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The Falcons Are the Most Intriguing Team in the Top-10 of the NFL Draft

Liam McKeone
Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan / Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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This year's NFL Draft has seen a lot of action already, with the San Francisco 49ers moving up to No. 3, the Miami Dolphins moving down to No. 6, and the Philadelphia Eagles moving down to No. 12 all in one day a month before the actual event. There's a strong crop of quarterback prospects and several extremely fun skill-position guys projected to go in the top half of the first round. This particular draft might also be more unpredictable than past iterations because for the first time ever teams were largely unable to go scout prospects throughout the season due to COVID-19 protocols and have to rely on tape and pro days to evaluate.

With a few weeks to go, the general public has a pretty good handle on how the first three picks will go. The Jacksonville Jaguars will take Trevor Lawrence, the New York Jets will take Zach Wilson (Sam Darnold's status is TBD at the moment), and the Niners will take one of the three remaining top-tier QB prospects. After that, though? It's anyone's guess.

That is why I suggest the Atlanta Falcons are the most interesting team in the draft. They have the fourth overall pick and their roster is an outlier in terms of teams picking in the top-five; usually teams drafting that high have rosters bereft of talent, but the Falcons have a starting-caliber quarterback and two star receivers. They were still very bad in 2020 because of injuries and the fact that the defense was downright horrific. A full-on rebuild is not in the cards after the front office restructured Matt Ryan's contract to spread out his insane cap hit over the next three years. The franchise hired offensive guru Arthur Smith to be the new head coach this offseason for the purpose of competing with this current core.

All that means they have a wide variety of options to choose from with their draft pick, and no one option seems more likely than the other at this point. Which is unusual. Albert Breer reported for Sports Illustrated today that the Falcons are a trade-back candidate, but wouldn't mind keeping the pick, in which case they could go quarterback, but they could also add to their stacked receiving corps with someone like Michael Pitt. In summary, anything is in play.

The smart move would probably be to take a quarterback, the most likely candidate being Trey Lance. Lance is a project who will need a few years of work before he can begin to reach his potential at the professional level, and the Falcons would be happy to let him ride the pine while trying to compete right now. Coupled with the fact that, if all goes according to plan, the Falcons won't sniff the top-five anytime in the next few years, using a fluke losing season to take a potential future franchise quarterback makes perfect sense.

Then again, there will probably be a team who loves Lance or Mac Jones and would be interested in offering quite a haul for the Falcons' pick to jump ahead of another interested party. NFL teams all employ excellent scouts, but they are still wrong quite often and more bites at the apple is usually the best way to ensure a draft will result in impact contributors. Selling the fourth pick to the highest bidder wouldn't solve the quarterback problem, but it would go a long way towards addressing the other gaping holes in the roster like the offensive line and the secondary. The Broncos could be a likely trade partner in that regard; they and the Panthers are the two QB-hungry teams in the top-10, and Atlanta isn't going to trade with a division rival.

At the same time, using the fourth pick to draft a non-quarterback is the Falcons' best opportunity to continue to build an overall solid foundation for Smith to work with. Penei Sewell, for example, would enter the Falcons facility as the best offensive lineman on the roster. Taking Pitts would give Ryan an overflow of talented pass-catchers and he could be one of the best tight ends in the league for years to come. Atlanta could even go the most fun route and take the most talented receiver, buying entirely into the philosophy of "the best defense is a great offense." That would line up with Smith's hire after he spent years building a dangerous offense in Tennessee.

All that is what makes the Falcons' pick so intriguing. You can talk yourself into every potential option above, plus a few others. They have a stronger-than-normal roster for a top-five selection and thus there is no easy answer for what they should do with the fourth overall pick. We know what will happen in the first three picks. The draft will start with the Falcons, essentially. What they do will determine how the rest of the top-10 goes.

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