After an up and down 2018 season, the Atlanta Falcons seem poised for a return to the playoffs next year. Their roster is still talented and full of contributors from the team that made it to the Super Bowl, and they have enough draft capital to fill their remaining needs.
One of those needs is on the interior of the defensive line. Grady Jarrett’s franchise tag and contract situation is still being worked on by both sides, but even if his returns seems inevitable, Atlanta still needs to bolster their defensive tackle unit. While they have other needs, such as EDGE, right tackle, interior offensive lineman and cornerback, they’re expected to target a defensive tackle early in the NFL Draft.
I’ve detailed one interior defensive line prospect for each of Atlanta’s selections in the first three rounds, all of whom have starter upside.
Round 1, Pick 14: Christian Wilkins, Clemson
This has been a popular pairing during the pre-draft process, and for good reason. Wilkins is an excellent athlete among defensive tackles, with flexibility in his lower half that allows him to penetrate gaps with ease. He’s energetic, with a motor and competitive streak that is truly admirable. With his size and leverage, he would fit beautifully next to Grady Jarrett, as the two would cause consistent inside pressure.
Round 2, Pick 45: Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi State
While I have a first round grade on Christian Wilkins, I actually believe Jeffery Simmons is the superior player. Simmons is one of the 10 best on-field prospects in the class, but will ultimately slide due to medical and previous off the field red flags.
He’s an even better inside penetrator than Wilkins, and he racks up tackles for loss because of his power and explosiveness. That burst and get-off, coupled with his size, makes him an intriguing prospect against both the run and pass. Simmons could be in line for a “redshirt” rookie season as he rehabs from a torn ACL suffered during pre-Combine training, but his upside outside of the first round is tremendous.
Round 3, Pick 79: Khalen Saunders, Western Illinois
Speaking of upside, Khalen Saunders has some pretty ridiculous natural athletic gifts. The Western Illinois prospect has some untapped potential, but made splash plays at the Senior Bowl that suggest a future as a starter in the NFL. His level of competition will be questioned and could ultimately push him down to the third round, but few prospects available at that point have the promise that Saunders has. With size and scheme versatility, he would fits nicely into the expected rotation on Atlanta’s defensive line.