Atlanta enters the 2023 NFL Draft with the No. 8 overall selection. General manager Terry Fontenot is slowly building the roster in his image; these five names make the most sense on day one for the Falcons.
The Falcons have had an impressive offseason thus far. The team signed star safety Jessie Bates away from the Bengals and added one of the best-kept secrets in the NFL by signing David Onyemata to a three-year deal. Atlanta traded for Jeffrey Okudah on Tuesday morning, hoping to give him a fresh start alongside AJ Terrell.
These three moves should help a defensive unit that ranked near the bottom of the league in sacks and yards allowed through the air. However, the upgrades cannot stop there, as Atlanta is still lacking in a few key areas.
Falcons: 5 First-Round Options in the 2023 NFL Draft
Sitting at No. 8 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Falcons are in a prime position to add a young building block for the defense. Here are five first-round targets that make sense for general manager Terry Fontenot.
1. Tyree Wilson (Texas Tech)
Tyree Wilson may be long gone before the Falcons come up to the podium at No. 8, but if the Red Raider defensive lineman is still around, Atlanta will dance the card up to Roger Goodell. Wilson is a powerful presence as a pass rusher. He dominates his assignment by using incredible grip strength and brute force.
As a run defender, Wilson is an instant difference-maker. His length allows him to set the edge, and his overwhelming power grants him the ability to stuff gaps between the tackles. The Texas Tech veteran is an all-around threat, but when he learns how to win with more efficient hand usage, Wilson could be the best player in the entire class when it’s all said and done.
He can play as the defensive end in Atlanta’s scheme but shows the versatility and explosiveness to line up as a standup rusher, too. The Falcons must put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks; Wilson is step one.
2. Jalen Carter (Georgia)
Jalen Carter is a blue-chip prospect, strictly from an on-the-field sense. His actions off the field have led to questions concerning his character and decision-making. This fact may push Carter further down the board than initially thought, giving the Falcons a chance to keep him in-state by drafting the Georgia superstar at No. 8.
If Carter checks out as a personality fit in Atlanta, he would pair with Grady Jarrett and David Onyemata, giving the Falcons one of the most promising defensive line groups in the NFL. Carter is agile enough to play anywhere on the three-man front, and he possesses play strength that allows him to shut down run plays and collapse the pocket from the interior.
There are better fits for the Falcons, and perhaps the risk outweighs the reward with Carter, but if he is on the board when Atlanta picks, it will be a possibility for the front office.
3. Myles Murphy (Clemson)
Myles Murphy continues the trend of explosive and traitsy pass rushers. The former five-star recruit starred for the Clemson Tigers, showcasing otherworldly athleticism and a dazzling array of pass-rushing moves off the edge.
Consistency is where Murphy is lacking, as in some snaps he looks like a surefire top-10 pick, and in others, you question whether he is worth a first-round pick at all. Ultimately, the traits are worth betting on if the previous entries on the list are not available at No. 8.
NFL coaching can go a long way to balancing Murphy’s volatile motor. If the Falcons can get Murphy to buy in, he should put up some incredible numbers as a rookie. A few years down the road, we could be talking about one of the premier pass rushers in the league.
4. Lukas Van Ness (Iowa)
Want more? Lukas Van Ness matches the physical prowess of Wilson and Murphy on the edge while displaying the same dominance as Carter from the interior. The Iowa defender wins by converting speed-to-power, exhibiting the most effective bullrush in the 2023 NFL Draft.
He needs to mix in more finesse as a pass rusher, but the physicality he plays with sets a tone for the unit. Van Ness shuts down ball carriers in run support and shows the ability to handle double teams and take what the offense gives him. The Hawkeye standout is still scratching the surface of what he could be, offering an upside that few of his peers can rival.
5. Peter Skoronski (Northwestern)
Here is a wildcard for the final entry on this list, as the Falcons could look to the opposite side of the trenches by adding the best offensive lineman in the class. Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski is a chess piece on the offensive line, with some projecting him as an All-Pro guard and others believing he can hold up at tackle.
For Atlanta, I would slot Skoronski in at left guard as a rookie. He boasts the best technique of any lineman I evaluated in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle, utilizing impeccable hand usage to thwart pass-rushing attempts off the edge. Skoronski is a gifted athlete, regularly getting to the second level and clearing massive running lanes for his ball carrier.
The Falcons are rolling with Desmond Ridder, so stacking up the offensive line, and making it one of the better units in the league, would give Atlanta something to lean on as the young signal-caller finds his way. Arthur Smith loves to dominate the run game, and Skoronski provides that from day one.