Atlanta Falcons Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Arnold Ebiketie, DE, Penn State – Round 2
The Falcons were dead last in the NFL in sacks in 2021, in part thanks to being stuck in a bad salary cap situation because of some awful contracts given out by former general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Fortunately for the Falcons, the 2022 NFL Draft class was strong and deep for edge rushers, and they were able to land a fantastic value in Ebiketie in the second round.

The 6-foot-3, 256-pound Ebiketie has the speed and strength to be a challenge for NFL offensive tackles. As a pass rusher, Ebiketie can burn tackles with a speed rush and also is strong enough to fight them off with his hands. After his quick first-step to get upfield, Ebiketie uses his hands and feet at the same time nicely, and he possesses the agility to redirect to the inside or sink his hips while running the loop on the outside. Ebiketie has an excellent rip move with natural leverage. After staying low and maintaining good leverage while charging upfield, Ebiketie rips using his inside arm to keep tackles from getting a hold of him to finish off his rush. Ebiketie is also dangerous working to the inside, and he has excellent closing speed to eat up space in blur. As a pro, Ebiketie has the potential to be a very good pass rusher.

Ebiketie could stand to improve as a run defender, and he can get covered up sometimes by offensive tackles. That is not surprising considering his lack of height, length and weight. As a pro, he could get rotated out a fair amount in running situations.

The size limitations might keep Ebiketie from being a boom pick, but I believe he was a second-round steal and could be a double-digit sacker in the NFL. Ebiketie could be a Yannick Ngakoue-type edge rusher, and that would make him a solid starter and upgrade for Atlanta.

2021: Richie Grant, S
2020: Marlon Davidson, DT
2019: Kendall Sheffield, CB
2018: Calvin Ridley, WR
2017: Sean Harlow, G
2016: Austin Hooper, TE
2015: Vic Beasley, DE
2014: Jake Matthews, OT
2013: Desmond Trufant, CB

Most Likely To Bust

Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati – Round 3
The Falcons had an excellent draft in their second year with general manager Terry Fontenot, vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith, and head coach Arthur Smith. This was a tough selection because I don’t see picks who look like dangerous potential busts. Taking a gamble on Ridder in the third round was not much of a risk either, but Ridder has some flaws as a player, which earned him backup grades around the league.

Ridder (6-3, 207) has the physical talent to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. There is no doubt he has some good tools to work with. He has a quality arm and can fire some passes downfield and to the sideline. He also shows the ability to put air under the ball and throw touch passes. Lofting in passes between defenders and throwing receivers open can be tough for strong-armed quarterbacks as they can become too reliant on fast balls, but Ridder does not have that issue, and he has some mobility to move around as well. When plays break down, Ridder can use his feet to buy time, and he makes some passes off platform. With his quickness and athleticism, Ridder is a threat to hurt defenses on the ground.

There are significant flaws in Ridder’s game at this point. His field vision is in major need of improvement. He will consistently lock his eyes on his primary read and not move them away. He stares down targets and does not look off defenders. When Ridder does scan the field, he needs to get faster for the NFL and not hold the ball so long. That could be seen at Senior Bowl where he took some unnecessary sacks. Reading the field, working through his progressions, and making good decisions is the key parts of Ridder’s development.

Ridder is a good project for Arthur Smith to develop behind Marcus Mariota. Mariota has been inconsistent in his career and has also dealt with injuries, so it would not be surprising if Ridder sees the field at some point during his rookie season. While Ridder has a good skill set, he needs a lot of development and has the most bust potential of Atlanta’s early-round picks.

2021: Jalen Mayfield, OT
2020: Matt Hennessy, C
2019: Kaleb McGary, OT
2018: Ito Smith, RB
2017: Takk McKinley, DE
2016: Deion Jones, LB
2015: Jalen Collins, CB
2014: Dez Southward, S
2013: Levine Toilolo, TE

Potential Boom Pick

Drake London, WR, USC – Round 1
The Falcons entered the 2022 NFL Draft with a huge need at wide receiver. They traded away Julio Jones in a robbery of the Titans prior to the 2021 season; Calvin Ridley went AWOL before getting suspended for gambling on football; and Russell Gage left for Tampa Bay in free agency. Atlanta has a superstar in the making with tight end Kyle Pitts, but the team needed some receiver talent to go with him. London was a phenomenal pick at No. 8, and he will form a twin-tower mismatch weapon with Pitts.

In the NFL, there are different types of mismatch receivers. Some kill defenses with vertical speed, some are amazing route-runners to generate consistent separation, and others are too big and physical for defensive backs to contain. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound London is the third kind, as he is a big, physical warrior on the football field. He also plays with an infectious attitude as a true competitor. That makes London a very fun player to watch and the kind of receiver who energizes his entire team.

London’s combination of size and strength makes him a real problem for defensive backs downfield. He uses his long body and leaping ability to provide a big catch radius for his quarterback, and London is dangerous to outleap defenders to make receptions in 50-50 situations. With his height, leaping ability, and strength to box out defenders, London is never really covered. He tracks the ball well and times his jumps well to high point the ball. As a pro, London should be a real asset on third downs and in the red zone to bail out his quarterback in tough situations.

Perhaps London’s most special quality is yards-after-the-catch skills. After making the reception, London gets North-South and charges through the secondary like a man possessed. Routinely you see London push through tacklers and his ability to break tackles and pick up yards after contact are truly rare for a wide receiver. He uses power to push defenders away, his big body to go through them, and excellent balance to maintain his feet. London is such a fighter that never quits on a play and often it takes a group of defenders to get him to the ground. His spirit and grit are undeniable, and it really give his entire team momentum through the fight that he displays. Check the video below for some incredible highlight-reel runs by London.

With his size to win jump balls and ability to catch the ball in traffic, London is a fabulous weapon in the red zone. He tracks the ball well while using late hands to make the reception. He flashes his height and length to make contested catches and win 50-50 passes routinely. In the NFL, London is going to have to win on contested catches because he won’t be a receiver who generates separation. But he has proven ability to win 50-50 passes and outfight defensive backs using his thick frame and strength to get the better of them. London has solid route-running with reliable hands. He is a chain mover who does the dirty work in the short to intermediate part of the field.

London and Pitts could be one of the most prolific wide receiver-tight end tandems in the NFL. The Falcons made another great trade acquiring Bryan Edwards from the Raiders to give them a dynamic trio. London is a beast as a receiver, and I think he will be a boom pick for Atlanta.

2021: Kyle Pitts, TE
2020: A.J. Terrell, CB
2019: Chris Lindstrom, G
2018: Isaiah Oliver, CB
2017: Duke Riley, LB
2016: Keanu Neal, S
2015: Tevin Coleman, RB
2014: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT
2013: Malliciah Goodman, DE

Future Depth Player

Tyler Allgeier, RB, BYU – Round 5
Allgeier was a tough runner and touchdown machine for the Cougars in 2021. If it weren’t for slow testing times, Allgeier could have been a second-day pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Allgeier, however, plays faster than the timed speed, and it would not be surprising if he is a valuable backup running back who can handle rotational carries while also being a core special teams player. While Allgeier may lack the speed and dynamic athleticism to be a three-down starter, he could be a quality backup running back in the NFL.

2021: Darren Hall, CB
2020: Mykal Walker, LB
2019: Qadree Ollison, RB
2018: Russell Gage, WR
2017: Brian Hill, RB
2016: De’Vondre Campbell, LB
2015: Justin Hardy, WR
2014: Devonta Freeman, RB
2013: Robert Alford, CB

Walt’s 2022 NFL Draft Grades:

8. Drake London, WR, USC – B- Grade
It should come as no surprise that Drake London is the first receiver off the board. I believed it would be London or Garrett Wilson. The Lions had interest in London at No. 2 prior to the combine. So, I don’t think this is a bad pick, as London projects to be like Mike Evans. However, I thought Jermaine Johnson was the better prospect, and there’s more receiving depth on Day 2 than edge-rushing depth.

38. Arnold Ebiketie, DE, Penn State – C Grade
I like Arnold Ebiketie as an athletic pass rusher, and he certainly fills a huge need for the Falcons, who registered only 18 sacks last year. However, why did Atlanta surrender a significant resource for this? There were plenty of talented edge rushers available, so this was not necessary.

58. Troy Andersen, LB, Montana State – C Grade
This is a bit too rich for Troy Andersen, who seemed likely to go in the third or fourth round. This isn’t a Tyquan Thornton-type reach though, so I don’t hate this pick. Andersen is very athletic and should be able to be a solid player in Atlanta’s miserable defense. Where’s the quarterback pick though?

74. Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati – B- Grade
I had Desmond Ridder to the Falcons in the second round, but I didn’t like that pick. I just thought it would happen. I appreciate the Falcons waiting and getting good value, or what seems like good value with Ridder. I’m not a fan of Ridder, as he just seems like a fancy backup quarterback in the NFL. Still, Atlanta obtained a young quarterback, which is something it needed to do.

82. DeAngelo Malone, DE/OLB, Western Kentucky – B+ Grade
It’s no surprise that the Falcons are drafting another edge rusher, given that two NFL players had more sacks than their entire team in 2021! DeAngelo Malone is a dynamic, explosive edge rusher whom I had pegged in this area, so I like this pick.

151. Tyler Allgeier, RB, BYU – A- Grade
The Falcons finally found a running back! Tyler Allgeier is a raw running back because he used to play linebacker, but he’s a solid prospect who catches passes well. I thought he’d go a round earlier, so I like this pick. Allgeier could eventually start for Atlanta.

190. Justin Shaffer, G, Georgia – B+ Grade
Justin Shaffer is a big guard with some upside. The Falcons needed help on the offensive line, which goes without saying because they had holes everywhere. However, blocking was a major issue that desperately needed to be addressed. I had Shaffer a round earlier than this.

213. John Fitzpatrick, TE, Georgia – B+ Grade
The Falcons needed a backup tight end, as Hayden Hurst is no longer with the team. Adding another tight end here makes sense, and John Fitzpatrick fits the range. I thought he could go a bit earlier.

2022 NFL Draft Team Grade: C. Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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