ATLANTA (CBS46) – Even though the Atlanta Falcons still have a relatively slim shot at somehow making the playoffs; after Sunday’s debacle at home against the woeful Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Falcons fans are likely already looking forward to March 2020 for NFL free agency and April’s NFL Draft.
If the season ended today, which would be merciful for many teams around the NFL, we’re looking at you Cincinnati, Miami, New York Giants and Washington Redskins; the Falcons would own the sixth overall pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Given the Falcons’ struggles across the board on defense, it’s probably a safe bet Atlanta targets defense with the early first-round pick.
Looking at the talent pool that might be available to the Falcons reveals a plethora of directions the team could take that highly in the draft. The crown jewel player in the draft, at least at this point, appears to be Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. The 6’5”, 265-pound defensive end has terrorized opposing quarterbacks on the Buckeyes’ schedule this season to the tune of 16.5 sacks with a few games left on the schedule. In his three-year career, he’s wracked up 30.5 sacks and 90 total tackles.
Young is expected to be gone with one of the top two picks in the draft. Atlanta could go get him, and general manager Thomas Dimitroff has shown no hesitation to make a big move up the draft board if his player is there. Still, at this point, Young looks like he’ll be off the board by the time the Falcons are on the clock.
Two of the top defensive players will likely be available when the Falcons are ready to pick: LSU safety Grant Delpit and Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah. Delpit is a 6’3”, 203 pound safety who is both a ball hawk and a fierce hitter. Over this three-year college career, Delpit has pulled down 184 total tackles and intercepted seven passes. His ability to both rush the passer and guard tight ends and receivers makes him one of the draft’s most intriguing prospects for the Falcons who desperately need safety help with Keanu Neal unable to stay healthy.
Okudah is a finalist for the Jim Thorpe award and effectively shuts down whichever side of the field he is on. Okudah has improved each of his three seasons at Ohio State University culminating this season with 25 total tackles, three interceptions, and four passes defensed. Okudah also gives the Buckeyes strong run support from the cornerback position.
Other defensive players who might be looked at in the top 10, at least at this point in the evaluation process include: Auburn defensive end/tackle Derrick Brown; Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray; Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons; and Florida cornerback C.J. Henderson.