After weeks (okay, months) of talking about the NFL Draft, we're finally here. Only a few hours left, at this point, before Terry Fontenot, Arthur Smith and staff make the first Falcons pick at No. 8 overall. Or a different slot after a trade. They'll take a player we've all been attaching to them, or one we'll scramble to research after paying zero attention to him all spring.
Anything's possible in an NFL draft this uncertain. That was a term used by Fontenot, Smith and NFL executives across the league leading into a selection process where folks can't even identify a clear and obvious No. 1 pick.
- Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot discuss trading draft picks, Cordarrelle Patterson's role in 2022
- Terry Fontenot, Arthur Smith discuss the state of the QB position as 2022 NFL Draft looms
- Seven-round mocks: Tori McElhaney, Kris Rhim
- Eight at No. 8: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Kyle Hamilton, Malik Willis, Charles Cross, Garrett Wilson, Sauce Gardner, Jermaine Johnson II, Travon Walker
So don't feel bad when your mock is all wrong, and don't puff out your chest when you stumble blindfolded into some correct picks. I won't do either when comparing my seven-round mock to the 2022 Falcons draft class. That is, unless I get more right than Tori and Kris. Then I'll never let them live it down.
So, after 12 mock drafts, 12 mock draft roundups and two other seven-round mocks from us at AtlantaFalcons.com, here's the last bold prediction. May I (not-so-) humbly present my seven rounder. Feel free to blow up my mentions saying how great it is.
We take a look at eight options for Atlanta's first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
First round (No. 8 overall): EDGE Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State
This pick fills a need and adds an extraordinary talent. And, just because Travon Walker, Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux were off the board already, that doesn't mean I'm settling for Johnson. The edge rusher is fast, skilled and relentless, with the size (and willingness to play the run) required in the Falcons scheme. He was incredibly productive in 2021, and spare me your stopwatch times on how long it took him to get to the quarterback. He'll get better and more efficient over time and will be a standout pro. Bank it.
Second round (No. 43 overall): WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State
Dotson could be a late first round pick. There's no doubting that, and odds are solid he won't be around at No. 43. But there are so many receivers viewed as late first-round/early second-round picks that a prospect could slip just a little bit and be sitting there for the Falcons. That's what happened here, in my simulation, and I jumped at the chance. He might not be a YAC bro in the truest sense, but he can create separation and run reliable, crisp routes and make big plays on the ball. The Falcons need receivers and found a good one to start the second round.
Second round (No. 58 overall): LB Troy Andersen, Montana State
I can feel your disapproval already. A linebacker? From a college I've never heard of? No thanks. Bear with me here. He's a big dude at 6-3 and 243, but he ran a 4.42. The Falcons need a new middle linebacker for the long term, and Andersen has all the traits you want in that role. He's fast and aggressive and competitive as heck and doesn't mind mixing it up. He'll need to improve in some areas, but he'll have a season to do it with Rashaan Evans already here. This is a good spot for Andersen and the Falcons.
Third round (No. 74 overall): EDGE/DL Cameron Thomas, San Diego State
This is one of my favorite middle round players in the draft, someone I think can contribute in a number of spots in a number of packages for the Falcons defense. He's a bigger guy at 6-3 and 265 and plays hard, aggressive football. He had 20.5 tackles for losses in 2021 and plays the run and pass hard. He's willing to make plays anywhere and never stops in his pursuit. I like that in a player.
Third round (No. 82 overall): WR David Bell, Purdue
The Falcons add a target with good hands and ball skills, who can win matchups and catch passes in traffic. He's also known as a tough player – catching a theme here?? – and finds ways to win with a 40 time (4.65) that won't impress you. There was a bit of a WR run at my point in the third round, but I still ended up with someone who can battle, compete and win at the NFL level.
Fourth round (No. 114 overall): RB James Cook, Georgia
We landed a Dawg, and a pretty good one at that. While the Falcons have plenty of veteran rushers, they need a younger presence who can contribute now and into the future. Cook could well be that guy. He's a player who can make sharp cuts and has good vision, analysts say, and is a productive receiver who can be used in a number of different ways, as Arthur Smith is wont to do with his running backs.
Fifth round (No. 151 overall): DT John Ridgeway, Arkansas
Ridgeway is a massive human at 6-5, 321, a big-bodied nose tackle who has zero problem dealing with two gaps and consuming blockers so others can make tackles. That's an important role in the Falcons defense, and while Anthony Rush is there now, Ridgeway can compete for a base defense role while hoping to be a longer-term solution there.
Sixth round (No. 190 overall): OT Kellen Diesch, Arizona State
Analysts says Diesch has quick feet, good balance and good technique, something you want from offensive lineman who might project as reserves. The Falcons need depth a tackle, and Diesch could be an option to provide that. In the sixth round, that's the baseline of what you're looking for.
Sixth round (No. 213 overall) S Quentin Lake, UCLA
Lake had good production as a senior, with three interceptions and nine passes defensed. He was a four-year starter who analysts say has good field vision and football IQ, which will help him adjust at the next level. He's someone able to make plays deep and closer to the line of scrimmage and, as important as anything for players taken this late, could be a solid special teams player. And he went to UCLA (that's my school!) which is an added bonus.