ATLANTA - The Atlanta Falcons haven't made a top-5 draft pick since 2008.
And Falcons fans, do you remember who that No. 3 overall pick was?
Yep, quarterback Matt Ryan.
This 2021 NFL Draft class has plenty of quarterback talent, and with the fourth overall selection, the Falcons are poised to make a pick that can change the direction of the franchise — whatever position they target. The outlook is murky for now, though, as Atlanta still searches for a new general manager and head coach. But mock drafts stop for nobody, especially not front office vacancies.
An Atlanta Falcons helmet on the field before the NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Arizona Cardinals. (Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Atlanta currently holds the fourth and 35th picks, with the first-round selections up to No. 24 and picks 33-56 in the second round set. The other picks will be determined by playoff results.
So let's dive in to some first-round picks from the latest mock drafts floating around the Internet.
- Dane Brugler of The Athletic: Ohio State QB Justin Fields — "Similar to when the Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes in the top 10 with an entrenched starter already on their roster, the Falcons have an opportunity to secure the future of the position with this pick. Matt Ryan has a complicated contract, but he is still a starting-level quarterback, and that would allow Atlanta to have patience with Fields before examining trade scenarios for Ryan."
- Matt Tabeek of AtlantaFalcons.com: Penn State LB/EDGE Micah Parsons — "The Falcons must improve on defense and Micah Parsons, a game-changing defender who can rush the passer, stuff the run and is effective in pass coverage, makes sense here. ESPN's Todd McShay called him a 'top-five player' and Mel Kiper added: 'Parsons was all over the field making plays, 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, five sacks and four forced fumbles (in 2019). … an outstanding football player.' But perhaps my favorite profile on Parsons described him as an 'explosive freakazoid of an athlete.' Sign me up for some of those, please."
- Todd McShay of ESPN: BYU QB Zach Wilson — "Atlanta will have a new head coach and a new GM for the 2021 season, and after it struggled to just four wins in 2020, it could be looking for a complete reboot. The Falcons will need to address running back, parts of the offensive line and the secondary this offseason, so moving back and acquiring some extra picks might be the smart call. However, quarterback Matt Ryan will be 36 years old when next season kicks off, and his contract allows an out after 2022. The chance to draft an heir this high isn't a guarantee in future years, so could Atlanta make the move here and now?"
- Joe Marino of The Draft Network: North Dakota State QB Trey Lance — "The Falcons are a perfect spot for Lance. Matt Ryan is still a more than capable quarterback but he is reaching the end of his run in Atlanta. The Falcons can take their time with Lance, who is a gifted quarterback, but with only 318 career passing attempts at the FCS level, is unlikely to be ready to start right away. Lance is a dual-threat quarterback with a big arm and led North Dakota State to a national championship in 2019. Atlanta can allow him to develop under Ryan and hopefully be set at quarterback for years to come."
- Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network: Ohio State QB Justin Fields — "The Atlanta Falcons ideally are looking at an elite upgrade to the current infrastructure of the roster, but at the same time the Falcons are incredibly lucky to find Justin Fields in their laps here at No. 4 overall. The value of a transitional franchise quarterback is too good to pass up and the Falcons can figure out the financials later. Whoever the new coach and GM are in Atlanta, they've nailed down a new quarterback to groom for the future."
- Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus: Florida TE Kyle Pitts (at No. 12, via predicted trade with San Francisco) — "This pick will depend on the next offensive coordinator, but after seeing how well Matt Ryan performed under Kyle Shanahan, I’d be surprised if the Falcons didn’t go back to that tree. In that case, a dynamic receiving weapon at tight end would be deadly in this offense. Pitts’ 96.2 grade this past season is the highest we’ve ever seen at the position."
- Anthony Treash of Pro Football Focus: LSU WR Ja'Marr Chase — "This is about the worst possible scenario for the Falcons, who are dangerously close to entering quarterback purgatory with Matt Ryan running out of time. There is a chance that the Dolphins go Wilson or Fields at No. 3, but if they don’t, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a scenario where Atlanta sends the fourth pick and some change to Miami in exchange for the third. But if the first three quarterbacks are snapped up within the first three picks, the Falcons should take Ja’Marr Chase. The former LSU receiver opted out of the 2020 season but was dominant alongside Burrow and Justin Jefferson in 2019. Chase still ranks second among all college wide receivers over the last two seasons in total explosive receptions of 15-plus yards against single coverage despite not even playing this year. He was that good. Chase’s physicality and release package are NFL-ready, and those two strengths equated to massive success against press coverage. Since 2019, Chase ranks first in total receiving yards against press coverage, with 1,048. Again, he did not play a down this season."
- Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports: BYU QB Zach Wilson — "Wilson had a fantastic season for BYU and there's a lot to love about his game: he's a strong-armed, mobile, confident player who went from Day-3 prospect to top-10 talent. Matt Ryan can start in 2021 and Wilson can take over the job in '22."
- Josh Edwards of CBS Sports: BYU QB Zach Wilson — "Matt Ryan can still be a good quarterback but there have been some consistency issues down the stretch of this season. The potential selection of Zach Wilson is one that could excite head coaching candidates."
- Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports: BYU QB Zach Wilson — "Even with Matt Ryan's large contract still on the books, the Falcons can't pass on the opportunity to pick Wilson here with the long-term future of the franchise in mind."
- James Dator of SB Nation: Ohio State QB Justin Fields — "The Falcons have a lot of needs, especially in the secondary, but it’s important to realize all those comically blown leads also means this team is close as constructed. I don’t think Atlanta is really as bad as their record showed, so the smart move is to solidify the future. Regime change is on the Falcons’ minds, but it doesn’t need to be immediate. Justin Fields could sit behind Matt Ryan for a year, get used to the NFL and get the development he needs to be ready to take over. It’s a great scenario for everyone involved, and getting a QB of this caliber without needing to trade is too good to pass up."
- Vinnie Iyer of SportingNews.com: Michigan EDGE Kwity Paye — "The Falcons need to invest heavily in their pass defense (again) in the 2021 draft. They need to hit on someone who can get after the quarterback and dominate physically and athletically against offensive tackles. Paye is a freak of nature and has quickly shot up draft boards. It's hard not to think about a combination of Ziggy Ansah and Jason Pierre-Paul in that sense."
- Ian Wharton of Complex Sports: Penn State LB/EDGE Micah Parsons — "I was on board with the Falcons moving on from Matt Ryan after 2020 if the season continued to be disastrous as it was under Dan Quinn. Sure, Ryan's massive cap hit meant they'd eat a bunch of dead money, but a team like San Francisco or Chicago could move early picks for the veteran to compete. Restarting this franchise made sense until Raheem Morris started making his name known as the interim coach. Don't be surprised if Morris is able to keep this job. If he is, he'll want to win right away to avoid the typical cycle of internal hire and quick-fire process. Replacing Ryan with Zach Wilson or Trey Lance in 2021 simply doesn't make sense; that's a move more for 2022 and beyond. Enter an impact defender like Parsons, and Morris can be more versatile than now. Parsons can play all linebacker positions or be an edge defender thanks to his elite athleticism and build. He's fascinating, and many evaluators think he'll be a Rookie Defensive Player of the Year candidate anywhere he lands."
Check back for more on this developing story.