Eight at No. 8: Should Falcons fortify offensive line with Charles Cross?

Falcons offensive line would get huge boost, skill players would benefit, by taking Mississippi State alum in 2022 NFL Draft

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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.

Everybody loves action in the passing game. Fans like players who throw the ball, players who catch it, players who prevent it from being caught and players who run so fast and hit so hard the passer never has a chance to let it fly.

Quarterback. Receiver. Cornerback. Edge rusher.

Those are the fun positions, featuring guys who sell jerseys.

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Then there are those who provide the time required for skill players to do their jobs. They've essentially got no stats, and definitely aren't on the nerdiest fantasy team.

That's right. The protectors. Can't live without 'em.

Their value shows in second-contract salary, especially among the elites.

Charles Cross has the talent to join that group. The Mississippi State alum is a top 10 talent and a safe pick who could bring stability and production to the offensive line in the short- and long-term.

We take a look at eight options for Atlanta's first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Why the Falcons should take Cross

The Falcons need stability up front before they even think about a quarterback of the future. They need anchors, trustworthy individuals who can be counted on at all times. Cross is that guys. A few pieces of evidence to prove that point: His player comps are Tristan Wirfs and Laremy Tunsil. You want guys like that.

And then there's this from his NFL.com player evaluation: "Cross' play strength, hand placement and body control should allow for a relatively smooth transition into the league, where he can become a good, long-time starter at either tackle position."

The Falcons will need an anchor at right tackle, someone who could transition to the left side if Jake Matthews either moves on or retires at some point in the distance. Cross can do all those things. There are some who believe he's the best offensive tackle in this NFL Draft class. We could easily look back in five years and find that statement to be true.

While fans might balk at skipping on one of the more glamorous positions at No. 8, the Falcons could be better served by taking Cross to ensure all those skill players have a chance to do their jobs, and both Marcus Mariota and a possibly different quarterback of the future have time to work.

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Counter punch: Why the Falcons should pass on Cross

The Falcons could use an offensive tackle. They would benefit from adding a top-flight player at that position. They also don't need one. They have Jake Matthews on the left side. They'll have a position battle between incumbent Kaleb McGary and new signing Germain Ifedi on the right. They can roll with those guys, no doubt.

They also have greater needs at edge rusher and receiver especially, where Atlanta needs both top talent and fresh bodies. Both of those depth charts are incomplete. Adding to them at No. 8 would be a major boon for the 2022 product and beyond.

And there's another matter at hand. Evan Neal has tons of experience playing right tackle. Ickey Ekwonu can play almost anywhere. Cross has been a left tackle, save a handful of snaps. The Falcons don't currently have a vacancy there, and Matthews isn't moving to the right. Any discussion of Cross on the right is essentially a projection, save any pre-draft workouts he may have done from the right. Would that be a factor in selecting him? Maybe. Might it be enough to look in another direction at No. 8?

When factored with some of the other Falcons issues, yeah. They could well go with another guy.

What are the odds he'd be available?

There's a decent chance, but it’s no sure thing. Draft analysts generally expect Evan Neal and Ickey Ekwonu to go before Cross, so that could make him available at No. 8, with the talent at other positions expected to go atop the draft. There could also be a major run on offensive tackles early on, with so many tackle-needy teams in the top 10.

While edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson has become the consensus No. 1 pick, Jacksonville could look to go with an offensive lineman. The Houston Texans (No. 3), New York Giants (Nos. 5 and 7) and Carolina Panthers (No. 6) all need help at tackle, and could take Neal, Ekownu and Cross before the Falcons pick. The Panthers are the lynchpin there, with their desperate needs for offensive line and quarterback.

Also, if a team trades into the top 7, most likely for a quarterback, that would push Cross and other top talents down to the Falcons at No. 8.

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