Editor's Note: The "Eight at No. 8" series is an installment of eight separate stories evaluating eight different prospects the Falcons could take with the No. 8 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft. With holes to fill, there are a number of directions Atlanta could go with its first-round pick. Over the course of the next few weeks, we'll take a look at eight players who could fit in the 2022 Falcons roster and beyond.
The Falcons' wide receiving core has been one of the biggest questions this offseason. Frank Darby, who caught one pass in 2021, is the only receiver currently returning to the group in 2022. Olamide Zaccheus is a restricted free agent who could return but has not signed his tender. The Falcons have the first right of refusal on any team who tries to offer him a contract. Atlanta hasn't signed any pass-catchers yet who have proven to be a true number one wide receiver in their careers elsewhere.
This draft is as good as any for the Falcons to rebuild their receiver room with a potential superstar receiver for the future. Four to six wide receivers are projected to go in the first round, one of the deepest classes at receiver in recent memory.
Arguably the best receiver of this year's class is Ohio State's Garrett Wilson. He caught 70 passes for 1058 yards in 2021, emerging as the best Buckeye receiver in the most talented group in the nation.
Here's the case for Wilson at No. 8.
We take a look at eight options for Atlanta's first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Why the Falcons should take Wilson
As it stands, former Bengals receiver Auden Tate is likely the Falcons' number one target next season. Tate, 6-foot 5, 220 pounds, has battled injuries the past two seasons, but he is a physical receiver who has proven to be capable of making tough catches. Still, he hasn't proven to be a player that forces defenses to scheme against or the kind of skill to expect him to be among the best receivers in the league next season.
On the other hand, Wilson has all the traits and skills to become a star in the NFL. Mel Kiper Jr. called Wilson the closest thing in this draft to Bengals record-breaking rookie of the year receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who gained 1455 receiving yards and caught 13 touchdown passes in 2021. Danny Kennell of The Ringer calls Wilson "Odell Beckham Jr. on a Red Bull."
Wilson is a speedy receiver and talented route runner who can accelerate to full speed and stop on a dime in ways that few receivers in the NFL can. His 4.38 40-yard-dash speed makes him dynamic after the catch, and he separates from defenders with ease on post routes and other deep balls. Wilson also has the vertical to go and make contested catches.
The Falcons' offense significantly missed Calvin Ridley in 2021. Ridley forced defenses to gear the coverage towards him by just being on the field. He freed up opportunities for Kyle Pitts, Cordarrelle Patterson, and others. With Ridley out for at least the 2022 season, Wilson could fill that void.
Counter punch: Why the Falcons should pass on Wilson
The Tate signing made sense for the Falcons because he fits the mold of the kind of big, physical receiver that Arthur Smith is known to like in his offense. Tate can out muscle defensive backs, break tackles after the catch, and be effective as a run blocker. At 6-foot, 192 pounds, Wilson does not exactly fit that model. He is closer to a quick, finesse receiver like Ridley or Stefon Diggs.
There is a draft-eligible receiver who fits that mold in USC's Drake London. London's 6-foot-4 210-pound physical target has been nursing a fractured ankle he suffered in October that ended his final college season. He didn't workout out the combine, and his draft stock will likely depend on how well he does on his pro day, which will occur later today.
What are the odds he'd be available?
In recent weeks, Wilson has been aligned with the Falcons more than any other player in the draft. The Jets are the most likely team to attempt to snag Wilson at No. 4. The Jets have reportedly been looking to upgrade their wide receiving core this offseason, with a trade package for former Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill and interest in Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf.
With the defensive talent at the top of this draft, however, and the Jets struggling secondary and pass rush, grabbing one of the top edge rushers or cornerbacks as a cornerstone player for Robert Saleh's defense seems much more likely than Wilson at four.
So if the Falcons like Wilson at eight, he will probably be there for the taking.
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