A 2020 NFL Draft that will be remembered for years to come has finally come and gone. In some ways, fans learned more about their teams this year than in years past by observing how each head coach and general manager prepared and adapted to the new virtual structure while also getting a glimpse inside their homes and their family lives. However, while the virtual NFL draft may have been an especially unique experience for millions of viewers at home, for teams, the stakes and intensity of the moment made it business as usual. HC Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff may have felt more comfortable selecting the next rookie draft class from their home offices, but the pressure facing both men to get the Atlanta Falcons back into the playoffs remains the same.
Following a series of failures in 2018 and 2019, the Falcons have been forced to be even more methodical this offseason and make difficult choices to re-shape the roster into a more competitive one. Stuck with one of the worst cap situations in the NFL, the team was going to make or break its offseason with the draft in all likelihood. Entering this draft, the Falcons needed to bolster their defense and address major needs there during the first four rounds. Before breaking down each pick, it’s worth noting this was the first time Dimitroff chose not to trade up in the draft at any point during his tenure with Quinn. This wasn’t a splashy draft for the Falcons, and one might expect a GM on the hot seat to be more aggressive and sacrifice the future for the sake of the present. Dimitroff, however, stayed patient and let the draft come to him. The results were sensible and perhaps even better than fans could have hoped for.
Round 1, Pick 16: CB A.J. Terrell, Clemson
It was all but certain the Falcons would have to target a starting outside CB early in the draft after releasing Desmond Trufant in free agency. All the reports leading up to the draft pegged the Falcons making a move up into the top 10 to grab a player like C.J. Henderson out of Florida or maybe even going higher to land Chase Young or Jeff Okudah from Ohio State. The team ultimately stayed put and took who they believed was the best CB available in A.J. Terrell. Many Falcons fans on draft night believed this was a controversial pick because of value relative to where Terrell was projected to go and because of his poor performance against LSU in the national championship game. What the Falcons saw, however, was an athletic, aggressive, and physical CB who not only matches the physical traits that Quinn covets in his secondary, but is also a very experienced and coachable player who works hard at his game. Terrell looks like he could be a very effective player in man coverage and has plenty of experience pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage. His physicality and recovery ability should help boost the back end of the Falcons defense on Day 1. He’ll have to develop more of his game in zone coverage and refine his tackling technique, but overall the Falcons got an immediate starter who should step in and contribute in a big way.
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) April 24, 2020
Round 2, Pick 47: DL Marlon Davidson, Auburn
The Falcons could have gotten themselves a major steal here considering some draft analysts had Davidson ranked as high as the third best overall defensive lineman in the draft. He played both defensive end and defensive tackle in college and showed he’s got a high ceiling because of his impressive explosiveness, lateral movement, and change of direction. Positional flexibility and scheme versatility are always going to stand out to this Falcons regime. Although Davidson primarily played on the edge at Auburn, Dan Quinn has said he expects him to line up as a three-technique defensive tackle more often than not. The goal of the Falcons has always been to get more pass rush from the interior, and Davidson can provide some much needed boost there potentially. He’s already a solid run defender with great hands that he uses relentlessly in his attacks. The dream for Falcons fans of a starting tandem inside of Marlon Davidson and Grady Jarrett could be a nightmare for everybody else.
Round 3, Pick 78: C/G Matt Hennessy, Temple
A rare type of selection that gives the Falcons value both in the immediate short term and down the road. The team wanted more competition for the starting LG spot, but also wanted a future replacement for Alex Mack who is entering the final year of his contract as the team’s starting center. Hennessy checks both boxes, so this is hard to see this as anything other than a tremendous pick for the Falcons. Although Hennessy played center at Temple, he demonstrated his willingness and ability to do more than just that by playing guard at the Senior Bowl, which certainly must’ve caught Atlanta’s attention. His athleticism is a good fit for the zone blocking scheme, but he also may need more size to succeed consistently in the run game. He may be talented enough to win the starting LG spot outright for this season, but his future as the team’s starting C is what will define his career in Atlanta.
Round 4, Pick 119: LB Mykal Walker, Fresno State
Another intriguing player whose strong suit is versatility and above average athleticism. His strengths and weaknesses are pretty similar to those of De’Vondre Campbell, who was also drafted by the Falcons in the fourth round back in 2016. With Campbell gone to the Arizona Cardinals, Mykal Walker will get a shot to fill some of that role left behind. He has much more experience playing in zone coverage and isn’t a liability. It’s unclear how often he’ll play this season, but Walker’s instinctiveness to track the ball and run down plays on the outside could be significant. His aforementioned versatility includes playing snaps at Fresno State as an inside linebacker, outside linebacker, and as an edge defender. The Falcons are clearly banking that could make him a productive and impactful player in the Falcons defense early on.
V E R S A T I L E
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) April 25, 2020
Round 4, Pick 134: S Jaylinn Hawkins, California
Many Day 3 picks in the draft are often just fliers, and one could argue this selection was certainly one of them since the Falcons didn’t have their fifth and sixth round picks available to them and Hawkins was projected by many analysts to go much later if not remain undrafted. The safety position currently looks a bit crowded with Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, Damontae Kazee, and Chris Cooper all available for the Falcons. However, many of these players are free agents next year so drafting Hawkins as a potential replacement is understandable. A physical and aggressive ball hawk, Hawkins is also a playmaker with a penchant for creating turnovers. He doesn’t have great speed or deep cover ability, but he has the ball skills to survive in coverage. Hawkins also has good enough zone instincts to be effective in the short-to-intermediate area of the field. Falcons fans may liken him to a more athletic version of Kemal Ishmael.
Round 7, Pick 228: P/K Sterling Hofrichter, Syracuse
After releasing P Sam Irwin-Hill shortly before Day 3 started, the Falcons decided to spend their last pick addressing a need on a player who was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award in 2019 given to the most outstanding punter in college football. Hofrichter is known for having an exceptional hang time on his punts and a habit of pinning opponents inside their 20 yard line. He’ll have to beat out Ryan Allen for the starting punter job.
All in all, the Falcons addressed most of their biggest needs in this draft and got immediate contributors on defense and on the offensive line. Dimitroff and Quinn executed a more measured and sensible approach, and one that could have even yielded in producing multiple quality starters one day. It wasn’t a splashy class, but one Falcons fans should believe is full of guys who can get the job done. The final touches have yet to be completed, but the roster is without doubt looking better moving forward than it did last week.