I've been doing mock drafts for a long time now, well before free agency even started. I've run through one thought exercise after another to see which players the Falcons could land depending on what happens around them.
Most of them had Atlanta taking someone at No. 8. There was a trade scenario where the Falcons went down, got Lukas Van Ness and something else.
- 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
- Tori McElhaney's seven-round Falcons mock draft
- Falcons Draft Clusters: Day 1; Day 2
- Question of the Week: Which Falcons position group is the highest priority to replenish in the 2023 NFL Draft?
All of them, however, have been focused on the first round.
That doesn't mean I haven't done longer mocks in my spare time – yes, I have a sickness – now that simulators make it much less time consuming.
I finally did one for public consumption on Tuesday. Okay, I did a few. Most of them involved a trade down from No. 8 – I think that's a real possibility, depending on how the board falls – where I could still get Texas running back Bijan Robinson. But you all might be tired of my Bijan fascination. And Tori McElhaney traded down and got Van Ness in her seven-round mock.
I love the idea of getting an extra second-round pick like she did, but I wanted to zig where she zagged and go with straight up selections at No. 8 and beyond.
Here's my seven-round mock, with no trades, where they address several areas of need, including a few with multiple picks.
First round, No. 8 overall: CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
Christian Gonzalez was still on the board at this point. Tyree Wilson, Will Anderson, Jalen Carter and all four quarterbacks were not. I got a chance to take the best cornerback available and took it. Going between Witherspoon and Gonzalez was tough, but the tenacity, aggressiveness and drive with which Witherspoon plays was a selling point. So was the fact he can step in and play in the slot right away, with A.J. Terrell and Jeff Okudah on the outside. If Okudah doesn't work out long-term, Witherspoon can easily move outside.
This play works in the short-term and long-term. It also adds a tone setter to a defense that wants to be physical and aggressive at the point of attack. Witherspoon will fit right in.
Second round, No. 44 overall: WR Josh Downs, UNC
The more I watch of this player, the more I like about him. He also fills as pressing a need as there is on the roster, adding depth and talent to a receiver corps that craves it. He's not a big receiver, but he can get open from the slot and make plays working inside. He's a different type of receiver than the Falcons currently employ, which is a good thing. He just gets open, something the Falcons need at a third-down outlet and in shorter-yardage passing situations. Downs will help round out the Falcons receiver corps.
Third round, No. 75 overall: DL Nick Herbig, Wisconsin
He's only 240 pounds, which might make you wonder how he fits in a defensive front that is huge after all these free agency adds. This is a guy who can be a SAM linebacker here or a third-down pass rusher. He can flat get after the quarterback, with 20 sacks(!) over the past two seasons. That's an asset. And getting an important role player in the third down isn't a bad thing. The Falcons have guys who can stop the run and build a wall up front. They could use some more speed off the edge who can cover a little bit. Herbig could help the defensive effort in those ways.
Fourth round, No. 110 overall: EDGE Karl Brooks, Bowling Green
So Herbig could be considered a bit undersized for this defense. Brooks is, well, not. He's 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, and works primarily off the edge. He might be more of an interior guy at the NFL level, but adding a versatile player who has tons of experience to the position can't hurt. It feels like he's a good fit for the system and can add depth early without feeling any pressure to produce much right away. This is another player with high sack production who may be able to provide help in a particular role. Are there tons of defensive linemen on the roster? Sure. Line 'em up and let 'em compete.
Fourth round, No. 113 overall: RB DeWayne McBride, UAB
The Falcons need depth at running back, with Caleb Huntley suffering an Achilles' injury relatively late last season. The Falcons skipped the position higher in the draft, looking to strike gold from a super-productive college runner with what The Athletic considers top-notch balance, vision and agility. There are also notes that he has to improve as a blocker and receiver, but Falcons have options there. Adding someone to give breathers and produce on rushing downs is a real asset. McBride can do that and possibly develop into something more.
Seventh round, No. 224 overall: WR Jalen Moreno-Cropper, Fresno State
Moreno-Cropper is taller but not big, but has a knack for getting open when the quarterback's ready to throw the ball. Those are good traits for someone available in the seventh round. He can step into the slot if needed and has quickness to get open. He'll obviously have to earn a spot, but it's worth a seventh-rounder to build depth and competition at the position.
Seventh round, No. 225 overall: QB Stetson Bennett, Georgia
Just had to do it. Or, maybe, I didn't have to do it but I wanted to. If you haven't noticed, I've been having fun with mocks this year. Adding Stetson Bennett counts as one of those moments. First of all, I'm not sure he's available in the seventh. It's not like the Falcons need a quarterback, with Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke around. But, why not take a flier? Bennett is a winner. He's clutch. He loves proving doubters wrong. If he turns into something special, you've got your quarterback or a valuable trade asset. If not, oh well. Few seventh rounders stand out anyway. Might as well see what he's got, and what he can become working with Arthur Smith and Dave Ragone.
Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in that work for the 2023 season.