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NFL Mock Draft: Falcons Take Christian Gonzalez, Have 'Most Athletic' CB Duo?

Should the Atlanta Falcons select Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez at No. 8 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft? One expert thinks so.

The Atlanta Falcons' secondary is already much improved from last season following the signing of former Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III in free agency ... and it could get even better.

Atlanta has an All-Pro cornerback in A.J. Terrell but several question marks around him, as veteran Casey Hayward is coming off a season-ending shoulder injury and starting nickel Isaiah Oliver left for the San Francisco 49ers.

The Falcons still have promising young corners in Dee Alford and Darren Hall and signed former first-round pick Mike Hughes in free agency, but the idea of selecting a long-term running mate for Terrell in the 2023 NFL Draft is enticing.

And in NFL Network's latest mock draft, the Falcons did exactly that, taking Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez with the No. 8 overall pick.

"The Falcons ranked 31st in third-down defense last season," NFL Network said. "Gonzalez would team up with A.J. Terrell to give Atlanta one of the biggest and most athletic cornerback duos in the league."

The 6-1, 197-pound Gonzalez doesn't fit Atlanta's prototypical build, but the only top corner who does - Illinois' Devon Witherspoon - went off the board at No. 6 overall to the Detroit Lions.

However, the All-Pac 12 first-team selection has the speed (4.38 40-yard dash) and fluidity of a player much smaller - while holding a skillset that has made him the draft's top defensive back, per some analysts.

Gonzalez, who doesn't turn 21 until late June, was described to Sports Illustrated's Falcon Report as a "unicorn" by an opposing receiver, with others mentioning he has "no weaknesses" and is poised for a strong professional career.

In Atlanta, Gonzalez would pair with the 24-year-old Terrell to give the Falcons a young, highly skilled duo - that NFL Network said would be "one of the biggest and most athletic" across the league.

Earlier this offseason, Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot seemed to prioritize fixing the pass rush - but when asked about it at the NFL Combine, he pivoted, instead stressing that coverage can also be a plausible solution to helping pressure opposing passers.

"It's not just about the defensive line," Fontenot said. "You want to add everywhere. No matter how quick you're getting to the quarterback, if your coverage isn't good, it doesn't matter - they can get rid of the ball quick. And so, you have to make sure you build up your defense and improve your defense."

The Falcons added to, built up and improved their defense during the free agency period, signing Bates, defensive tackle David Onyemata and linebacker Kaden Elliss ... but there's still need for more.

And at least in this mock draft, that "more" is Gonzalez.

You can follow Daniel Flick on Twitter @DFlickDraft

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