I have crafted a projection of all nine of the 2019 draft picks that the Atlanta Falcons possess, having two additional ones thanks to the recently announced compensatory picks.
It’s still early in the months-long draft process, and mock drafts that occur before the Combine and free agency should be taken with a grain of salt.
But let’s have some fun and put something on paper before the “Underwear Olympics” kick off next week and completely shift the draft landscape.
Here’s one possible scenario for how the Falcons might spend their draft capital this April.
1st round/14th overall. EDGE Jachai Polite, Florida
As I’ve discussed on a couple of episodes of the Locked on Falcons Podcast, I think it’s going to be difficult for the Falcons to restructure Vic Beasley’s contract before the start of the new league year on March 13. But contrary to the hopes of some, I don’t believe that will result in Beasley’s release.
Instead, the Falcons are likely prepared to carry Beasley’s $12.81 million cap hit into 2019, the final year of his contract. If the team cannot come to a new accord with Beasley before the league year begins, then it’s likely they won’t be able to before he hits free agency 12 months from now.
Thus prompting the Falcons to enter the draft looking to find his long-term replacement. That player could be Florida’s Polite, an explosive pass-rusher coming off a breakout junior season where he tallied 11 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss.
This is probably one of the most athletic plays you'll see a defensive lineman make on tape all year. Jachai Polite is a freak. pic.twitter.com/7LJYmVi5Jq
— Jonah Tuls (@JonahTulsNFL) December 27, 2018
Like Beasley, Polite is a bit undersized to be an every-down player, but that shouldn’t be an issue for the Falcons. After all, Takk McKinley and Adrian Clayborn, the team’s two best pass-rushers in recent years also have been “limited” to being utilized only in their sub-packages and no one has ever complained about that.
This is why people are so high on Jachai Polite. Fly off the edge and beat your man without him even really getting a hand on you. pic.twitter.com/Zs6RDe3elY
— Peter Bukowski (@Peter_Bukowski) January 30, 2019
If Polite can bring the heat as a pass-rusher, then that is all that matters. And he certainly has the tools and potential to do so.
Polite should be able to step in immediately and rotate with Beasley and McKinley on passing downs, following the same path the latter performed during his rookie year in 2017 before assuming a full-time role the following year.
2nd/45th. DT Dexter Lawrence, Clemson
The Falcons added 345-pound Dontari Poe to the roster in 2017 and asked him to slim down to 330 pounds to be a full-time player and pass-rusher. That worked out very well as Poe was instrumental in beefing up the Falcons red-zone defense that season.
They could opt to something similar with the 350-pound Lawrence, known to be athletic for his size. Lawrence exploded onto the scene with 6.5 sacks as a freshman but has since honed his craft as a run-plugger in the middle of the Tigers defense.
I doubt his recent suspension is going to affect his draft stock in any significant way. But he’ll likely not be the first-round pick many projected him to be at the outset of 2018 simply due to concerns with him being limited to being a two-down defender in the pros.
Pure strength by Dexter Lawrence. pic.twitter.com/edfHl6hsGO
— Fed Scivittaro (@MeshPointScout) November 11, 2018
But the Falcons aren’t going to be too concerned with that since they’re going to be more interested in beefing up their lackluster run defense. So fortunately for Lawrence, there probably won’t be as much emphasis on him slimming down like there was with Poe. The combination of Lawrence alongside Deadrin Senat should give the team a formidable, powerful wall in the middle of the defensive line for years to come.
3rd/79th. OC Erik McCoy, Texas A&M
One can expect the Falcons to make a concerted effort to add youth and talent to their offensive line this offseason.
.@AggieFootball C/G @Erik_McCoy_73 in #seniorbowl reaching and sealing Auburn NT Dontavius Russell…not easy to do. Started all 38 games. NFL scouts have conviction on him because he held his own vs. 1st rounders Q. Williams, J. Simmons, and C. Wilkins. He’ll start as rookie. pic.twitter.com/OKfh6ht9EU
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 22, 2019
McCoy is a good fit in Atlanta due to being one of the better center prospects in this year’s class. While he’s played the majority of his collegiate career at that position, he possesses enough traits to think he could be able to compete as a guard in the NFL and bolster the team’s depth there.
With right guard Brandon Fusco likely missing a large chunk of the offseason recovering from a season-ending ankle injury, McCoy should be able to steal reps at that position before the start of training camp. That should give him a potential leg up to carve out an immediate role there in 2019.
But in reality, McCoy’s long-term future will come at the center position where he’ll be groomed as the heir apparent to Alex Mack at the pivot. Mack turns 34 later this fall, and the Falcons could potentially move on from him in 2020 if he opts to retire or there is any decline in his play this upcoming season.
4th/117th. OT Chuma Edoga, Southern California
Even though the Falcons appear committed to starting recently re-signed offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo, they will definitely plan on adding a contingency plan via the draft in case the fifth-year veteran with only eight career starts doesn’t live up to his new contract.
That’s where Edoga steps in, a player that likely landed on the Falcons radar when he was named the top overall practice player at the Senior Bowl. Head coach Dan Quinn loves competitiveness and that honor certainly will earn him a lot of love within the Falcons organization.
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 24, 2019
Edoga, an Atlanta native, started two seasons at right tackle for USC, and while he doesn’t possess the typical size you look for at that position, he does possess good length and athleticism to handle those duties. Not to mention, being undersized and athletic isn’t necessarily as big a red flag in the Falcons outside zone-blocking scheme as it might be for other NFL teams.
Look at Chuma Edoga carry this block downfield. Great rep. pic.twitter.com/3ZXsV9gd9T
— Jared Stanger (@JaredStanger) January 27, 2019
Edoga should be able to compete right away with Sambrailo for a starting right tackle spot and be groomed as the eventual successor. The only real question is whether that’ll come in 2019 or 2020.
4th/137th. CB Corey Ballentine, Washburn (compensatory)
Ballentine was able to flash good cover skills at the Senior Bowl, showing he could hold his own against receiver prospects from bigger programs. While he doesn’t possess ideal size at 5’11”, he does have good length with nearly 32-inch arms, something that is a requirement for Falcons corners under Quinn.
One player that really stood out was CB Corey Ballentine. 5’11 188
Very physical at the LOS and smooth in coverage.
(He’s the CB at bottom of the screen)
Gets a physical jam, sticks with the double move, establishes dominant position. pic.twitter.com/F42wkLIXSv
— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) January 23, 2019
Ballentine will settle into a depth role for the Falcons, behind Isaiah Oliver and Desmond Trufant at outside cornerback. With development, Ballentine could turn into a starter down the road since Trufant is no spring chicken and is inching towards 30 years of age.
But while Ballentine will get opportunities down the road on defense, he’ll immediately carve out a valuable role on special teams. Over his final two seasons, Ballentine averaged 24.8 yards on 47 kickoff returns, so he can compete for a spot there.
I gotcha @JerodBrown_
Washburn CB Corey Ballentine pic.twitter.com/PuZdrgHXcF
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) January 28, 2019
But more importantly, he could potentially replace Justin Bethel as a gunner and coverage maven on special teams. Ballentine ran track at Washburn, showcasing speed that will make him effective getting downfield to make tackles on special teams. Ballentine also finished his collegiate career with four blocked kicks.
5th/152nd. WR Penny Hart, Georgia State
The Falcons are likely to lose wide receiver Justin Hardy to free agency this offseason, opening up a roster spot to be filled at that position. Hardy disappointed in his role as a punt returner in 2018, and it’s likely that the Falcons will seek to upgrade that spot this offseason.
Hart becomes an instant candidate there. He shined locally at Georgia State as an explosive weapon on offense, but also dabbled on special teams where he was able to return one punt for a touchdown this past year while averaging 17.6 yards on nine returns.
From Wednesday’s practice inside… I can’t help but see Taylor Gabriel in Penny Hart’s game. Strong at the start by Adderley, Hart’s explosion is instant. pic.twitter.com/ywFNcVzEve
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) January 23, 2019
Despite his diminutive stature, Hart should also be able to eventually carve out a role on offense, serving in a capacity similar to how the team utilized Taylor Gabriel in recent years. The Falcons just need to get the ball into his hands, something Dirk Koetter, a known lover of screens, will definitely find ways to do.
Eventually down the road, the team will be looking to move on from Mohamed Sanu, and Hart is a natural candidate to step into his vacated role in the slot.
5th/172nd. TE/FB Trevon Wesco, West Virginia (compensatory)
In 2016, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted H-back Alan Cross to fill in as their fullback. The Falcons could do something similar with the selection of Wesco in 2019.
— WVSports.com (@WVSportsDotCom) September 29, 2018
Primarily a tight end at West Virginia, Wesco got an opportunity to dabble as a fullback during his week at the Senior Bowl in January. The large, athletic specimen should be able to come in and compete for a role in Atlanta’s offense, whether that’s as a blocking tight end or lead-blocker in the backfield.
The Falcons got decent production from Logan Paulsen and Ricky Ortiz, respectively, in those roles in 2018. But certainly could upgrade both positions with Wesco offering the potential to do it with a single pick.
6th/186th. OLB Malik Reed, Nevada
Reed garnered a lot of attention during the week of practices at the NFLPA game this year. Reed is an explosive, undersized pass-rusher that will likely get looks from 3-4 teams at outside linebacker. But the Falcons could eye him for a role in their 4-3 defense.
Malik Reed is good. Gets to the QB with ease here. Had 8 sacks, 15.5 tfl, and 4 forced fumbles as a senior. #Colts met with him for an hour at the NFLPA Bowl
— Philip Nelson (@pjsaturday63) January 16, 2019
Reed started two seasons as a defensive end for Nevada, tallying a combined 13 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss before making the move to outside linebacker this past year as a senior. But he still managed to take advantage of his pass-rushing opportunities, matching his career-high with eight sacks and setting a new one with 15.5 tackles for loss.
More than likely, Reed will be penciled in behind De’Vondre Campbell at strong-side linebacker, while being asked to contribute on special teams as a rookie.
With Campbell entering a contract year and looking less likely to return to Atlanta in 2020, Reed could be a potential candidate to step into a soon-to-be-vacant starting role at outside linebacker. That becomes especially true if Beasley also walks next offseason.
Like Campbell and Beasley, Reed has juice as a pass-rusher that can be utilized as a blitzer but the Falcons can also tinker with asking him to put his hand in the ground at times and contribute on passing downs as a defensive end.
Reed is still raw as a linebacker but the Falcons have never shied away from developmental projects at that position.
7th/230th. RB Bruce Anderson, North Dakota State
With the Falcons expected to lose running back Tevin Coleman via free agency and concerns over whether Devonta Freeman’s health and durability will hold up long-term, there is potential for the team to add more running back depth via the draft this year.
Bruce Anderson puts Otara Alaka in the blender pic.twitter.com/OUzcZv9Zjx
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) January 22, 2019
Anderson showcased excellent receiving skills during his week at the Senior Bowl, potentially filling a role as a dynamic option in the passing attack for the Falcons. That is certainly a role that could be sorely missed given Coleman’s impending departure.
The past two seasons on North Dakota State’s national championship teams, Anderson averaged 6.0 yards per carry and 11.8 yards per reception, strongly hinting at his dynamic potential with the ball in his hands.
Was just asked if NDSU RB Bruce Anderson played w/Wentz.. yeah, in fact it was freshman Anderson's 97-yard return TD that gave them a lead they wouldn't relinquish in the 2015 FCS quarterfinals – pic.twitter.com/To1WoyDs5A
— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) January 18, 2019
Anderson also served as a kickoff returner during his collegiate days, averaging 26.2 yards per return and scoring twice during his career. Making it possible that even if he’s buried on the running back depth behind the likes of Freeman, Ito Smith and Brian Hill, he can still potentially serve an active special teams role on game days.
There you have it, one possible scenario for how the Falcons might utilize their nine draft picks come April. You can expect another projection to come once the first wave of free agency is over in mid-March.