The 2018 NFL Scouting Combine is almost upon us and I want to map out one possible complete draft class for the Atlanta Falcons before it arrives. So let’s look at seven potential selections for the Falcons in this upcoming 2018 Draft.
I should note that I’m factoring in the team receiving an extra seventh-round pick as a compensatory pick based off the projections from Over the Cap.com. Per that site, the loss of offensive lineman Tom Compton a year ago should merit an additional late-round selection for the Falcons.
That should make up for the fact that the team lost a fifth-round pick as part of the trade to acquire offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo last summer.
I should also note due to the compensatory projections, I have made the appropriate adjustments to the draft order to reflect all 256 picks.
First Round, Pick 26
OG Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
Per my good friend Charles McDonald, the Falcons showed considerable interest in Wynn during the week of practices at the Senior Bowl in late January. A three-year starter, Wynn spent his final season at Georgia playing left tackle after two years at left guard. While he lacks the size and length NFL teams look for in offensive tackles, he is a perfect fit for the Falcons outside zone-blocking scheme inside at guard thanks to being a scrappy, athletic finisher.
He should be able to come in right away to compete and potentially overtake Wes Schweitzer as the team’s starting right guard. That would allow Schweitzer to kick over to the left side, where he can be developed as the heir apparent behind Andy Levitre, who will be 32 at the outset of the 2018 season.
Second Round, Pick 58
DT Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hays State
Despite hailing from a Division II school, Shepherd had an opportunity to work over some higher profile offensive linemen during his brief stint at the Senior Bowl. He suffered a broken hand, yet is still expected to participate in the Combine. But he’s flashed enough ability and potential to merit a selection this high. The biggest knock on Shepherd may be his age, as he’ll be a 25-year old rookie this fall. Meaning he will be approaching 30 by the time his rookie contract is done.
Shepherd has the raw tools, size, strength and motor to play across the Falcons defensive line, but likely will get an opportunity to replace Dontari Poe as the team’s go-to three-technique in their base defense. He also should line up beside Grady Jarrett in the team’s nickel subpackage and give the team a “fearsome foursome” pass rush to further spearhead their recent defensive resurgence.
Third Round, Pick 90
CB Quenton Meeks, Stanford
The son of former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Ron Meeks has the toughness and smarts to play at a high level in the NFL. Hailing from Stanford, Meeks’ size and length might prompt some Richard Sherman comparisons, although others compare him more to Baltimore’s Jimmy Smith. However, he may not be quite the athlete that Sherman was as how fast Meeks runs at the Combine could go a long way to determine how high he could be selected.
Meeks is comfortable playing either press or off coverage and should have little issue transitioning into the Falcons defensive scheme. He gives the team a much-needed backup at outside cornerback behind both Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant. He could push Brian Poole for the third cornerback spot as a rookie and should he win that battle, you can expect the Falcons to bump Alford inside in the nickel on third downs. At the very least, at 6’2″ Meeks gives the Falcons much-needed size at cornerback to help deal with the likes Michael Thomas, Mike Evans and Devin Funchess, NFC South receivers that stand 6’3″ or taller.
Fourth Round, Pick 128
DT Deadrin Senat, South Florida
Short and squatty at a robust six-foot, 322-pound frame, Senat possesses excellent power and a high motor to plug the middle of any NFL defense. He was a productive player at USF, finishing this past season with six sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. He is said to squat 675 pounds, giving him the lower body strength and explosiveness that the Falcons covet.
Senat will be in the mix to take over as an early-down defender that can play the nose tackle position often filled by Ahtyba Rubin late last season. While he may never be a regular in the Falcons’ subpackages, he possesses the power to push the pocket whenever he does get opportunities to rush the passer.
Sixth Round, Pick 203
WR Daurice Fountain, Northern Iowa
Fountain was one of the risers at the East-West Shrine Game in January, earning Offensive MVP honors for the game. He was a highly productive player at UNI, leading the team in receiving for three straight seasons. He combined for 140 catches for 1,960 yards and 22 touchdowns in that span. While he didn’t have many opportunities as a return specialist during his collegiate career, he did manage to return a punt 30 yards in the Shrine Game, flashing potential there.
Fountain’s size, speed and return potential makes him a good fit in Atlanta, as the team looks to replace impending free agents Taylor Gabriel and Andre Roberts. Fountain will likely be tasked with playing special teams early in his career, but has enough upside to think he could develop into a reliable third option for Matt Ryan down the road.
Seventh Round, Pick 244
CB Taron Johnson, Weber State
Johnson showed his competitiveness during the Senior Bowl practices and was one of the standout corners there. While he lacks ideal size, he possesses the competitiveness that should make him a solid slot corner at the next level.
The Falcons double dip at the cornerback position as the look to supplement their depth due to the losses of Jalen Collins and C.J. Goodwin during last season. Johnson will compete for a role on special teams as a rookie, but has the potential to grow into the nickel role down the road.
Seventh Round, Pick 256 (Compensatory)
OT Brett Toth, Army
Should the compensatory projections prove accurate, Toth will be Mr. Irrelevant, also known as the last pick in the draft. The Falcons have already shown considerable interest in the long, athletic tackle. To many, Toth has the tools and athleticism to be a mid-round selection, but his military commitment could prompt teams to pass on him since he won’t likely be able to see the field for two more years.
The Falcons won’t be too concerned about that as they are looking for a long-term developmental option to potentially replace Ryan Schraeder at right tackle. Schraeder will be 30 this year and should be able to stick around as a starter for at least another year or two, buying the Falcons plenty of time to wait on Toth.
There you have it! Seven possible draft picks for the Falcons. I’ll drop another seven-round mock at some point before free agency begins on March 14. By then we’ll have the Combine results and the complete draft order and see what adjustments need to be made.
Final 53-Man Roster Projection
With one final preseason game to go for the Atlanta Falcons tomorrow, it’s time to make the last projection for which players will make the team’s 53-man roster heading into the first game of the regular season.
If you want to check out the projection I made on the eve of training camp roughly five weeks ago, click here.
There are still some unresolved roster battles that will likely play out in the Falcons matchup against the Miami Dolphins tomorrow night, but here’s my best guess for which guys will wind up taking those final spots.
An asterisk (*) indicates that tight end Alex Gray automatically qualifies as the 11th member of the Falcons practice squad due to the NFL’s International Player Program.
Keep (2): Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
Practice Squad: Kurt Benkert
Cut: Garrett Grayson
No changes from my pre-camp projection here. While Benkert has flashed potential and will likely be kept around to potentially compete to replace Schaub as Ryan’s primary backup in 2019, his play hasn’t been quite at the level to merit keeping on the 53-man roster.
Keep (4): Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith, Ricky Ortiz
Practice Squad: Justin Crawford
Cut: Terrence Magee, Malik Williams, Jalston Fowler
The on.y change over the last five weeks is swapping Crawford in for Williams as the team’s choice for the practice squad. Crawford’s steady work on special teams and being the first back off the bench once Coleman and Smith have exited makes him the obvious candidate to remain on the practice squad.
Fowler could make a late push to unseat Ortiz at fullback, but it might be too little, too late for him.
Keep (6): Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy, Russell Gage, Marvin Hall
Practice Squad: Reggie Davis
Cut: Dontez Byrd, Christian Blake, Julian Williams, Devin Gray, Lamar Jordan
Previously I had Byrd making it as the team’s practice-squad receiver, but I’ll swap him out for Davis, who still has an outside shot of making the roster if he can make waves in the return game tomorrow night. However, the fact that Davis has regularly gotten work on special teams, while few of the undrafted guys have so far this summer, makes me believe he’s a strong candidate to land on the practice squad. That is, assuming he clears waivers, which he did not a year ago when the Falcons cut him after camp.
Of the remaining guys that might have a shot at landing a practice squad spot, keep an eye on Byrd and Gray, the two players that have been the most consistent playmakers on offense throughout the preseason.
Keep (3): Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen, Eric Saubert
Practice Squad: Troy Mangen, Alex Gray*
Cut: Jaeden Graham
No changes here. Unfortunately, the competition for the backup tight end position between Paulsen and Saubert never really came to fruition. Paulsen will be Hooper’s backup and used primarily as a blocker. Hopefully, as the season wears on, Saubert will garner more snaps and be more than an afterthought as the No. 3 tight end, like he was for much of his 2017 rookie season.
Keep (10): Jake Matthews, Andy Levitre, Alex Mack, Brandon Fusco, Ryan Schraeder, Wes Schweitzer, Ben Garland, Ty Sambrailo, Matt Gono, Sean Harlow
Practice Squad: Jamil Douglas
Cut: Austin Pasztor, Daniel Brunskill, J.C. Hassenauer, Salesi Uhatefe
The majority of the changes from my pre-camp projection occur among this group. Previously, nine blockers had been projected to make the team, but I had to add a tenth in Gono, given his solid and promising upside being on display each week this preseason. I also had to swap in Sambrailo for Pasztor as the team’s swing tackle, given that the former has been the more consistent of the pair and has steadily worked ahead of the other with the second-stringers.
Douglas, who has worked consistently with the second-unit line, should be able to land a practice squad spot for the second year in a row, given his versatility to play both center and guard. Hassenauer is another possible candidate to land a spot on the practice squad as well.
Keep (9): Vic Beasley, Takk McKinley, Grady Jarrett, Terrell McClain, Jack Crawford, Brooks Reed, Derrick Shelby, Deadrin Senat, Garrison Smith
Practice Squad: Justin Zimmer, Anthony Winbush
Cut: J.T. Jones, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Mackendy Cheridor
More changes among this group, with Zimmer and Winbush earning practice squad spots. In my pre-camp projection, Winbush was listed among the linebackers as a practice squad player.
Zimmer’s steady pass-rushing ability likely prompts him to land a spot on the practice squad, while Garrison Smith likely sticks on the roster. But those players could easily flip-flop.
Keep (6): Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Duke Riley, Kemal Ishmael, Foye Oluokun, Jonathan Celestin
Practice Squad: Richard Jarvis
Cut: Emmanuel Ellerbee, Emmanuel Smith
Celestin, despite being a late addition during camp, managed to outplay the others thanks to sure tackling, solid instincts and pass-rushing capabilities.
There’s also a possibility that the Falcons put Celestin on the practice squad and add a veteran outside linebacker off the waiver wire, similar to what they did a year ago when they added Jordan Tripp.
As is, there is no clear-cut backup to Campbell at strong-side linebacker beyond Ishmael and Jarvis, and the Falcons may want to shore up their depth a little with someone that can also bolster special teams.
Keep (6): Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Brian Poole, Isaiah Oliver, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Justin Bethel
Practice Squad: Chris Lammons, Ryan Neal
Cut: Leon McFadden, Deante Burton
Poole won the battle for the nickel/third cornerback hands down over Oliver. The Falcons also saw steady play from Wreh-Wilson to make him safe despite entering the summer a bit on the bubble.
Lammons was listed as a safety but spent the entire summer playing slot cornerback. His ability to potentially play both spots makes him a good bet to land a practice squad spot. Neal is also a candidate to land a practice squad spot, given his time split playing both outside cornerback and strong safety this summer.
Keep (4): Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee, Ron Parker
Practice Squad: None
Cut: Tyson Graham, Marcelis Branch, Secdrick Cooper
While there was never any question whether or not he was a roster lock, it’s worth noting how well Kazee played this summer just because.
Parker sticks as the fourth safety, which was never in any real doubt given how poorly the rest of the team’s reserve safeties played this summer. So much so that the Falcons were able to move outside cornerback Ryan Neal to the spot against Jacksonville, and he looked a lot more promising than the likes of Graham, Branch or Cooper.
Keep (3): Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris
Practice Squad: None
Cut: Giorgio Tavecchio, David Marvin
No surprises here as Tavecchio and Marvin are essentially bodies to get the Falcons through the final preseason game rather than real contenders for roster spots.
That is the final 53-man projection for me. There were only a handful of changes from July on who I thought would make the roster, but several in terms of which players wind up with practice squad spots.
The Importance of O-Line Stability
Aaron breaks down some interesting stats looking offensive line stability and its correlation to past Falcons success. He first discusses the signing of K Giorgio Tavecchio, followed by looking back at how the Falcons featuring the same five starters along their O-line has correlated highly to past team success. He turns his attention to the importance of OL depth in 2018, discusses why it’s important to keep Sean Harlow, and reads iTunes reviews from listeners.
Rapid Reaction to Preseason Week 3 Loss to Jaguars
Aaron reacts to the Falcons 17-6 loss to the Jaguars in the third “dress rehearsal” preseason game. He discusses the struggles of the starting offense, the lack of opportunities for Ito Smith, the importance of winning in the trenches, depth in the secondary and the lack of movement for roster battles on special teams.