Falcons' Top 2021 NFL Draft Targets

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2021

Falcons' Top 2021 NFL Draft Targets

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Falcons hold a lot of power in the 2021 NFL draft. 

    Just one day from the opening round of the annual event the first three picks can be mocked with varying levels of certainty. The Jaguars, Jets and 49ers will all presumably take a quarterback. We know Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson are likely to be the top two selections. 

    One of the trio of Mac Jones, Trey Lance and Justin Fields are going to be the selection for San Francisco. But the directions the Falcons could go get really interesting. 

    Atlanta could easily continue the streak of quarterback selections. Matt Ryan is set to be 36 years old when the season starts, and the Falcons will ideally avoid picking in the top five again as long as he's the starter. 

    However, they could also go all-in on Ryan and give him a new weapon to work with. They are also a prime candidate to trade down with a team desperate for a quarterback. 

    Should they hold on to the pick and wait to pick again until their 34th selection in the second round, here are some of the top targets they'll be looking at.

QB Trey Lance or QB Justin Fields

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The team's financial commitment to Matt Ryan over the next two seasons makes it difficult to draft his successor this year. But the opportunity to draft the caliber of quarterback they will have available to them at No. 4 isn't guaranteed to happen again anytime soon. 

    Depending on who the 49ers take with the third pick, the Falcons could end up choosing between North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance and Justin Fields. 

    Fields makes more sense on paper. Having played at Ohio State over the last two seasons, he has a proven record as a starting quarterback and plenty of tape showing he can make all the throws. 

    However, Arthur Smith's presence as the new head coach makes this decision interesting. Lance (6'3" 224 pounds) is a dynamic runner (over 1,000 yards in his freshman season) who might have the best raw tools in the class but only played his redshirt freshman season with the Bison in 2019 and then one game in 2020. 

    That's similar to a quarterback that Smith is very familiar with in Ryan Tannehill. The former Dolphins quarterback was a middle-of-the-pack quarterback until he came to Tennessee, where his potential was unlocked working with Smith.

    Tannehill came into the league with only one full season as a starting quarterback after moving from receiver. Smith could see some of that in Lance. 

Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Plan B with the fourth pick is to give Matt Ryan every chance to lead a dynamic offense in his final seasons with the team. 

    That would be Kyle Pitts. Labeling the Florida target as a tight end is a disservice to everything he can do on the field. 

    "People say, 'He's a tight end. They can't change a game,'" a longtime NFL executive told Bob McGinn of The Athletic. "This guy can. I graded Tony Gonzalez, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow II. Especially with the way football is played nowadays, he is just rare. He is a game-changer."

    That's some lofty company for Pitts to be lumped in with, but when you watch what he did at Florida, it isn't far-fetched. Pitts is a big target at 6'6" and 245 pounds, yet he had the speed to burn SEC secondaries deep. 

    He finished his final season at Florida with 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns in just eight games. Adding him to a collection of pass-catchers that includes Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and Hayden Hurst would be one of the best collections of talent in the league. 

Carlos Basham Jr., Edge, Wake Forest

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    Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

    While the Falcons' first-round pick should be spent on either a quarterback or the best player available (which is likely to also be on the offense) it wouldn't be a bad idea to add some bite to the pass rush at the top of the second round. 

    The Falcons pass rush was relatively toothless last season. It was 23rd in the league in sacks with just 29, and Dante Fowler Jr. led all defensive ends on the team with just three sacks last season. 

    With Grady Jarrett commanding attention as one of the league's best interior pass-rushers, their edge defenders should be having more success. 

    Carlos Basham Jr. could be a solution to those problems, and the fact that he's a power-rusher who doesn't have the testing numbers of some of his counterparts could see him slide to the early Round 2 range. 

    Basham plays with heavy hands and is strong at the point of attack. He racked up 19.5 sacks across his final three seasons at Wake Forest with 33.5 tackles for a loss in that time. 

    With the offense upgraded in the first round, the Falcons defense would benefit from a new weapon in the front seven.