The 2021 NFL Draft was the first done by the Atlanta Falcons’ new regime, featuring general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith. While the success of drafts is often hard to predict right after the event ends, many were cautiously optimistic about the talent that was brought in.
The draft was headlined by Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, who the team selected with the No. 4 overall pick. UCF safety Richie Grant and Michigan offensive lineman Jalen Mayfield were Atlanta’s Day 2 picks, and many thought the team found solid value there.
The Falcons had six picks on Day 3, two of which went to offense and four to defense. Offensively, Atlanta added Stanford center Drew Dalman and Arizona State receiver Frank Darby.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons selected San Diego State cornerback Darren Hall, Texas defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham, Notre Dame defensive lineman Adetokunbo Ogundeji, and Boise State cornerback/return specialist Avery Williams.
According to PFF, who gave the team a B initially, the Falcons’ 2021 class underwhelmed, earning just a C+ after their rookie season. Only four teams received worse grades, while three hit the same mark as Atlanta.
PFF’s centers around the Falcons’ first three selections. “While Kyle Pitts went for over 1,000 yards as a rookie, it's hard to say how much credit the Falcons should get for the pick considering he was arguably outperformed by the next three picks in the draft.
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“From there, Richie Grant saw only 276 snaps despite the safety position being fairly wide open for Atlanta," PFF wrote. "Third-rounder Jalen Mayfield wasn’t any more encouraging despite seeing the field more, recording a 49.2 overall grade on 989 snaps.”
The three picks after Pitts were receivers Ja’Marr Chase (Bengals) and Jaylen Waddle (Dolphins), and offensive tackle Penei Sewell (Lions). Grant’s lack of playing time stemmed from Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ complex scheme being difficult for rookies, meaning veterans Erik Harris and Duron Harmon were better-suited to start on the back end.Grant saw an uptick in playing time towards the end of the season, and appeared at nickel corner quite a bit.
Pees has already said that Grant will get an opportunity to play more in 2022. Atlanta’s day three picks primarily played rotational roles, though Avery Williams was the team’s kick and punt returner.
The Falcons received a combined 18 starts from their six selections on the draft’s third day, 11 of which came from Ogundeji. Graham had five, and Williams and Hall each started one. Dalman appeared in all 17 games, and rotated with Matt Hennessy at center in some games. Darby played in 10 games, largely on special teams, and had just one reception on four targets.
Typically, teams wait until after year three to assess their drafts, so the Falcons’ 2021 rookie class has two more seasons to prove their worth and improve the grade. Should they take the next step, it does nothing but help Atlanta as it tries to return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2017 season.