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2017 NFL mock draft: Atlanta Falcons surprise with Derek Rivers

The FCS pass rusher from Youngstown State lands in the first round.

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons made the Super Bowl last season, and in the NFL draft they’ll be looking to add some pieces to help them not only get back but win it. As you’d expect from a Super Bowl team, the Falcons don’t have many holes on the roster. The ones they do have, though, are pretty obvious.

Despite having superstar pass rusher Vic Beasley, Atlanta could use a player opposite him to get after the passer. They could also go after an interior defensive lineman that can get into the backfield. Atlanta brought in Dontari Poe, but they need a gap-shooting tackle. Finally, right guard has been an issue, and there are some solid players at the position to pick from early in this draft.

In the SB Nation NFL writers’ mock draft, Dave Choate from the Falcoholic is here to address one of those big needs.

31. Atlanta Falcons: Derek Rivers, DE/OLB, Youngstown State

Choate: At first blush, Rivers will seem like a reach. Given Dan Quinn’s brief history with the Falcons, however, we can make a few fundamental assumptions.

  1. Rivers has the athleticism, toolkit, and character Quinn likes, across the board
  2. The Falcons need a pass rusher badly, and Quinn is going to make it a first or second day priority
  3. This Falcons team is not afraid to go for a guy they really like earlier than he’s widely projected to go, as they did with Keanu Neal and Deion Jones a year ago.

The Falcons have been sniffing around some intriguing defensive line talents in this class, but 31 figures to be the kind of draft spot where every prospect has some significant flaws.

Rivers would immediately line up opposite Vic Beasley when the team rolls out a nickel, and with Derrick Shelby/Adrian Clayborn and Grady Jarrett on the inside, would have a pretty intimidating four-man rush with him in the fold. He’s an aggressive, athletic player with good instincts against the run, which could mean he’ll be a full-time player (or the closest thing to a full-time player in a rotation-heavy front) sooner than anyone would guess.

Setting all of that aside, it’s the pass rushing skill that’s really intriguing. As my colleague Charles McDonald outlined recently, Rivers is a plus athlete who can get around the edge quickly, and has one of the quickest first steps in this draft class. Teams without two elite tackles would have a tough time containing both Rivers and Beasley.

Some will call for a guard here, and I was tempted by Forrest Lamp, who might be the best one in this class. At the end of the day, though, the Falcons have some solid in-house options at right guard, while they really need another top-flight pass rusher to take this defense to the next level. Rivers it is.

Analysis: Rivers is obviously the type of pass rusher Atlanta needs, but is he the right one? I rate him as an early second-round pick, so this isn’t massive reach. I like Charles Harris of Missouri a little bit more, but it’s only a minor quibble. The bigger issue is that Lamp is there and I think he’s a better option.

Dan's top five players remaining

  • 21. Forrest Lamp, OL, Western Kentucky
  • 26. Tim Williams, LB, Alabama
  • 30. Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
  • 31. Charles Harris, DE/OLB, Missouri
  • 34. Sidney Jones, CB, Washington

Falcons picks

  • 1-31: Derek Rivers, DE/OLB, Youngstown State
  • 2-63 (coming April 24)

At noon ET we close out the first round with the second first-round pick from the New Orleans Saints and Canal Street Chronicles.


What grade do you give Atlanta for taking Rivers?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    (241 votes)
  • 36%
    (378 votes)
  • 22%
    (237 votes)
  • 8%
    (84 votes)
  • 9%
    (93 votes)
1033 votes total Vote Now