilled with the haul from these first five selections, both in words and tone. There's another day and three more picks left, but a class highlighted by Drake London and fortified well on Day 2 has promise. At this stage, that's all the praise you can give. With the Falcons working to enhance their talent level, that's all you can hope for while restocking the depth chart.

"Terry and I are up here but, really, it's also about how good of a job that our scouts did," Smith said. "Our strategy, as the picks fell, really worked well for us tonight. It helped that they were positions of need. You could also say we have needs everywhere. That's not a shot at anybody currently on our roster. It's just where we're at with the building process."


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