Atlanta Falcons

Ridder Respect

By: Kipp Branch news services

With the 74th pick in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft the Atlanta Falcons selected Desmond Ridder QB of Cincinnati.

With the selection Ridder looks like the future QB in Atlanta.

The Falcons signed Marcus Mariota as a free agent for the 2022 season. The drafting of Ridder signals that Mariota is a bridge quarterback that will play until Ridder is ready to take over the job.

I am guessing by midway through the 2022 season the reigns of the franchise will be handed over to Ridder.

Ridder is a great athlete with an above average NFL arm. He should be able to make all the throws. He ran a 4.52 forty at the NFL Combine so he will be a threat with his legs if the pocket breaks down.

Ridder has a reputation as a student of the game with tremendous work ethic. He started 48 games at Cincinnati so experience should not be an issue.

Some mock drafts had Ridder going in the bottom of the first round so the Falcons got excellent value by him being there at the 74th pick. He finished his college career with over 10,000 yards passing, 87 TD’s to only 28 interceptions. He also rushed for 2,180 yards with 28 TD’s.

He became the Bearcats’ starting quarterback as a redshirt freshman in 2018 and passed for 2,445 yards and 20 touchdowns and gained 583 yards rushing along with 5 touchdowns. He was named the American Athletic Conference (AAC) Rookie of the Year for the 2018 season.

As a redshirt sophomore in 2019, Ridder completed 179 of 325 passes for 2,164 yards and 18 touchdowns against 9 interceptions, while also rushing for 650 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Ridder was named the MVP of the 2020 Birmingham Bowl leading the Bearcats to a win over Boston College.

The 2020 season would prove to be a breakout campaign for the junior QB. Ridder was named the AAC Offensive Player of the Year after passing 2,296 yards, and 19 touchdowns with 6 interceptions, while also rushing for 592 yards and 12 touchdowns. Ritter played well in the Peach Bowl in a close loss to Georgia.

Ridder led the Bearcats to national prominence in 2021 as the No. 7 Bearcats defeated No. 9 Notre Dame on the road.

Ridder went 19-of-32 for 297 yards and 2 TDs. In addition, he rushed for 26 yards and a game-sealing fourth quarter touchdown as the Bearcats snapped the Fighting Irish’s 26-game home winning streak.

Following an unbeaten 12-0 season, Ridder and the Bearcats went into the 2021 American Athletic Conference Football Championship Game ranked number four in the AP Polls, meaning a victory would see them stay in a playoff spot.

Following a 35-20 win over the Houston Cougars, they became the first Group of Five team to make the playoffs, as well as the last major undefeated team going into the post-season. Cincinnati lost to Alabama in the college football playoff 27-6 to finish with a fine 13-1 record.


Career highlights and awards:

2× AAC Offensive Player of the Year (2020, 2021)

AAC Rookie of the Year (2018)

2× First team All-AAC (2020, 2021)

Birmingham Bowl MVP (2020)


Desmond Ridder is a deal for the Atlanta Falcons.

Excellent value/need pick in third round. He brings a quiet confidence to the QB room. He brings some intangibles to the position that the Falcons have not seen in over a decade. Those are mobility, athleticism, and youth.

The Matty Ice era in Atlanta is over. The only memories that remain are the agony of blowing a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl with 2:00 remaining in the third quarter.

Can Desmond Ridder be the next great QB in Atlanta? The jury is out on that right now, but this kid has the work ethic and talent to be an above average to great NFL Quarterback.

Making The Grade?

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

The NFL Draft is over and now we have an idea of what each team will look like next year.

Several players will surprise or disappoint fans as time goes on. Let’s take a look around the NFC South and see how each team did.

Atlanta: The Falcons did a good job on not reaching for a quarterback in the first round.

They selected USC wide receiver Drake London with the 8th pick. He’s a big target at 6’3 7/8 and 219 pounds. In 8 games last season he had 88 receptions for 1,084 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Calvin Ridley is suspended the entire season so he will be the #1 receiver. He should do well paired with tight end Kyle Pitts.

In the second round they drafted Edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie (Penn State) and linebacker Troy Anderson (Montana State). In Anderson’s case I think they fell in love with measurables. He’s 6’3 ½, 243 lbs. and he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash.

Ebiketie played his first three seasons at Temple. In 2021 he had 62 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles.

They also drafted quarterback Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati), edge rusher DeAngelo Malone (Western Kentucky), running back Tyler Allgeier (BYU), guard Justin Shaffer (UGA) and tight end John FitzPatrick (UGA).

Grade: B

Carolina: The Panthers selected tackle Ikem Ekwonu (NC State) with the 6th pick.

Ekwonu is a great combination of size (6’4, 310 lbs.), power and athletic ability.

Carolina had the 31st ranked offensive line last season so this helps address a serious need.

Trades for Sam Darnold and C.J. Henderson left them light on picks.

Carolina also drafted QB Matt Corral (Ole Miss), linebacker Brandon Smith (Penn State), edge rusher Amare Barno (Va Tech), guard Cade Mays (Tennessee) and corner back Kalon Barnes (Baylor).

Getting Corral in the third round may be great value for a potential starting quarterback.

Smith should compete in the linebacker rotation.

Grade: A-

New Orleans: The Saints had two first round picks and they got WR Chris Olave (Ohio State) and tackle Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa). They should both be immediate contributors.

Trevor Penning is reminiscent of Terron Armstead as a prospect. He’s an uber-athletic tackle coming from a small school. He’ll now replace Armstead, who started 93 games for the Saints over the past nine seasons before signing with the Dolphins this offseason.

Olave was extremely productive in college and he might be the best route runner in this draft class.

The other picks were CB Alontae Taylor (Tennessee), LB D’Marco Jackson (Appalachian State) and defensive lineman Jordan Jackson (Air Force).

Grade: B+

Tampa Bay: The Bucs didn’t have a first-round pick. They had two second round picks and they got defensive lineman Logan Hall (Houston) and guard Luke Goedeke (Central Michigan).

Hall will probably begin his career as a defensive tackle but could develop into a pass-rusher. Goedeke might be the biggest sleeper among interior linemen.

They also selected RB Rachaad White (Arizona State), TE Cade Otton (Washington), kicker Jake Camarda (UGA), CB Zyon McCollum (Sam Houston State), TE Ko Kieft (Minnesota) and edge rusher Andre Anthony (LSU).

I don’t think there are any All-Pro players in this draft class. This draft is more about getting role players that can help them get back to the Super Bowl.

Grade: B

Needy Falcons

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

The Atlanta Falcons may not want to admit it but they are in full rebuild mode. They finished the 2021 season 7 – 10 and have the #8 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Atlanta traded quarterback Matt Ryan to Indianapolis in the offseason.

The Falcons signed Marcus Mariota but he is not a long-term solution. We are going to take a look at their biggest needs and the player they could select for that.

Wide receiver has to be the top need. Calvin Ridley is suspended the 2022 season for gambling. Before his suspension Ridley missed the majority of last season with mental health issues.

The #2 target, Russell Gage signed with division rival Tampa Bay in the offseason.

Atlanta should draft multiple pass catchers throughout the draft but if they get one in the first round, they can choose the best option.

That means Drake London (USC) or Garrett Wilson (Ohio State) will be selected, depending on which one is available.

Edge rusher is a big need. Atlanta only had 18 sacks last season which ranked last in the league. They released their best pass rusher, Dante Fowler Jr. and did little to upgrade the position in free agency.

Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux’s stock seems to be sliding as we get closer to the draft. Thibodeaux was the top player in the nation as a high school senior and he’s very talented. They may draft a great player that will have a chip on his shoulder.

Quarterback is also a big need. I thought they would have addressed that last year when they had the 4th pick and the 2021 quarterback class was deeper. They selected tight end Kyle Pitts with that pick.

This year’s QB class is not as good and none of them are actually good enough to be a top-10 pick. The top two options at the position are Kenny Pickett (Pitt) and Malik Willis. Pickett is more equipped to play immediately.

Nose tackle might also be a need. Grady Jarrett could be released or traded before Fall camp. Jarrett has been a force for Atlanta since being drafted in 2014. He does not fit well in defensive coordinator Dean Pee’s scheme. They want someone that can play in a two-gap system and bull rush up the middle.

Georgia’s Jordan Davis would be a good fit. If they wait until Day 2, UConn’s Travis Jones would be a good fit.

The last need is between tight end or running back. Head coach Arthur Smith came from Tennessee where they had star running back Derrick Henry.

The Falcons resigned Cordarrelle Patterson and retained Mike Smith. They also will not select a running back that high so they will still probably address the position later.

Smith loves to use two tight end sets. Pitts is the flex, but the Smith is going to want a more traditional player, who can be an efficient blocker while helping in the passing game.

This is likely a Day 3 selection, so keep an eye on Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson, Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar and Texas A&M’s Jalen Wydermyer as the best options.

Leaving The Nest

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

Is there proper etiquette to trade the best player in a franchise’s history?

There’s no written rule for something like that but I’m sure the Atlanta Falcons handled that poorly. Matt Ryan has been the starting quarterback since 2008.

Last week Atlanta was one of four finalists trying to trade for Deshaun Watson. Watson ended up being traded to Cleveland and that led to this trade. Ryan, a four-time Pro Bowler was traded to Indianapolis for a third-round pick.

“This was a difficult decision, but it was made easier by Matt’s professionalism and understanding throughout,” Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said in a statement released by the team. “Our goal in every decision is to improve our organization for the long term. We believe today’s agreement is the best long-term decision, not only for our organization, but also the best for Matt.”

The team will take a substantial $40.5 million salary cap hit in dead money to move on from Ryan and his contract.

The Colts, who are not making any changes in the contract, will have Ryan for two years at $24.7 million in 2022 and $28.2 million in 2023.

Dead money counts against the salary cap even though the player is no longer with a team. All of the bonus money paid to Ryan accelerates into this year’s salary cap for the Falcons, who were already at $20 million in dead money mostly from the Julio Jones and Dante Fowler contracts.

“This business is not without its difficult decisions, and while this is one of the most difficult decisions we have faced as a club, we feel it is in the best long-term interests of both the Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said a statement released by the team. “On behalf of the entire Falcons organization, I wish him success as he continues his career and know that he will bring the same dedication and professionalism to his next club.”

I think this was the best-case scenario for Ryan. The Colts have a good offensive line, the leading rusher from last season (Jonathan Taylor) and a top 10 defense. He will lead the Colts to the playoffs next season.

His replacement was signed less than two hours after the team announced the trade. Marcus Mariota signed a two-year contract.

Mariota, 28, was originally selected by the Titans in the first round (second overall) of the 2015 NFL draft from Oregon. He completed 1,128 of 1,795 attempts (62.8%) for 13,437 yards, 77 touchdowns and 45 interceptions for an 89.5 passer rating in 74 games (61 starts) for the Titans and Raiders.

He has also rushed for 1,574 yards on 264 attempts (6.0 avg.) and 13 touchdowns. He has been the backup with the Raiders the past two seasons after his final season with the Titans in 2019.

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was tight ends coach and offensive coordinator with the Titans when Mariota was in Tennessee.

Atlanta is in full rebuild mode. The question now is will they draft a quarterback with the No. 8 pick in this year’s draft or will they wait until next year?

This year’s quarterback class is considered weak so I believe the goal is to tank this season, so they get a high draft pick in 2023.

Wanna Bet On It

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley has made the headlines for a negative reason.

Ridley stepped away from football on Halloween, saying he needed to get his personal life in order.

He gambled on NFL games in 2021 and he has been suspended for at least the 2022 season.

The NFL released a statement Monday announcing his suspension, saying Ridley gambled on games over a five-day stretch in November 2021 when he was on the non-football injury list to address his mental health.

In a series of tweets, Monday after the suspension was announced, Ridley said he bet $1,500 total and that “I don’t have a gambling problem.” He also tweeted that he couldn’t even watch football at the time he made the bets. He added that he’s just going to “be more healthy when I come back” and that “I know I was wrong But I’m getting 1 year lol.”

The NFL determined that Ridley placed multilegged parlay bets involving three, five and eight games that included the Falcons to win via his mobile device out of state, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

“There is nothing more fundamental to the NFL’s success — and to the reputation of everyone associated with our league — than upholding the integrity of the game,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to Ridley notifying him of his suspension. “This is the responsibility of every player, coach, owner, game official, and anyone else employed in the league. Your actions put the integrity of the game at risk, threatened to damage public confidence in professional football, and potentially undermined the reputations of your fellow players throughout the NFL.”

“For decades, gambling on NFL games has been considered among the most significant violations of league policy warranting the most substantial sanction. In your case, I acknowledge and commend you for your promptly reporting for an interview, and for admitting your actions.”

The NFL said its investigation uncovered no evidence that Ridley used inside information or “that any game was compromised in any way.” There also was no evidence that any of the Falcons’ coaches, staff or players were aware of his betting activity.

The earliest Ridley can apply for reinstatement is Feb. 15, 2023, the NFL said. He also can appeal the suspension by filing notice within three days, per the collective bargaining agreement. It is not known if he has appealed the punishment.

Multiple NFL teams reached out to the Falcons in recent weeks to inquire about trading for Ridley, and each time, Atlanta declined to enter into talks out of good faith, knowing the issues in store for their standout wide receiver.

Ridley’s contract will toll until 2023 and come off the books for 2022, opening up $11.1 million in salary-cap room for the Falcons.

Ridley was a disappointment last season because he only played a few games. It was his first season without Julio Jones because he was traded to Tennessee. Having a player not play for reasons that are not related to an injury is hard for a team to deal with.                                 The Falcons only have one receiver from the 53-man roster last season under contract; rookie Frank Darby.

Needy NFC South

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

The 2022 draft starts April 28th in Paradise, Nevada. I’m going to take a look at the NFC South and see who each team will draft in the first round.

#6 Carolina: The Panthers (5 – 12) have several positions they need to address. Quarterback is the biggest glaring weakness. They did trade for Sam Darnold last April. He started the season well but suffered fractured scapula during the game against New England and he missed seven games.

Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett would be a good pick if he’s still available. He had a breakout senior season, throwing for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns, 7 interceptions while completing 67% of his passes.

If they don’t get him NC State tackle Ikem Ekwonu would also be a good pick. He’s a very good run blocker but he still needs to get better in pass protection.

#8 Atlanta: The Falcons (7 – 10) announced they have no plans to move on from Matt Ryan. The number one receiver Calvin Ridley only played in five games before missing the rest of the season. Surprisingly, it was not due to injury but to deal with personal issues. Atlanta also needs to improve on the offensive and defensive lines.

Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeux would be a great fit. The Falcons have struggled with getting pressure on the quarterback for a few seasons and he can change that. He had 7 sacks and 2 forced fumbles last season.

Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson could also fill a void if Ridley is traded. He had 70 catches for the Buckeyes with 1,058 yards and 12 scores.

#18 New Orleans: The Saints (9 – 8) had several injuries last season and started a few quarterbacks. They still wound up over .500. Sean Payton has resigned as head coach and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has replaced him.

Drew Brees retired after the 2020 season and Jameis Winston was supposed to replace him. He suffered a season ending injury so we do not know if they will resign him or move in a different direction. Star receiver Michael Thomas also missed all of last season.

If they pick a quarterback Matt Corral from Ole Miss will get selected.  He passed for 3,349 yards, 20 touchdowns, 5 picks and completed 68% of his passes. On paper he’s good but he struggles in big games.

Wide receiver Chris Olave from Ohio State could also be an option. He caught 63 passes for 936 yards and 13 TD’s.

#27 Tampa Bay: The Bucs (13 – 4) had a great season. They lost to the Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs. Tom Brady has retired after the season. I believe they will try to get a veteran QB to replace him as a free agent.  They could also lose Chris Godwin in free agency.

Boise State WR Khalil Shkir would be a good replacement. He primarily played in the slot last season. He only had 22% of his snaps were out wide in 2021. He caught 77 passes for 1,117 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Texas A&M offensive lineman Kenyon Green could also be an option. He is versatile and could play guard or right tackle. He has more than 35 starts in his three-year career so he has a lot of experience.

Pretenders or Contenders?

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

Week 4 of the NFL has just ended. We have a small sample size to observe which teams are contenders or pretenders. Let’s take a look around the NFC South to see which teams fall in these categories.

Atlanta Falcons: Pretenders. Atlanta (1 – 3) is currently in last place in the division. Statistically they rank poorly in several categories. The Falcons are 25th in rushing offense, 23rd in scoring and 23rd in total defense.

They had every opportunity to win the game against the Washington Football Team but the defense gave up a touchdown with less than a minute remaining in the game. If they won that Atlanta would have been 2 – 2 heading into a Week 5 matchup with the New York Jets (1 – 3).

The offensive line is still a problem because they can’t run the ball or protect Matt Ryan. Rookie tight end Kyle Pitts and Calvin Ridley have both gotten off to slow starts.

Ryan is 19th in passing yards, which is pretty low when you look at how often they pass. They are 24th in rushing attempts. The Falcons are destined to have a top 5 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Carolina Panthers: Contender. I’m surprised to say that about this team. Carolina (3 – 1) traded to get quarterback Sam Darnold from the Jets. In his three seasons in New York he looked like a bust. He’s playing drastically better in Carolina is 6th in the league in passing yards with 1,189.

Christian McCaffrey is the best all-around running back in the NFL but he’s dealing with a hamstring injury. Wide receiver DJ Moore is tied for 2nd in receptions (30) and 4th in receiving yards (398). The combination of him and Robby Anderson can create explosive plays.

The defense has looked elite so far, ranking 3rd in total defense. They give up an average of 251 yards per game. They did give up 36 points to Dallas in their Week 4 loss so it appears that a good offense will not have trouble against them.

New Orleans: Pretenders. New Orleans (2 – 2) is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because they look completely different each week. They started the season with a dominating 38 – 3 win against Green Bay (3 – 1). The following week they were beat down by the Panthers, 26 – 7.

Week 3 they beat New England convincingly, 28 – 13. Playing the winless New York Giants at home looked like a slam dunk victory, right? They lost in overtime, 27 – 21. The Saints are 11th in total defense so they are solid. Jameis Winston is ranked 29th in passing with only 613 yards.

New Orleans does rank 7th in rushing offense. Star receiver Michael Thomas has not played yet, but he is expected to return around Week 7.

Tampa Bay: Contenders. The reigning Super Bowl champs return every starter from last season. Barring a major injury, I think the worst case scenario is getting to the NFC Championship. The Bucs (3 – 1) are 30th in rushing. With Tom Brady I guess you don’t have to worry about running the football.

Brady is 2nd in passing yards (1,356) and tied for 3rd in passing touchdowns (10). They have the best receiving corps in the league with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. The only loss was against the Los Angeles Rams (3 – 1).

Gurley Reclamation

By: Jeff Doke news services

When Todd Gurley wrapped up his time between the hedges in 2015, he was expected to land somewhere between Herschel Walker and Terrell Davis in the pantheon of UGA alumni in the NFL.

For a while there, it looked like he was going to meet those lofty expectations. After a sophomore slump in 2016, Gurley followed up his 2015 Rookie of the Year Award with some serious hardware; two straight Pro Bowls in 2017 & 2018, 1st team All-Pro for both years and NFL leader in rushing touchdowns in those same years.

Then, the wheels started to come off.

The knee issues, that cost him 3 games in his already NCAA violation-shortened final campaign in Athens, raised their ugly head during the 2018 playoffs and the 2019 season as well.

Gurley saw a significant drop in every metric from 2018 to 2019, and it cost him his job just two years removed from a massive $60 million extension.

Those numbers fell even further during his one season with the Atlanta Falcons. The fewest yards, attempts, and touchdowns in his career – combined with some costly mental errors – meant his return to the Peach State was over before it really had a chance to get started.

The fall from grace is staggering when you look at it. To go from a league-leading multi-millionaire to an unsigned free agent in two years is almost unheard of.

The arthritic knee – which was the focus of great speculation leading up to Super Bowl LIII – seems to be more of a career-threatening issue than originally expected.

The situation in Atlanta seemed to have been tailor-made for the Tarboro, NC native, but the results simply weren’t there and the powers that be in Flowery Branch decided “one year is enough, thanks.”

So where does Gurley go now? Last month, it seemed like he was destined to join the Detroit Lions backfield, joining fellow Dawg D’Andre Swift and the former Packer Jamaal Williams.

Gurley made a visit to the Lions facility and talks progressed, but no contract. Last week, he made another unfruitful visit, this time with the Baltimore Ravens.

Between the two teams, the Ravens seem like the unlikelier choice. He’d be battling Justice “I’m Not Related to Tyreek” Hill for the third spot behind J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards.

Plus, the Ravens only have a scant $11 million left in cap space – not exactly the wiggle room you need to get into a bidding war, and that’s exactly what it looks like Gurley is trying to force.

One must wonder, though, if that’s the best strategy for an injury-plagued back looking for his third team in three years. Granted, he could have a comeback season for the ages on tap for this year, but until we see him on the field it’s anybody’s guess.

Gurley will make a roster this year, of that I have no doubt. More than likely, it will be with the Lions, but there are some fairly intriguing options out there as well.

For example; the Miami Dolphins. Myles Gaskins is a serviceable if uninspiring starter.

The Fins signed Malcom Brown in the offseason and drafted Gerrid “that’s not how you spell that last name” Doaks in the 7th round, so there’s competition to be had if Gurley decides to head south.

The Buffalo Bills. The Mafia has had some workhorses in the backfield over the years; Thurman Thomas, Travis Henry, Marshawn Lynch. 2021, though? Not so much. The tandem of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss scream two things; “committee” and “training camp open competition.” Gurley would do well here.

The New England Patriots. Bill Belichek can’t seem to resist two things; UGA running backs and reclamation projects. Gurley would be a twofer, so don’t rule out a trip to Foxboro in his future.

Flying Class

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

The 2021 NFL draft is in the books. We saw what each team did to address their needs. Let’s take a look to see how the Atlanta Falcons did. This was the first draft for General Manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith.

I’m trying to not get too excited, but I have seen several different publications give the Falcons an A+ draft grade.

They selected Florida tight end Kyle Pitts with the 4th pick. Pitts is the highest rated tight end prospect ever. He’s projected to have an impact like Travis Kelce and that should really help in the red zone. Atlanta should have an explosive top five offense in 2021.

In the second round with the 40th pick Atlanta selected UCF safety Richie Grant. He was first-team All-American Athletic Conference in 2019 and 2020.

Last season he led UCF with 72 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 6 pass deflections, 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles in 9 games. He was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back.

Michigan guard Jalen Mayfield was taken with the 68th pick. The Falcons needed help on the offensive line, so they addressed a need.

Mayfield is only a redshirt sophomore, so he does not have much experience. In 2019 he played 13 games at right tackle and was honorable mention All-Big Ten. He played two games in 2020 before a high ankle sprain ended his season.

San Diego State corner back Darren Hall was the 108th selection. In 2019 he tied for the FBS lead in pass breakups with 16.

In 2020 he was first-team All-MWC and led the Aztecs with 3 interceptions, 6 pass deflections, 38 tackles with 2 for loss in 8 games.

Stanford center Drew Dalman was the 114th pick. He’s the son of former 49ers offensive lineman Chris Dalman and he was a top 10 center nationally coming out of high school. He was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2020 and started all 6 of their games.

The 148th pick was Texas defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham. He was a top-150 recruit nationally coming out of high school.

Graham started every game the past two seasons and was named honorable mention all-conference as a senior in 2020. He had 23 tackles, 7 for loss and 2 sacks.

Notre Dame defensive end Adetokunbo Ogundeji (pronounced ah-DAY-tok-uhn-bo oh-gun-day-gee) was 17 when he enrolled in college. It took him a while to work his way into the rotation because of that.

He started 12 games as a senior and was a team captain. He was honorable mention All-ACC and had 23 tackles and a team high 7 sacks.

Boise State corner back Avery Williams was the second to last pick (No. 183) for the Falcons.

He was All- Mountain West Conference in all four seasons and he’s a good kick returner as well.

He was a third team All-American as an all-purpose player because he led the FBS in combined return yardage (19-533-28.1 kick returns, 15-229-15.3 punt returns), topped the country with two punt return touchdowns and tied for the national lead with two kick return touchdowns. He also tied for fifth in the FBS with two blocked kicks.

The final player drafted was Arizona State wide receiver Frank Darby (No. 187). ASU only played four games in 2020 and he played in three as a team captain. He received limited touches after suffering a rib injury in the season opener.

Time will tell if these players develop the way the franchise hopes but Atlanta did a good job addressing team needs.

Possible Flight Paths For Atlanta Falcons

By: Jeff Doke news services

As we approach the NFL Draft, the vast majority of the attention in Southeast Georgia has been lavished on the Jaguars and their first overall pick, soon to be converted into a golden-haired quarterback of the future.

The selection of Trevor Lawrence is the worst kept secret of this year’s draft, and a polar opposite from what will be happening with the Atlanta Falcons and their fourth overall pick.

Speculation as to what Blank, Fontenot, and Smith will do with their primo real estate in the draft order has been rampant of late, and the rumor mill is having a blast with it.

In a highly unscientific poll I conducted (read as “my fraternity brothers I asked at a wedding reception this past weekend”), most Falcons fans want the team to keep the pick as is. What to do with said pick seems to be less of a unanimous voice.

At first glance, the Falcons don’t have quite as many holes as you would expect from a 4-12 team with a new General Manager and Head Coach, but the holes (and threadbare spots that are about to become holes) are in some pretty important spots.

This draft is shaping up to be a potential record breaking one for quarterbacks, and the speculation that the Falcons will pick Matt Ryan’s replacement with their first pick seems to be a fairly safe bet.

Obviously, Trevor Lawrence will be the first off the board at number one, and all signs from the Turnpike point to the Jets pulling the trigger on Zach Wilson at number two. What happens with the 49ers at number three could prove pivotal.

The two big names mentioned at three since the Niners traded into the spot are Alabama QB Mac Jones and Georgia native Justin Fields.

If Kyle Shanahan & company go with Jones, Justin Fields to the Falcons seems like a perfect fit.

Matt Ryan’s time under center is drawing to a close, and let’s be honest; his pending salary cap hit is the only reason why he’s still in Flowery Branch.

Justin Fields has drawn more than one comparison to a pre-Ron Mexico era Michael Vick.

The fact that he would be coming to his home state would make more than a few fans happy and put more than a few butts in seats at Mercedes Benz…oh, who are we kidding? After COVID, there’s going to be no problem getting butts in seats again, but Fields will more than likely keep most (if not all) of those butts happy.

If Fields winds up going to San Francisco, Atlanta could take the Bama signal caller, but don’t be surprised if the Falcons pass on Jones and take North Dakota State product Trey Lance.

He’s been mentioned at #4 most of the offseason, and has only slid down some prognosticators’ boards fairly recently.

It also won’t be a shock if Atlanta forgoes the QB need entirely and jumps on Florida’s Kyle Pitts.

Although he’s primarily been used as a TE, his college career shows he could easily line up as a WR, and would ease the injury & age concerns swirling around Julio Jones.

Then of course there’s the speculation that the Falcons could trade out of the spot entirely. Supposedly New England has eyes on Pitts as well, hoping to turn him into Gronk v2.0.

If the trade happens, the Falcons reportedly don’t want to drop too far in the first.

Regardless of who they trade with, look for Atlanta to go for one of the two Alabama receivers projected to be first rounders (Jaylen Waddle and Heisman winner Devonta Smith) to pair with Calvin Ridley.

If an early second round pick is in the mix, watch for them to look for a replacement for pending free agent departure Todd Gurley.

Top running backs in this year’s skimpy crop are UNC’s Javonte Williams and (surprise, surprise) Alabama’s Najee Harris.

Long story short, I’d look for the Dirty Birds to harken back to the glory days with an electric, mobile, scrambling young gunslinger, or expect them to start looking like Tuscaloosa East.