After a slew of injuries last season, Atlanta missed out on the playoffs despite a pretty talented roster. Entering this year, they’re an easy candidate for a return to the tournament. With minimal holes to fill on the roster with so many returning players, they had a unique opportunity to strengthen their depth chart through the NFL Draft. Selecting in the 14 slot, this is how Atlanta’s haul turned out:
Round 1, Pick 14: Chris Lindstrom, iOL, Boston College
Round 1, Pick 31: Kaleb McGary, OT, Washington
Round 4, Pick 111: Kendall Sheffield, CB, Ohio State
Round 4, Pick 135: John Cominsky, EDGE, Charleston
Round 5, Pick 152: Qadree Ollison, RB, Pitt
Round 5, Pick 172: Jordan Miller, CB, Washington
Round 6, Pick 203: Marcus Green, WR, Louisiana-Monroe
The trade up for Washington offensive tackle Kaleb McGary (surrendering picks #45 and #79 for picks #31 and #203) put Atlanta in a unique spot, having to then wait until pick #111 to make another selection. Fortunately for the Falcons, a stud cornerback prospect who fit their preferred profile inexplicably fell to them in the slot. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they failed to take advantage of it, instead reaching for a cornerback that I viewed as just barely draftable.
My Falcons Draft Mulligan: CB Kendall Sheffield for Penn State CB Amani Oruwariye
During the 2018 NFL Draft, Atlanta selected Colorado cornerback Isaiah Oliver. He projects as a boundary starter for the Falcons defense this year, as his natural tools suggest potentially dominant upside. Amani Oruwariye may not quite be the level of mover that Oliver is, but he isn't far off. As far as the combination of physical and athletic profile goes, Oruwariye was the closest thing to Oliver in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Don’t ask me why Oruwariye fell to the point in the draft that he did, because I truly don’t know the answer. Regardless, he would’ve fit well in Atlanta. I had him as my #25 overall player, with an early 2nd round grade. The Falcons instead opted for Ohio State cornerback Kendall Sheffield, who I had as a 7th rounder.
Sheffield has obvious athleticism, as his personal workout for NFL teams resulted in excellent agility and explosiveness times. However, that athleticism has never transferred into on-field production. His curious lack of ball skills and inconsistent technique resulted in too many receptions allowed to inferior athletes, and I have questions about his projection as a cover man despite his undeniable athleticism.
Oruwariye’s traits seem like the easier translation to the next level, as his size and downhill click and close will be usable right away. His potential for growth in press coverage shows up on film, because a solid chunk of his technique is already at an advanced stage. Oruwariye is more likely be an immediate contributor than Sheffield because of his already developed traits. For a team like Atlanta with reasonable Super Bowl hopes this upcoming season, that value makes more sense by the 4th round of the NFL Draft.
Overall, I was surprised that Atlanta chose not to address their interior defensive line at some point during the NFL Draft. Additionally, a look at a versatile coverage safety who could contribute right away would have made sense as well. Prospects like Amani Hooker and Ugo Amadi were also available at the #111 slot.
I like the fact that Atlanta decided to solidify their right side of their offensive line with the selection of Chris Lindstrom and trade up for McGary. However, the reason that the trade up portion felt too aggressive was the talent still available at offensive tackle. Between Jawaan Taylor, Cody Ford, Dalton Risner and Yodny Cajuste, Atlanta could’ve stayed put or made a modest trade up for an equal or better tackle prospect. This may have allowed Atlanta to hold on to the #79 overall pick that they sacrificed in order to make the move from #45 to #31.
Despite the over-aggressive trade up, Atlanta believes that they have their right side of their offensive line set for years to come. For that reason, it’s harder to dislike their plan during the 1st round. That makes the Sheffield over Oruwariye selection the one mulligan that would most improve Atlanta’s draft class.