ATLANTA -- Following the Atlanta Falcons' 30-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, the organization will have the No. 8 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Prior to the start of the Week 18 games, the Falcons had the No. 10 overall pick heading into the final week of regular season action. The Falcons' draft position improved with their loss to the Saints. While they were tied with three other teams at 7-10, they were given the highest pick of that group based on strength of schedule.
Though early, it's a safe bet to make that the Falcons may look to the 2022 Draft to bring in pass rush talent. As the Falcons were preparing to face the Saints last week, defensive coordinator Dean Pees stated the Falcons need to develop a more productive pass rush through developing the talent they already have available in Atlanta, and also looking to add more talent elsewhere. Ideally, the Falcons would like to hit on an edge rusher/outside linebacker early in the draft if possible. Does that come with the No. 8 pick? Perhaps.
The Falcons were last in the league in sacks in 2021, having only 17 on the year. There were individuals like TJ Watt who accumulated more sacks than the entire Falcons defense combined. Outside linebacker Dante Fowler leads the Falcons in sacks with 4.5. Inside linebackers Deion Jones and Foye Oluokun follow with two sacks a piece.
As to exactly who the Falcons could set their sights on in the pre-Draft evaluation process, Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux and Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson lead the pack of draftable edge rushers in 2022.
Another option for the Falcons first round pick could be on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage. The Falcons offensive line had its peaks and valleys in 2021. Would the Falcons be interested in adding another first rounder to an offensive line that struggled at times to protect Matt Ryan?
Atlanta already has Jake Matthews, Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary as former first rounders on their current line. Matt Hennessy took over at center in 2021 after being drafted in the third round the year before. As for the left guard position, Jalen Mayfield was thrust into a trial by fire situation early in his rookie year as an injury to Josh Andrews at the end of the 2021 training camp gave Mayfield the starting job.
Of this group of linemen, PFF grades Mayfield and McGary out the lowest in 2021. Prior to the Falcons facing the Saints on Sunday afternoon, McGary had a PFF grade of 63.7, ranking him 56th out of 82 offensive tackles league-wide. Meanwhile, Mayfield held an overall grade of 48.9 (ranking him 77th out of 83 league guards). His overall grade was brought down by a pass protection score of 27.6.
If the Falcons are looking at bringing in competition through the draft for Mayfield or McGary, Texas A&M guard Kenyon Green and Alabama tackle Evan Neal lead the 2022 draft class for offensive linemen.
So, which side of the line of scrimmage do the Falcons prioritize in 2022? That seems to be one of the biggest question the Falcons have looming as the offseason gets underway in Atlanta.