Let’s take a brief moment to reminisce on some pre-COVID-19 pandemic Atlanta sports. The Atlanta Falcons were essentially out of the playoffs halfway through the season. After a disastrous 1-7 start, the Falcons suddenly started playing up to their full potential, only for it to be a “too little, too late” scenario. Voices were growing ever deafening for head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff to depart the organization. The team ended up closing 2019 on a pride-boosting four-game win streak to propel to 7-9. Should the team have tanked when the writing was clearly on the walls? No. A team’s job, first and foremost, is to play hard and attempt to win games. While the may not have been evident for every single snap of every game, it is what the athletes are paid to do. However, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the December win streak critically damaged the Falcons’ draft stock. The team went from a potential top five pick to a 16th overall selection in round one.
Last Thursday was the first night of the draft, but earlier in the day, news reports began to surface the Falcons were attempting to acquire Washington’s first-round pick, second overall in the draft. Ultimately, nothing came of it and the Falcons ended up staying at 16. This piece will be a two-part beef. First with the team, then with the fanbase. First with the team. There were several high-caliber first rounders Atlanta could have traded up to that were not selected top five. Derrick Brown went seventh. Isaiah Simmons went eighth. Both of those picks would have been excellent for Atlanta’s defense, which needs work in multiple locations. Think about Isaiah Simmons, Deion Jones and Dante Fowler as linebackers or Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson and Grady Jarrett on the same defensive line. Simmons ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and his athleticism proved to be an asset for the Clemson Tigers en route to the National Championship (we’ll revisit this game). Davidson and Brown were both a part of Auburn’s defensive line. The two each recorded 12.5 tackles-for-loss last season. Brown recorded two sacks while Davidson notched four. Those two (pending in a trade the Falcons could have held onto their second-round pick) combined with Jarrett’s experience and skill could have been lethal. However, we cannot talk about what could have been. Let’s now talk about what is.
“With the 16th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft...” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced from his house on Thursday night and the Falcons selected Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell Jr. Terrell, a native of Atlanta, won a national title last year and runner up this year with the Tigers, but those on-air thought this was an unusual first-round take. Some even voiced their disappointment in the Falcons to make some kind of splash. Many were quick to point out Terrell’s forgettable National Championship performance against the LSU Tigers. Terrell was matched up against LSU sophomore Ja’Marr Chase, who burned him for nine catches, 221 receiving yards and two scores. While, yes, the National Championship was the most recent college football game and gets its deserved spotlight, one game, championship or no championship, does not determine how someone will perform at the highest level in football. He got selected by his hometown team and has not played a single down in the NFL. Relax. It’s possible Terrell’s title game performance is just a bump in the road on his football journey. You just never know. For me, this pick was about one thing: filling an immediate position need. The Falcons opted not to re-sign starting cornerback Desmond Trufant (now with Detroit), so it was obvious what the team required. Did they take the right guy at the right time? The next few years will be the indicator.
Day two of the draft saw Atlanta improve in two other critical positions. The general consensus was much higher in the Falcons selecting Marlon Davidson out of Auburn for the defensive line and Temple center Matt Hennessey. Davidson will be Vic Beasley’s replacement along the D-Line and Hennessey will likely be Alex Mack’s successor at center. Mack is 34.
One day three, the Falcons picked Fresno State linebacker Mykal Walker at 119, California safety Jaylinn Hawkins at 134 and Syracuse punter Sterling Hofrichter at 228. Throughout the draft, the Falcons highlighted defense. If you watched last season, it was, outside of two games, abysmal. Overall was the draft a bust? Way too early to tell, but when we look back down the road, I’m leaning toward no. Davidson and Hennessey should be solid options for the future, but I’m unsure about Terrell. It’s quite possible the wrong approach was taken.
The point I take away: this draft is going to start what should become a make-or-break year. If the draft picks pay off and the Falcons can get back to the playoffs, that would certainly buy Quinn and Dimitroff public sentiment, and, more importantly, patience with owner Arthur Blank. Blank has shown a considerable amount with Quinn and Dimitroff, but could another losing season and playoff blackout with the already talented roster be the final nail in the coffin? Overall, I’ll grade the draft as a B-. Will Terrell, Davidson and possibly Hawkins become immediate contributors and help guide the team back to the playoffs? One thing’s for sure: this draft is the beginning of the succeed-or-part-ways year for Quinn and Dimitroff.
Hopefully we will have football later this fall with no major disruptions. While the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, please continue to wash your hands, maintain social distancing and stay safe.