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Tori McElhaney's seven-round mock draft: Falcons move around the draft board to set up their future

Each member of the Falcons editorial team will release a seven-round mock draft this week. Up first was Terrin Waack. Now Tori McElhaney takes over and she argues quality is better than quantity. 

DISCLAIMER: The statements and opinions regarding players and/or potential future players in the article below are those of the editorial staff and are not of the Atlanta Falcons' football personnel unless noted in a direct quote.

Editor's Note: Over the course of the next few days, the Atlanta Falcons editorial team of Tori McElhaney, Terrin Waack and Amna Subhan will publish three separate seven-round mock drafts in preparation for this year's NFL Draft, which begins Thursday, April 25. Up first was Terrin Waack, who selected cornerback Terrion Arnold with the No. 8 overall pick. Now, Tori McElhaney takes a run at her seven-round mock draft.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Get ready for some movement. I have my GM hat on and I am ready to make some deals that shuffle the current and future draft boards.

In this scenario, I know exactly who I want and I know precisely what I need to do to acquire what I want. Therefore, you shouldn't be surprised when I speak with conviction about the need for future draft capital, which I do right off the bat in the first round.

The Falcons roster at the current moment -- even without a draft class -- is in a very competitive spot. The draft class should only enhance that, and I am OK dealing out picks to other teams to secure that enhancement. I don't feel a great need to hold onto all eight picks the Falcons have right now. If anything, if I can move two or three away to get the guy(s) I want while also using the No. 8 overall pick as leverage to nab future draft capital? Well, that's exactly the game plan, y'all.

TRADE: Broncos and Falcons strike a deal

Details: The Falcons receive the No. 12 and No. 136 overall picks in this year's draft along with a future first-round pick. The Broncos receive the No. 8 and No. 79 overall pick plus a future third-round pick.

The crux of this trade involves the acquisition of a future first-rounder. The only way to get me out of the No. 8 spot is to have that in the offer, which is why I was willing to part ways with a couple third-round picks (current and future) in order to secure future first-round capital. This is important because 2025 is the year when I am really going to dive into a quarterback succession plan.

Right now, the Falcons have Kirk Cousins on a lucrative four-year deal. You have another year with long-time journeyman Taylor Heinicke. You'll need a third arm, yes, but you shouldn't have to use a draft pick for him.

Next year, though? That's when things get interesting and when you really need to step on the succession plan gas. If you have two first-round picks in 2025 that makes acquiring Cousins' heir apparent all the more viable, whether that be moving up in the draft to acquire one of the best in the class next year or packaging it in some other deal on the market. This move sets up a safety net for the Falcons in search of their next quarterback beyond the Cousins years in Atlanta. That's more than worthy of movement this year.

Pick No. 12, first round: EDGE Dallas Turner, Alabama

In this hypothetical situation, the Falcons' gamble at No. 8 overall pays off with Turner falling out of the top-10. How did this happen? Well, there was a run on offensive players. It was a run so significant that defensive assets continued to fall further and further down the board; a welcomed development for the Falcons.

Here's how we got here: With the Broncos jumping the Vikings to land J.J. McCarthy at No. 8 overall, that meant picks No. 1, 2, 3 and 8 included quarterbacks. Receivers went No. 4, 5, 6 and 9, while tight end Brock Bowers went to the Jets at No. 10. Oh and picks No. 7, 10 and 11? Yeah, those were all offensive tackles. You know where that leaves us? With the Falcons having their choice of the best defensive player in the draft class. That player? It's Turner, and the Falcons snatch him up while also walking away with a future first-round pick.

Is it crazy? Of course. But have crazier things happened? Definitely.


TRADE: Falcons make a move up with Cardinals as trading partner

Further details: The Falcons acquire the No. 35 pick in the second round while the Cardinals receive Atlanta's No. 43 and 109 overall picks.

This trade package is not dissimilar to one the Falcons have put together in the past. In fact, it's strikingly similar. Last year, the Falcons sent their No. 44 and 110 overall picks to Indianapolis in order to move up to the No. 38 overall pick in the second round. They chose offensive lineman Matthew Bergeron with that pick. One could argue that based on Bergeron's success at starting left guard in his rookie season that the decision was one of the best the Falcons made in 2023.

Now in 2024, the Falcons look to continue this second-round success by moving up to choose another player who could compete for a starting job.

Pick No. 35, second round: CB Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama

Yes, there is a world in which McKinstry falls out of the first round. There's also a world in which Carolina (pick No. 33) and New England (pick No. 34) value the best wide receivers on the board over a cornerback considering the nature of their current team needs. If that were to happen, the Falcons would absolutely be in the position to snatch McKinstry at No. 35 overall.

This would be a needle-moving pick for the Falcons for a number of reasons, but mainly because it provides a sense of stability A.J. Terrell has not had opposite him since the moment he was drafted in 2020. If you're moving up to No. 35 to get McKinstry the expectation there would be the same as it was for Bergeron last year: They're your starter.

And right now? There's a starting spot open at cornerback.


Pick No. 74, third round: DT Braden Fiske, FSU

Are you noticing a trend with the picks yet? You should because I am absolutely prioritizing key defensive positions in this year's draft class. The Falcons have an edge rusher. They have a corner looking to compete -- and likely win -- a starting job. Now we look to the defensive interior.

Grady Jarrett returns to full health this season after missing half the year in 2023 with a knee injury. David Onyemata returns, too. As defensive tackle duos go, this is a good one. However, both players are true veterans. Are they in the twilight years of their careers? Probably not if you ask Jarrett (who doesn't show signs of slowing down anytime soon). Honestly, though, even if they aren't, the Falcons could use some young blood to keep them fresh in rotation.

So, let's insert Fiske.

Fiske actually has something the Falcons value in their evaluation of players: Visible growth, maturity and improvement from year to year. It's a reason they liked Arnold Ebiketie so much a couple years ago. He was a player who saw his value increase as his years did. Instead of entering the draft after completing his time at Temple, Ebiketie spent a year with Penn State, seeing considerable growth year over year. Fiske follows a similar trajectory. After finishing up his time at Western Michigan, Fiske spent last season with FSU acting as a significant contributor on the Seminoles defensive front.

From a stats perspective, Fiske's production grew as he did, with 12 of his 19.5 career sacks coming in 2022 and 2023.

Fiske could see further development in his run-stopping ability, but there is major upside putting him in a place to learn from and alongside two of the NFC South's best interior defenders in Jarrett and Onyemata.


TRADE: Falcons get back in the fourth round with trade via the Jaguars

Details: Falcons receive the No. 116 overall pick, sending all of their remaining picks (No. 136 from the Broncos, No. 187 and No. 197 overall) to the Jaguars.

After packaging No. 109 overall pick to the Cardinals in the deal to get McKinstry, I felt compelled to move back up into the fourth round. There's a lot of value on the table early in Day 3. It's value I could not pass up.


Pick No. 116 via JAX, fourth round: WR Javon Baker, UCF

Even though the Falcons went out and acquired three new receivers when the new league year began in March, that doesn't keep them from looking at receivers in the draft. So, when the opportunity arises to move up into the fourth round to acquire one of Jacksonville's two fourth-round picks, they do it and land Baker when they do.

Baker is an Atlanta native, having gone to high school at McEachern and earning top-20 status in the 2020 Georgia recruiting class. After two years at Alabama, Baker transferred to UCF where he went on to accumulate just under 2,000 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in his two seasons with UCF. There are some stats that stand out about Baker, too. According to Dane Brugler's draft guide in The Athletic, Baker ranked No. 2 in the FBS in yards per catch while 21 of his catches in 2023 were for 20-plus yards, ranking fourth in this year's draft class behind Malik Nabers, Rome Odunze and Malik Washington in this metric.

The only personal question mark I have about the idea of drafting Baker is even though he is an Atlanta native, he was not one of the 59 players who were slated to attend the Falcons local pro day on Friday, April 12. This could mean nothing, or it could mean everything.

Regardless, I am intrigued by Baker enough to put together a significant package to get him.

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