Currently, the Atlanta Falcons hold the 8th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. While there are many needs that must be addressed in the draft. For example, the Falcons traded away longtime QB Matt Ryan and WR Calvin Ridley is suspended for the 2022 season. To me, you can draft a first-round WR talent in the second round and QB is not an immediate need.
With their last 10 1st round picks, five have been spent on the defensive side of the ball. This year, drafting a pass rusher makes sense because Atlanta hasn’t had a player with double-digit sacks since Vic Beasley in 2016 with 15.5.
What’s more, the Falcons were last in the NFL with 18 sacks last season. Let’s take a look at the top 5 pass rushers in this year’s draft class.
Aiden Hutchinson, University of Michigan: A Falcons Dream
Unquestionably, Hutchinson is likely the number one overall pick in this year’s draft class. At 6’6”, 265 lbs, Hutchinson has the size and the explosiveness to get into the backfield. Also, the 2021 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year has excellent hands for the position. He’ll be a day one starter because of the upside that he provides.
For the Falcons, the only ideal way to even get Hutchinson is to trade up to the number 1 position, which is highly unlikely. Without a doubt, Hutchinson is the cream of the crop with respect to edge rushers in this draft class.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, University of Oregon: Day 1 Starter
To be honest, I had Thibodeaux atop this list before the emergence of Hutchinson. At any rate, the 6’5”, 258 lb. DE is high on my list. Despite an injury to his ankle, he was a Consensus All-American in 2021 who had 7 sacks and 12 tackles for loss for the Ducks. Thibodeaux can make space via his extension and forceful movements.
Surprisingly, he could potentially fall to Atlanta at number 8 and if he gets past the 5th pick, GM Terry Fontenot should trade up for him. He can be a day one starter for this Falcons defense and make an immediate impact for sure.
Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State: The Perfect Fit
By and large, Johnson II and the Falcons feel like a perfect fit because of what he can bring to that defensive front. Although he might not be viewed as a starter on day 1, I can definitely see it here for Atlanta. At 6’5”, 262 lbs., Pees could Johnson to revamp the anemic pass rush.
The 2021 ACC Defensive Player of the Year led the conference in sacks with 11.5 and tackles for loss with 18. Coupled with his change of direction and ability to be near the ball, the Falcons should consider drafting him at number 8 as the fit is ideal.
Travon Walker, University of Georgia: Right Scheme?
In reality, Walker has moved up a great deal on many draft boards and can run a 4.51 40-yard dash. However, I have him here because the question is can he be a starter in year 1? In this instance, I’m split. I know he can create leverage off the line of scrimmage in his sleep. Conversely, he has to go to a team that has the ideal scheme for him to thrive.
For Atlanta, the question is does the 6’5”, 275 lbs. DE fit with DC Dean Pees and it would be an interesting fit for me. Like Thibodeaux, Walker could fall to 8th, leaving the Falcons to make the call.
George Karlaftis, Purdue University: Great Upside
At 6’4”, 275 lbs, Karlaftis is a DE who can bring tremendous energy and is fit for the position. Watching him, he can drive hard using his leg and arms but his movements could use a bit of an improvement.
At Purdue, he had 4.5 sacks and 2 tackles for loss in 2021. I have him going a bit down further in the first round of the draft. Should the Falcons want to trade down with a team, Karlaftis could still be there in the middle of the first round.