The 2022 NFL Draft begins on April 28, which means that The Game Haus will be writing draft profiles for every team. Each NFL team will be evaluated heading into this year’s draft, as our staff recaps their last season, highlights their needs, and pinpoints their potential 2022 NFL Draft targets. The Atlanta Falcons are the subject of today’s 2022 NFL Draft profile.
In Atlanta’s first season with Terry Fontenot as general manager and Arthur Smith as their head coach, the team met their preseason expectations. Atlanta went 7-9 this season even though they are considered a rebuilding team. There were moments last season when the Falcons looked like one of the worst teams in the league.
Former MVP quarterback Matt Ryan had to keep this offense afloat despite being without great offensive talent for most of the year. He threw for 3,968 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. This was one of the worst statistical years of his career, but it is hard to fault Ryan for his performance with the lack of help around him. Now after Atlanta traded Ryan away to the Indianapolis Colts for a third-round pick, former Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota is expected to be the team’s starter next season. Mariota signed a two-year $18.75 million deal with Atlanta to reunite with Arthur Smith. The Falcons head coach and Mariota have a prior relationship after spending five seasons as an assistant with the Titans.
Atlanta signed veteran Mike Davis to a two-year $5.5 million contract which led people to believe he would be the team’s workhorse running back. However, it ended up being former All-Pro return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson who emerged as a spark for the Falcons backfield. Patterson led the team in rushing last season with 618 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. He was also third on the team in receiving yards with 548 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns. Davis was second on the team in rushing with 503 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.
Following the 2021 NFL Draft, Atlanta decided to trade future Hall of Fame wide receiver Julio Jones to the Tennessee Titans for a 2022 second-round pick. This led Second-Team All-Pro Calvin Ridley and fourth-year receiver Russell Gage as Atlanta’s top wide receivers. The team also selected Flordia tight end Kyle Pitts fourth overall which allowed the team to feel comfortable trading Jones away. Pitts led the team in receiving yards with 1,026. He was voted to the Pro Bowl despite only having one receiving touchdown all year. Gage was second on the team in receiving yards with 770 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns. Ridley only played five games with the Falcons last season because he decided to step away from the team for personal reasons. During those five games, Ridley had 281 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns.
Once again Atlanta’s defense was one of the worst-performing units in the league. Their inability to get after the quarterback has crippled their defense and hurt their defenders in coverage. Dante Fowler Jr. led the team in sacks with 4.5 and now is no longer with the team after they cut him earlier in the offseason. Linebacker Foyesade Oluokun had 192 combined tackles for the Falcons last year but also is no longer with the team. Former 2020 first-round pick A.J. Terrell was one of the lone bright spots for Atlanta’s defense this past year. He was one of the best cornerbacks in the entire league last season locking down almost all opposing receivers. Terrell became the second player on the Falcons in two years to be named Second Team All-Pro but fail to get voted to the Pro Bowl.
Atlanta lost a lot of notable players from their roster due to a lack of cap space. Those players include Dante Fowler Jr. (one year $3 million with the Dallas Cowboys), Foyesade Oluokun (three years $45 million with the Jacksonville Jaguars), Hayden Hurst (one year $3.5 million with the Cincinnati Bengals), and shockingly Russell Gage (three years $30 million with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). Losing Matt Ryan for only a third-round pick is also a large blow to this team. Now there is also speculation that the team could decide to move on from former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Grady Jarrett who hasn’t been a great fit in defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ 3-4 defensive scheme.
The Falcons were able to retain a couple of notable free agents including Cordarrelle Patterson (two years $10.5 million), Isaiah Oliver (one year $2.385 million), Erik Harris (one year $1.272 million), and Qadree Ollison (one year $1 million). Besides signing Marcus Mariota, Atlanta signed former Raiders cornerback Casey Heyward (two years $11 million), former Giants pass rusher Lorenzo Carter (one year $3.5 million), former Bengals receiver Auden Tate (one year $1.12 million), and former Bears running back Damien Williams (one year $1.62 million).
2022 NFL Picks
Atlanta will have nine picks to use in the 2022 NFL Draft
First Round (one pick): No. 8
Second Round (two picks): No. 42, No. 58
Third Round (two picks): No. 74, No. 82
Fourth Round (one picks): No. 114
Fifth Round (one picks): No. 151
Sixth Round (two picks): No. 190, No. 214
Seventh Round (zero picks):
Wide Receiver- As it currently stands, recent signee Auden Tate might be the Falcons’ number one receiver next season. Losing Julio Jones last offseason, Russell Gage this offseason, and Calvin Ridley for all of next season (due to suspension) the Falcons need to rebuild this group of receivers in the worst way.
Edge Rusher- The Falcons have needed to add more productive pass rushers for way too long for this still to be an issue. Now after cutting former big-money free agent Dante Fowler Jr., Atlanta needs to bring in one potential starting edge player that could get after opposing quarterbacks.
Quarterback- Bringing in Marcus Mariota was a solid move for a team that desperately needed a quarterback following the Matt Ryan trade. But starting a veteran who has only played the majority of snaps in just one game in two years likely won’t lead to team success next season. After passing on quarterbacks early in the draft last year the Falcons need to add to their quarterback room this offseason.
Defensive Line- One way to increase the production of the pass rushers off the edge would be to create more of a presence in the interior of the defensive line. Outside of Grady Jarrett (who could get traded), there is no player currently on the Falcons roster that could be potential foundational pieces of their defense going forward. Former second-round pick Marlon Davidson hasn’t been able to lock down a starting role on this defense despite being the 47th overall pick in 2020.
Safety- Drafting Richie Grant in the second round of last year’s draft was a great pick to help Atlanta on the backend. However, the Falcons need to add another safety to pair with Grant long-term. Now that Duron Harmon has left in free agency, Atlanta needs a safety who can start or play meaningful snaps right away.
Interior Offensive Line- In the past two drafts the Falcons have selected Matt Hennessy and Jalen Mayfield with their third-round picks. Both players have not looked like long-term starters for this offensive line. Hennessy has failed to lock down the starting center job and Mayfield looked like a liability for the Falcons last season. Atlanta needs to add another interior offensive lineman who can challenge and possibly replace them both next season.
Linebacker- Losing Foyesade Oluonkun was a major hit for the Falcons’ defense. Atlanta should look for another linebacker to compete with Mykal Walker to play next to Deion Jones in the middle of their defense next season.
2022 Draft Targets
Pick No. 8: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
As tempting as it may be to take one of the outstanding defensive players with their first-round selection, Atlanta needs to address their offense with their first-round pick if they want that side of the ball to be competent next season. Even though it may be a reach to take Kenny Pickett this early, Atlanta may have no choice but to take him with this selection if Malik Willis is taken earlier.
Pickett has been called the most ‘pro-ready’ of all the quarterback prospects. He is a pocket passer who has great accuracy and can scramble for first downs if necessary. His development in college and older age compares to 2020 first overall pick Joe Burrow. His playstyle and pro player comparison (if he reaches his ceiling) is Derek Carr. Atlanta would hope that Pickett plays similarly to Patriots 2021 first-round pick Mac Jones who was given the “most pro-ready” label last offseason and was a Pro Bowler his rookie season. Similar to Jones, Carr, and even Matt Ryan, Pickett will likely be a B or B+ quarterback at the next level.
Landing a franchise quarterback like Pickett would show ownership that this brass doesn’t want to tank for another year. Instead, they would be able to build this team around Pickett and the rest of this 2022 draft class.
Pick No. 43: George Pickens, WR, Georgia
One player with one of the widest ranges of outcomes in this draft is Georgia wide receiver George Pickens. His range varies from between the late picks of the first round (if the wide receiver run starts early) to the entirety of the second round. It seems unlikely that Pickens will make it past the second round.
When Pickens has been on the field for Georgia he has played like a receiver who could be great at the next level. He has all the physical tools to be a great receiver at the next level as well. The reason Pickens could fall to the second round is that he is coming off a season where he was limited to four games because of a torn ACL he suffered before the season. Also, Pickens was never the featured offensive piece of Georgia’s offense despite how talented he has been. Picken’s production has not been consistent enough throughout his career to earn a first-round grade.
Atlanta could keep Pickens in Georgia by taking him early in the second round. He would immediately be the second-best pass catcher for Atlanta’s offense behind Kyle Pitts and the best wide receiver on the team. The Falcons could give Pickens the featured role that Georgia never did. If he becomes the Falcons’ best wide receiver and reaches his ceiling this could be a steal and great value selection that would accelerate this rebuild.
Pick No. 58: Nik Bonitto, EDGE, Oklahoma
Rather than continuing the build the offense, Atlanta could start adding to their defense with their second of their two second-round picks. One player the Falcons should target for their defense is Oklahoma pass rusher Nik Bonitto. He could help address the need for a pass rusher on this defense.
Bonitto was a preseason favorite to emerge as one of the best pass rushers in this year’s class. He didn’t disappoint but could fall to the middle of Day 2 because of the depth of this edge rusher group. He is a 3-4 outside linebacker that uses his speed to beat tackles and get after opposing quarterbacks. His speed should help him produce early in his career. Bonitto will need to develop as a run defender to remain on the field on all downs. But he could be one of the team leaders in sacks in his first year with the team.
Atlanta would allow Bonitto to play in prominent snaps right away. They desperately need to add a pass rusher and he could be their long-term second-best pass rusher off the edge. Adding someone to create pressure on the edge would be a major help to get this defense playing at a competitive level for the first time in a couple of years.
Pick No. 74: John Metchie III, WR, Alabama
Alabama wide receiver John Metchie III could fall to the third round of this upcoming draft because he could miss time after tearing his ACL late in the year. The Falcons should pounce on the opportunity to take Metchie in this situation despite him being the second receiver the team has taken in their last three picks. Atlanta not only needs a top receiver but they also need depth within their receiver room. This is the type of pick that could help that depth immensely.
Coming into the year Metchie was supposed to be the next breakout receiver for the Alabama Crimson Tide after Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith were drafted last year. Jameson Williams ended up being Alabama’s best receiver, but Metchie still had a great season for them as well. Metchie is a versatile receiver that could line up both in the slot and on the outside at the next level. His best traits are his route running ability and his great hands.
He likely won’t be a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver in his career but is very likely to be a great secondary receiver for an offense at the next level. The Falcons desperately need a receiver like Metchie who will have a prominent role and be complementary to the primary receivers in this offense. He would be a great weapon to help the development of whoever Atlanta’s future quarterback will be long-term. Metchie would be the outlet option in the middle of the field that is always open that is primarily filled by a tight end. This would allow Kyle Pitts to take advantage of his size and speed to be used more as a vertical threat.
If this scenario was to play out Atlanta would have some nice young pieces to fill the voids on this offense. Kenny Pickett would be a solid starting quarterback for the offense who will have two tall athletic pass-catchers Kyle Pitts and George Pickens to make plays while John Metchie III is the outlet option for him in the middle of the field. That offense has the potential to grow into a very effective unit in a few years.
Pick No. 82: Sean Rhyan, OT, UCLA
One of the forgotten offensive linemen of this class is UCLA tackle Sean Rhyan. During the College Football season, there was a point when Ryan was considered a potential first-round pick. However, after evaluating this class Rhyan is likely to be picked in the middle rounds.
Rhyan played left tackle for UCLA this past season but will likely transition to another role at the next level. He could move to right tackle or either guard position when he is drafted. That type of versatility could be useful for a team looking to plug multiple holes on their offensive line. A team could draft Rhyan and figure out where he will play later.
If Atlanta drafts Rhyan he could challenge Jaylen Mayfield for the starting left guard spot. If he cannot beat out Mayfield then he will be a swing tackle to back up both Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary. Atlanta could also consider having Rhyan replace McGary as the team’s long-term right tackle. Since being drafted in the first round of the 2019 draft, McGary has been good enough to stay the team’s right tackle. However, he is not a great starter and could be replaced.