Wyche: What Falcons draft told us about Terry Fontenot, Arthur Smith plan

Falcons found toughness, scheme fits throughout this class

Every team feels good about its draft today.

Even so, the Falcons should feel good about its draft, and not just for today.

All these feelings and emotions will temper as the offseason dovetails into training camp. And, let's be honest here, none of us know how these eight selections will pan out until the pads come on.

That said, the first and most important thing about Atlanta's draft: it showed focus and intent.

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It was obvious during the 2021 season that the Falcons must upgrade speed and athleticism at nearly every position. They did during the three-day draft, especially on defense with edge rushers Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone and inside backer Troy Andersen.

Oh, and aren't those positions where talent and production upgrades are needed? Need and speed has been addressed (on paper).

Okay Steve, are you just trying to make us feel better because Atlanta didn't use its first-round pick on Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II, a very good player who didn't get chosen until the Jets traded back into the first-round to select him 26th?

Nope. If GM Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith felt he was their top-graded player when they selected 8th overall, they would have taken him. There is no doubt in my mind about that and the way they stuck to a plan through this draft proved that even more.

Instead, they went with USC wide receiver Drake London, a tall, sure-handed receiver who can play wide, in the slot, get grimy in the run game, move the chains and be a big-time red zone threat. He immediately becomes the Falcons top wideout threat.

What about other wideouts like Jameson Williams, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave who were still available? That Fontenot and Smith bypassed them shows that they want this offense to function a certain way, and that London is a better fit for than the other elite talents.

Join us as we review the Atlanta Falcons' full draft class for 2022.

Also, Smith likes bigger wide receivers. He'll tell you that, as will folks who've coached with him. London, at 6-4, 220-pounds, fits the prototype.

Now let's get to third-round pick, quarterback Desmond Ridder. He's going to be THE Falcons most talked about rookie all offseason because he plays the most important position on the field. He also plays a position that's up for grabs.

Veteran Marcus Mariota was signed to a two-year free agent deal to try and resurrect a career that saw him as a backup the better part of three years after starting in Tennessee, where Smith was on staff.

Mariota said that he has been promised nothing and is going to fight like hell to become a starter again. He also said he'd be a willing mentor, regardless, if he is the starter or doesn't earn the job.

After the career Ridder just had at Cincinnati, don't expect him to cede anything.

Both quarterbacks' strengths factor into the scheme Smith likes to run. That scheme could expand/shift because each quarterback (and current backup Feleipe Franks) is mobile, so a moving pocket can be utilized more (I will have more on this later).

Another draft pick's strengths are ideal for the run scheme Smith likes – tailback Tyler Allgeier. The 5-11, 220-pound Brigham Young standout is a one-cut-and-go runner with good vision and the ability to break initial contact. That's the type of tailback that fits the scheme.

The run scheme Atlanta executes often leaves the running back one-on-one with a defender just beyond the line of scrimmage. If a tackle is broken or a defender gets shook, then big gains come. It's what Allgeier did repeatedly in college and that is what the Falcons need from anyone not named Cordarrelle Patterson.

Speaking of Patterson, and Arthur Smith alluded to this, he might not have as big of a role as a running back and could be more of a receiver if personnel were to dictate as much.

If Allgeier can work his way onto the roster and into the rotation, Patterson can be used in ways that will still allow him to have the ball in his hands, without putting the pounding on his body that adversely affected him at the end of last season.

Back to the part about the offense being potentially more flexible because of the ability to move the pocket. With quarterbacks who can bootleg and sprint out in the run and pass games, the impetus for the offensive line to protect the passer in the pocket might not be as great.

The line, which wasn't addressed in the draft until guard Justin Shaffer was selected in the sixth round, remains a concern. Easing that burden with mobility and evasiveness behind it could help.

Fontenot and his scouts worked hard with coaches to figure out talent, areas of need and priority before the draft. The final product shows that.

Will that translate to wins?

A long time before we find that out.

Where some could find issue with Atlanta's draft is it selected a group that matriculates from the outside in. Perimeter and skill players (for the most part) instead of building inside out (offensive line, interior defense).

Both theories have worked for different teams and coaching styles. If the better players aren't on the inside, go with better talent. So many folks condemned the Bengals last year for taking skill players when they needed offensive linemen.

How'd that work out?

When it comes to intent, also look at the types of players the Falcons drafted. Not on film either.

Read their pre-draft reports (from reliable sources, mind you). You will, in summation, read that almost every player is a grinder. There are a few players who, in college, played offense and defense (Anderson and Allgeier). The edge rushers finish games with more juice than they started them.

Football DNA is the hardest thing for scouts and personnel folks to gauge, but Fontenot and Smith and their staffs seem to have found common ground on the guys who will be starting mini-camp and OTAs soon.

The long and short of it is this: With the massive turnover of the roster, limited salary-cap space that left them able to only sign vets to one-and-two-year contracts, and a 2021 draft class that helped but has yet to show its full identity, Atlanta is still a ways from having a legit nucleus of players to build around.

That nucleus needs to show itself by the end of this season. Next year at this time, when Atlanta has spent the cash in free agency that's finally going to be available, and addressed fewer needs in the draft and selected more outright talent, everyone will know, not hope or guess, what the Falcons can become.

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