The Atlanta Falcons were no doubt a big disappointment in 2020, finishing 4-12 while also firing their head coach and general manager. They sit in the top four of the 2021 NFL Draft order, and many are debating their best course of action at that selection.
As crazy as it sounds, being in the top five is a luxury that some teams don’t see very frequently. In fact, the last time the Falcons picked in the top five, it was to select current quarterback Matt Ryan, all the way back in 2008.
So, what should the plan be for the Atlanta Falcons at pick four? Let’s look at their options.
Take a quarterback
The first discussion that needs to happen surrounds the quarterback position. Ryan’s cap number is extremely high for the next two years, and it sounds like he’s still the plan going forward at the position.
However, two years isn’t a bad timeline for a young quarterback to develop behind Ryan. With over two months out until the 2021 NFL Draft, it’s hard to project what happens after Trevor Lawrence at one.
The Dolphins could trade back with a quarterback-needy team, and that would potentially leave the Falcons with whichever of the consensus top four remains. Would they be fine with Trey Lance at that spot? Many analysts believe so, but the Falcons won’t settle if their goal is to get a quarterback. They’ll do what they can to get their guy.
This might be the most popular plan amongst fans and analysts. The Atlanta Falcons have issues on the roster that exist beyond getting the heir at quarterback. The secondary still has holes. Finding an impactful edge rusher would be great to get after and terrorize quarterbacks in the NFC South. Upgrading the offensive line is in play, and finding a feature running back makes sense.
With that plethora of needs, acquiring more draft capital might be the way to go. General manager Terry Fontenot can take advantage of the demand for young quarterbacks, and acquire a slew of draft picks over the next couple of years by trading back. Here are a couple of scenarios.
A trade back with the Panthers would net the Atlanta Falcons a couple of third-round selections. Yes, trading within the division is very rare, but the Panthers are clearly in the quarterback market.
The 49ers might offer their first next year or a pair of second-round selections to move up from 12 to four. This moves the Falcons a little further back in round one come April, but with their needs, it’s a sweet spot to get a top player at corner or defensive end. Even if they look to tackle in round one, there will be top players available.
An even crazier trade could be with the Indianapolis Colts, who could offer the farm to move up from 21. Imagine netting a couple of firsts, and potentially a couple of day two picks along with it. It gives the Falcons options to move up a few picks should they go after a guy they really want in the next couple of drafts.
Stay and pick a non-QB
If the Atlanta Falcons don’t find a suitable trade partner (and say they don’t want to trade with the division rival Panthers), then staying put and taking an elite talent is the remaining option. If the pick isn’t a quarterback, a few players come to mind.
The offensive line looks set, but Penei Sewell could still be in play. He’s an elite talent as a run blocker and in pass protection, and it could make sense to start him at guard or move Kaleb McGary inside and let Sewell play right tackle to start off.
Tight end Hayden Hurst, acquired last offseason from the Baltimore Ravens, has his fifth-year option deadline coming up, and if the Falcons decline it, drafting a playmaker like Kyle Pitts might not be out of the equation. Pitts can stretch the field and be an elite red-zone target, making an insane trio with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley that will give defensive coordinators nightmares.
The other option might be going corner back-to-back years in the first round. Isaiah Oliver is a free agent after 2021, and unless they believe in Kendall Sheffield to be a boundary corner, either Caleb Farley or Patrick Surtain Jr. would make sense to draft and play opposite A.J. Terrell.
It feels like the best course of action for the Atlanta Falcons is to trade back and acquire more picks to build up this roster to what it was a few years ago. Unless they are locked onto a quarterback prospect, trading back is the way. They can acquire more swings at potential starters on day two of the draft and still draft a potentially elite player in round one.
To maximize the window they have with Ryan, trading back in the 2021 draft makes the most sense for a team with many key holes.