Every draft has a moment that sets the tone for the rest of the first round. A selection that tears up pre-concieved notions about how the draft will go, causing dozens of other dominos to fall around it. In the 2021 NFL Draft that honor belongs to the Atlanta Falcons at No. 4, and what they do in the first round could change everything else.
At this point it’s fairly safe to assume the first three picks will be spent on quarterbacks. Jacksonville has been locked on to Trevor Lawrence as soon as they finished the season. The Jets were a bit of a question mark, until they traded Sam Darnold to the Panthers. San Francisco were always a favorite to take a quarterback this year, but that was set in stone when they traded up with Miami to secure the third overall pick. That puts Atlanta in the position to be kingmaker. There are obviously dozens of ways that could play out, but a few potential scenarios rise to the top.
To start with we’re going to assume the draft unfolds with Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Justin Fields being the first three picks, and move from there. Obviously there could be a surprise, but we’ll use this as our baseline.
Scenario No. 1: The Falcons take another quarterback
There seems to be hesitance on Atlanta’s part to move on from Matt Ryan quite yet, making this increasing feel like an outside chance. However, should there be a surprise in the top three, like, say the 49ers taking Mac Jones, it might be too enticing to select Justin Fields at No. 4.
There’s also the potential here that the Falcons like Trey Lance enough to stay in the fourth slot and select him anyway. Any team who doesn’t need a passer would be overjoyed If four quarterbacks go in the top four picks, leading to numerous big-name players falling lower than they probably should.
Potential fallout from the Falcons drafting a QB at No. 4
The Bengals at No. 5 would have their choice of either the top receiving weapon they prefer (likely Kyle Pitts or Ja’Marr Chase), or the draft’s best offensive lineman in Penei Sewell. If they take a receiver then the trade-happy Dolphins could find themselves in a position to move back, and acquire even more picks, with someone jumping up to take Sewell, who many believe is the 2nd best player in the draft period.
The top four quarterbacks going early would also effect picks in the 8-15 range, with the Patriots being a potential trade up target to get Mac Jones, widely seen as the last quarterback worthy of a first round pick this year.
Scenario No. 2: The Falcons take a big-play receiver
This is becoming the favorite of the Falcons’ potential options, and it seems Florida TE Kyle Pitts would be the target. There’s no doubt Pitts is a rare athlete at the position, with tight end size and receiver skills with the potential of revolutionizing the position if he lives up to the hype. Pairing Pitts with Julio Jones would be a tremendous boost to the offense, and one that puts a premium on star power.
Potential fallout from the Falcons drafting a pass catcher at No. 4
The Bengals likely take Sewell, thrilled they got a player of his caliber in a position they never felt possible. It seems unlikely a team would trade up this far in order to select Trey Lance, so things become very difficult for two teams in particular: The Panthers, and Broncos.
Neither team has a quarterback to be confident in enough to ignore a quarterback, and Lance would be an intriguing prospect. Fanbases would be pushing for another passing option, and this could lead to a flurry in the early teens with receivers, defensive back, and offensive linemen falling lower than expected.
Scenario No. 3: The Falcons take Penei Sewell if they think he’s the best player available
It feels extremely unlikely the Falcons would select Penei Sewell with the No. 4 overall pick considering they have talent at offensive tackle, but we can’t rule out the potential. Sewell is an incredible talent at offensive tackle, with the athleticism, size, and mean streak teams crave from players to finish blocks and maul defenders trying to get to the quarterback.
While it might not make the Falcons better immediately, it’s the kind of selection that would set the team up for the long haul.
Potential fallout from the Falcons taking Sewell
Taking Sewell would produce the same drama at quarterback that we’ve talked about already, but throw a feeding frenzy at receiver into the mix as well. It would likely lead to Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle going No. 5 and No. 6 respectively, with Kyle Pitts sliding.
The Lions could take Pitts at No. 7, or it puts a premium on Rashawn Slater, the draft’s next-best offensive tackle to become coveted. While nobody would likely trade up to No. 7, it could create interesting scenarios in the 8-12 range, with Carolina or Denver willing to drop back a couple of spots so a team could jump up and take Patrick Surtain II before the Cowboys have a chance to.
Scenario No. 4: The Falcons trade the pick
The Falcons love to trade on draft day. Everyone remembers the blockbuster deal in 2011 that caused Atlanta to move up for Julio Jones, but this is a scenario where they could fall back.
A team moving up to No. 4 would likely require Justin Fields not being the pick by San Francisco. At this point who knows what happens?
Potential fallout from the Falcons trading the No. 4 pick
If Justin Fields is on the board at No. 4 all hell could break out. It’s conceivable potentially any team could make a colossal offer to Atlanta to move up, with Falcons fans clamoring for the team to take the Ohio State quarterback. New England could go against the grain and give up future assets to shore up the position, or potentially even the Bears, who were rumored to be all in on a potential trade for Russell Wilson, could offer the farm to get him.
This might lead to a Trey Lance slide deep into the teens and a solid team getting a long-term option at QB nobody expected.
Scenario No. 5: The Falcons stun everyone
Never underestimate the potential for a team to do something nobody expects. Make no mistake: I don’t think we’ll see a true shocker, but it’s impossible to know without seeing their board. Take someone like Patrick Surtain II, for instance. He’s the kind of player you could easily see go higher than anyone expected. If he’s high on the Falcons board, and they can’t move out the pick, I could see a scenario where he’s taken and it shifts around the whole dynamic of the first round.
Potential fallout from the Falcons making a surprise pick
You’d see DB needy teams like the Chargers and Cowboys fight over Jacee Horn, the consolation prize in this scenario. Whoever isn’t willing to trade up, or misses out could trade back and look deeper in their board. Here it’s prime for a team like New England or Chicago to move up for a quarterback, or even teams jump up for one of the receivers who slide as a result.
These dominos could lead to offensive linemen sliding, and a team in need of trench help like Minnesota could pull the trigger on a trade up as well to get a player they never thought they’d be in the discussion for, like Rashawn Slater. In short: It would be a wild, messy, fun first round — but that hinges on the unlikely scenario the Falcons shock everyone.