2022 NFL Draft: 4 Players the Atlanta Falcons Must Target With the No. 8 Overall Pick

The 2022 NFL Draft is nearly upon us, and the Atlanta Falcons will have a difficult decision to make with the eighth overall pick. Things will be even more complicated if Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, who could be in play for the Detroit Lions at No. 2, is still waiting to hear his name called when the Falcons are on the clock.

Welcome to the post-Matt Ryan era, where nobody knows anything about what’s to come in Atlanta.

So, who should the Falcons draft at No. 8? As with our mock drafts, we picked players based on need and team fit. Also, all prospects are ranked alphabetically as opposed to preference or potential. For transparency, I projected the Lions would select Willis at No. 2, so this story was written with that in mind. As for the other quarterbacks…

Based on consideration of the aforementioned prerequisites, we believe the Falcons should target the following players with the eighth overall pick:

Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

The more I think about things (and no, it doesn’t hurt too much), the more I believe Gardner would be a perfect fit in Atlanta. Forget the Falcons’ offensive needs for a second and just watch the All-American cornerback’s highlight reel. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Gardner should bring length, intelligence, and excellent awareness to whichever team drafts him on April 28.

The obvious question: will Gardner even be available at No. 8, especially amid the ongoing rumors regarding teams potentially trading up to select him?

If Gardner is here, the Falcons can afford to wait on a receiver or pass-rusher. I might not be a scout, and I don’t care if the bulk of his success came in a mid-major conference. What I do believe, though, is “Sauce” has the physical and mental makeup to become the league’s next great shutdown cornerback.

Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

Julio Jones is long gone, Russell Gage is now playing for the rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Calvin Ridley will miss the entire 2022 season after betting on games. In short, the Falcons need a receiver who can immediately show up, contribute on Day 1, and try to follow the likes of Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson in posting historic rookie numbers.

Although I can’t promise Wilson will total 90 catches and 1,100 yards with Marcus Mariota throwing his way, I can suggest he’d be an excellent addition to the Falcons’ offense. The 6-foot, 192-pound Wilson totaled 70 catches, 1,058 yards, and 12 touchdowns in 11 starts for the Buckeyes last year, and he’s earned rave reviews throughout the pre-draft process for his speed and hands.

The question then becomes if the Falcons want to invest in a receiver now, given Mariota’s presence at quarterback. However, if the two-time NFC champions are already looking toward selecting Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud in the 2023 NFL Draft, it might not hurt to add one of his ex-top targets this spring.

Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, Florida State

After beginning his career at Independence Community College (Kansas) and spending two years at Georgia, the 6-foot-5, 262-pound Johnson exploded for 12 sacks and 18 tackles for loss at Florida State in 2021. NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein compared the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year to Las Vegas Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby, who earned second-team All-Pro honors last year.

“[Johnson] is a one-year full-time starter with an underdeveloped pass rush and occasional lapses in awareness, but both areas should be correctable with more coaching and game experience. He’s more instinctive and consistent as a run defender, but his length and relentlessness are excellent building blocks for challenging protection. Johnson’s blend of strength and athleticism should make him a firm edge-setter and playmaker near the line of scrimmage for odd or even fronts.”

Lance Zierlein

Suggesting the Falcons need a pass-rusher is an understatement. Dante Fowler, who led the team with 4.5 sacks and added six tackles for loss in 14 games and six starts last season, signed with the Dallas Cowboys this offseason.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

It feels like Thibodeaux’s case as a potentially high-risk, high-reward draft target has been beaten into the ground by now, so we won’t waste your time too much. However, the Falcons need edge rushers, and the Oregon product spent much of the 2021 season rumored to go atop the 2022 draft for a reason. The 6-foot-5, 258-pound pass rusher tallied 19 sacks and 35.5 sacks in three seasons with the Ducks and will arrive in the NFL with an extremely high ceiling.

For as risky as Thibodeaux might be, he’d be a better selection here than Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett. Trust us on that one.

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