Now that franchise legend Matt Ryan is gone, things will look quite different in Atlanta this year. Second-year head coach Arthur Smith will be without not only his former starting quarterback, but top wide receiver Calvin Ridley as well, who was banned by the NFL for the 2022 season due to gambling. On top of the gaping holes on offense, it may behoove the Falcons to invest some draft capital into the league’s sixth-worst defense. Simply put, there is no lack of possible directions for the Atlanta front office in the draft, which makes predicting what they’ll do a challenge. Regardless of what the front office may be considering, here’s what the Falcons should do with their five selections within the first three rounds of the draft to set themselves up for 2022 and beyond.
Who Should the Atlanta Falcons Draft in 2022?
Round 1, Pick 8: Ahmad Gardner, CB – Cincinnati
A.J. Terrell is one of the best cornerbacks in the game, and that shouldn’t change any time soon. Still, the rest of Atlanta’s corners are a mess. Rather than reach on an edge rusher to boost the league’s worst pass rush, why not prevent quarterbacks from throwing the ball? The man known as Sauce went three years at Cincinnati without surrendering a single touchdown. Clamping two receivers at once with Gardner and Terrell immediately allows the Falcons to turn a subpar secondary into a strength. It should be noted that if Atlanta’s highest rated quarterback slips to pick eight, the front office should consider finding Ryan’s long-term successor.
Round 2, Pick 43 – George Pickens, WR – Georgia
Whoever is quarterback in Atlanta over the next five years (in 2022, it will likely be Marcus Mariota) will need someone to throw to. Ridley and Russell Gage, the team’s leading receiver last season, are both gone, leaving second-year tight end Kyle Pitts and not much else. George Pickens is a long, athletic wideout who thrives when making contested catches on the sideline; that sounds like a player who can help a young quarterback. While there are significant injury concerns with Pickens, who missed most of 2021 with a torn ACL, the Falcons should take a chance on the skilled Georgia alum.
Round 2, Pick 58 – Drake Jackson, DE – USC
Although they might choose to address other needs with their first two picks, the Falcons must bolster their defensive line, which has been stuck in mediocrity for years. Drake Jackson is an explosive athlete off the edge who showed real flashes during his time with USC. While more polished pass rushers could be found in this range, there is no reason for a clearly rebuilding franchise to make a win-now move. Atlanta should bank on Jackson’s immense talent while he picks up the nuances of defensive coordinator Dan Pees’ aggressive 3-4 scheme.
Round 3, Pick 74 – Dylan Parham, IOL – Memphis
By the time the third round rolls around, there is a good chance that Parham might be gone. The Memphis product shined during the combine, and his ability to play every position on the offensive line makes him a fit for nearly every team. Best suited at guard, Parham excels in the run game, where he can immediately boost Atlanta’s second-worst rushing attack. While the team has already invested in the line with Chris Lindstrom and Jalen Mayfield, Parham’s versatility ensures that he can play wherever the team needs him to. For a team that needs to protect the quarterback, that level of offensive-line insurance is invaluable.
Round 3, Pick 82 – Alec Pierce, WR – Cincinnati
The Falcons double-dip at wide receiver following their high-risk, high-reward selection in round 2. Unlike Pickens, Pierce projects as more of a short-yardage safety blanket with a solid floor at the NFL level. A big body at 6’3″, Pierce shows advanced catching and blocking skills as well as a tough, team-first attitude that Falcons fans should appreciate. While flexible enough to perform in any role within the offense, Pierce is likely to make an immediate impact in the red zone, where he can catch any lobs not thrown Kyle Pitts’ way.