After all-star games, the combine, top 30 visits, private workouts and pro days from sea to shining sea, we're finally here.
The NFL Draft is less than a week away.
It's where hope reigns, where any team can significantly improve with a few smart picks. Some will do exactly that. Others won't.
- Official free agency signings: S Jessie Bates III, DL David Onyemata, LB Kaden Elliss, QB Taylor Heinicke, CB Mike Hughes, LB Tae Davis, WR Mack Hollins; DL Joe Gaziano, WR Scotty Miller, DL Calais Campbell, OL Josh Miles, OLB Bud Dupree, CB Jeff Okudah, OL Ethan Greenidge
- NFL Mock Draft Roundup: Peter Schrager has Falcons drafting Georgia edge rusher at No. 8 overall
- Cornerbacks the Falcons could target throughout the 2023 NFL Draft
- Question of the Week: Which Falcons position group is the highest priority to replenish in the 2023 NFL Draft?
We won't know who's who for a while, so let's soak in optimism and imagine the possibilities of what Falcons GM Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith might do with eight selections, including No. 8 overall.
That's what you all want to discuss in this Friday mailbag, as you should. So, let's get right to your questions in what is likely the last Bair Mail before the NFL Draft.
Bill Whitten from Killen, Ala.
Scott, while unlikely if both Richardson and Levis were to slide in the draft and both were available at No. 8, what are the chances of the Falcons selecting one of them rather than trading down?
Bair: Hey Bill. Thanks for the question. The quarterbacks could have a positive on the Falcons, whether four go in the top seven or, as you suggest, Anthony Richardson or Will Levis or both remain available.
To answer your question directly, I don't think the Falcons take a quarterback at No. 8. That's my gut. But…four going in the top seven increases odds a player they covet at a position they need falls to them. And…if one or more quarterbacks fall, the Falcons could be position to trade down. Considering Tennessee seems like a destination, maybe Terry Fontenot could find a trade partner to leapfrog the Titans at No. 11 overall. I wouldn't go too far down, though. Or Tennessee could look to go up – the Eagles might be open to going down at No. 10 and the Titans wouldn't want to miss their QB.
Either way, there's a way quarterbacks have a positive impact on the Falcons draft.
Mac Martin from College Station, Tex.
Do you actually think they will genuinely consider taking Jalen Carter if he's available? Obviously the Falcons have a less than solid track record with taking UGA players, but they have addressed major holes with free agency on the edge and secondary. One-year contracts, but still. Also bringing in a locker room cornerstone player in Calais Campbell could be an excellent mentor for him.
Bair: You added an important clause to the end of your first question, Mac. "If he's available." Let's say this: I don't think he'll be available at No. 8. I have a difficult time imagining he'll make it past Seattle and Detroit at Nos. 5 and 6, respectively. He's too good for a pair of d-line needy teams to pass up.
Would they take Carter if he's there? It depends on what they've determined from researching him. They've done their due diligence to be sure, reportedly bringing him in for a Top 30 visit. They were at Carter's pro day. They've watched the tape and certainly done research on what is undoubtedly a complex situation.
One thing on this. We talk a ton about not letting one-year deals stand in the way of drafting a player. The Falcons have a ton committed to the defensive interior. David Onyemata just signed a three-year deal. Grady Jarrett's committed for a few more. Ta'Quon Graham is on his rookie deal. Investing there doesn't help quite as much as the edge – more on that later – or the cornerback spot, where they don't have long-term solutions throughout the depth chart.
Darryl Gaines from Atlanta, Ga.
First time writing in. Appreciate the forum. Here's my question. In your opinion, who's the best edge rusher for the Falcons scheme who's also likely to be available at No. 8?
Bair: I like how your phrased that question, Darryl. That's because we all know two certain truths. Alabama's Will Anderson is the consensus No. 1 edge rusher in this draft class. We also know it's pie-in-the-sky to think he'd be available at No. 8.
That leaves us with Tyree Wilson. You all know how I feel about the Texas Tech product by now. If he's available at No. 8, I decline all incoming calls, make the clear and obvious pick and then pop some bottles. He's just what the Falcons want, in my opinion. He's big and strong. He plays the run well and is tenacious as heck and might get even better as a pass rusher working under new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen. All that flattering stuff said, I find it hard to believe Wilson's around at No. 8, but an early quarterback run, Anderson, Jalen Carter and a few corners or surprise picks may push Wilson down. Who knows? Never say never, man.
Iowa's Lukas Van Ness is a more likely option, one I think would fit the Falcons well. I like him more that Clemson's Myles Murphy. I like Georgia's Nolan Smith more than Murphy, too, even though he's not ideally sized and might be more of a standup linebacker. There's always a fit for a talent like that.
Back to Van Ness. Do you dare trade down and then get him? You'd be bummed if the Bears took him at No. 9, unless you have a strong Plan B. You could always sit tight and take Van Ness, who a big dude and position versatile, with tons of upside in a defense like this. If you've got your heart set on a edge rusher early – that feeling might be enhanced if cornerbacks Devon Witherspoon and Christian Gonzalez are gone – and Wilson off the board, I think Van Ness might be the next best fit.
Jason Jefferies from Sugar Hill, Ga.
We've drafted guys who can catch passes in the first round two years in a row. Do you think it's possible they'd go that route for a third straight year?
Bair: Never say never, Jason, but I highly doubt it. And that's not just because there doesn't seem to be a receiver widely considered a top 10 pick. Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba seems to be the top option but might be considered a stretch at No. 8. They could trade down a bit and get him or another option like Jordan Addison, Jalyn Hyatt or Quentin Johnson, but I'd still raise an eyebrow at such a prospect.
They have needs at other premium positions, especially edge rusher and cornerback. There's plenty of top 10 talent at those spots, even more if the Falcons trade down within the top 15.
That's not to say the Falcons shouldn't pick up a receiver. I think it's imperative to their 2023 offense that they do. Drake London's the alpha and tight end Kyle Pitts will play a ton outside and in the slot. But they need more for the short- and long-term, especially guys with serious speed.
I also think this receiver class is deep enough to find legitimate talent on Day 2, where the Falcons hold a pick in the second round (No. 44 overall) and the third round. I've mentioned before that I like UNC's Josh Downs and Cincinnati's Tyler Scott, but there are several other names out there who could make a rookie impact while growing into a larger role down the line.
Call for questions
We may – key word: "may" get another mailbag in on Monday, before the draft starts. Submit your questions right here for that Bair Mail about draft prospects. But fear not I'll put out another call for questions following the draft in what should be a rousing post-selections mailbag.
Atlanta Falcons players are back at Flowery Branch to kick off prep for the 2023 season.