Despite some initial rumors and rumblings, the Atlanta Falcons have ultimately decided to stick with Matt Ryan for the 2021 season. Given the extended careers of today's quarterbacks Ryan, who will turn 36 later this month, could conceivably play well into this decade. But if Ryan is going to have a shot at winning that elusive ring, the Falcons need to surround him with a better team after enduring three consecutive losing seasons.
The Falcons began that process during the 2021 draft. While they may have reached on a few players, Atlanta was also able to select a few players who were expected to be picked earlier in the draft. Here's a look at what the Falcons did and didn't do during the draft, along with the one thing they definitely got right.
Falcons 2021 draft
- Round 1 (No. 4): Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
- Round 2 (No. 40): Richie Grant, S, UCF
- Round 3 (No. 68): Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan
- Round 4 (No. 108): Darren Hall, CB, San Diego State
- Round 4 (No. 114): Drew Dalman, C, Stanford
- Round 5 (No. 148): Ta'Quon Graham, DT, Texas
- Round 5 (No. 182): Adetokunbo Ogundeji, DE, Notre Dame
- Round 5 (No. 183): Avery Williams, CB, Boise State
- Round 6 (No. 187): Frank Darby, WR, Arizona State
Falcons nab best players available in Pitts, Grant
Atlanta didn't overthink its first two picks. Instead of trading back, the Falcons kept the No. 4 overall pick and used it to select whom many have called the best playmaker in the 2021 draft. The highest-selected tight end in draft history, Pitts gives Ryan a much-needed weapon who should also help open things up for the Falcons receivers.
With the 40th pick, Atlanta was able to select Grant who, according to CBS Draft analyst Ryan Wilson, gives the Falcons "a much-needed enforcer in the secondary. ... He'll be an immediate contributor who can play free safety, in the slot and who also holds up in run support."
Fellow CBS Sports NFL draft analyst Chris Trapasso included Grant in his list of the "top 10 instant impact rookies" for the 2021 season. Pitts was No. 1 on Trapasso's list, as the Falcons were able to select two players with their first two picks who are expected to make an impact in 2021.
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Rolling the dice
While they may have reached with the selection of Dalman and Graham (both players were projected as late Day 3 picks), the Falcons took advantage of Mayfield and Ogundeji's draft slides. Last season's injury, along with a loaded class of offensive linemen, was likely the reason Mayfield was available in the third round. Ogundeji, who was likely overlooked in a deep class of edge rushers, will be tasked to help a Falcons pass rush that tallied just 29 sacks in 2020.
The Falcons, a year after finishing last in the NFL in pass defense, made three necessary picks with the selections of Grant and cornerbacks Hall and Williams. While Grant should offer an immediate boost to the secondary, how much -- and how quickly -- Hall and Williams can contribute will help tell the story of how successful the Falcons' 2021 draft was.
The Falcons opted not to draft a running back despite parting with Todd Gurley this offseason. And while Mike Davis (signed this offseason after an impressive year in Carolina) is a solid starter, Atlanta would have been well-served drafting another running back to compete as his backup. The Falcons also waited until their final pick to draft a receiver despite 32-year-old Julio Jones coming off an injury-plagued season. Atlanta's skill positions -- especially with the addition with Pitts -- are solid, but the Falcons are banking on Jones, Pitts, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage to carry the load in 2021.