You better believe the Falcons can still go best player available.
We are still trying to figure out this new brain trust in Atlanta. New general manager Terry Fontenot came in with an approach, if we are to believe the initial press conferences, completely different from former general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Whether or not Arthur Smith has anything close to the say in personnel as Dan Quinn had is still not clear.
We need to get ready for best player available. This is a little more complex than taking Todd Gurley over Vic Beasley. One perspective is teams will be paying market value for players in free agency, while in the draft teams will ignore their needs and go for the best value. This came up in the Gurley v. Beasley discussion: The Falcons had a huge need along the edge and had just taken Devonta Freeman the year prior. Some popularly believed the Falcons should draft Gurley. We can debate the result of either player, or who was truly believed to be the better player, but the result is the team going for the best player available would ignore the state of their roster and grab the most talented player that fits with their team.
In prior years, needs-based drafting resulted in trading up (and reaching) for Takkarist McKinley to fill the need for an edge, or trading up (and reaching) for Kaleb McGary to fill the need for a tackle. McKinley was a failure that cost an extra third-round pick. McGary is still TBD but also cost some extra draft capital. When zeroing in on a player that fits a need, and giving up additional picks, you need those players to hit. If they don’t, things fall apart.
For instance, many mock drafts sent Taven Bryan, a player you have not heard of once since draft night, to the Falcons in the first round of 2018. Atlanta surprised everyone when they went for value and grabbed Calvin Ridley.
How that shakes out with this draft, including the top of the draft, may result in the team coming away with a lopsided roster. For instance, if the Falcons grab four safeties or end up deep at running back, it will lead to some holes elsewhere. It means the available free agents will become even more important after the draft.
Luckily, the list of available free agents is surprisingly stout. Whether this is due to COVID limiting visits or the decreased salary cap due to COVID, the level of talent right now is better than most years. This is important because it means Fontenot can ignore need, he will not have to zero in on need, and can focus on adding the best players for this team.
It is tough to say what Atlanta’s needs will be after the draft, but there are ample opportunities to supplement weak spots in this roster if the draft doesn’t fill those needs.
Top players that could fit with the Falcons:
- Danny Shelton, DT
- Brian Poole, CB
- Melvin Ingram, Edge
- Justin Houston, Edge
- Olivier Vernon, Edge
- Malik Hooker, Safety
- Meurice Hurst, DT
- Austin Reiter, C
- Darqueze Dennard, CB
- P.J. Hall, DT
- Jurrell Casey, DT
- Trai Turner, G
- DaQuan Jones, DT
- Kenny Vaccaro, S
- Kawann Short, DT
- Ryan Kerrigan, Edge
- Geno Atkins, DT
- Kwon Alexander, LB
- Trey Burton, TE
- Nick Easton, G
Assuming Fontenot follows his best player available mindset, he can grab that elite player that falls into his lap instead of reaching on a need. Take that Gurley or Ridley over that Beasley or Bryan. Fontenot can grab multiple role players on one-year deals if there are any remaining roster holes. He just needs to find a bit more cap space to make it all work.