ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
AP photo by Jae C. Hong / An Atlanta Falcons fan cheers during the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night in Las Vegas.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons continued to focus on offense at this year's NFL draft with their last three picks, including BYU running back Tyler Algeier.

Southern California's Drake London, expected to be the Falcons' new top threat at wide receiver, was their first-round pick Thursday night at No. 8 overall. Another highlight of Atlanta's draft came with the selection of Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder in the third round Friday night.

Finally, the Falcons finished Saturday by adding Allgeier in the fifth round and two University of Georgia players, left guard Justin Shaffer and tight end John FitzPatrick, in the sixth to complete their eight-player draft class.

General manager Terry Fontenot also found potential help for the Atlanta defense's lack of backfield pressure Friday by picking up two edge rushers: Penn State's Arnold Ebiketie and Western Kentucky's DeAngelo Malone. Linebacker Troy Andersen, a second-rounder from Montana State, added more defensive balance to Atlanta's draft.

"We got better," Fontenot said Saturday.

The Falcons were 7-10 in 2021 for their fourth consecutive losing season. Such picks as London, Ebiketie and Ridder provide much-needed hope for improvement in the second season with Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith, the former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator.

Fontenot said he only stayed true to his draft board, taking the best player available instead of reaching to address a need, when he chose Ridder. Even so, Ridder was needed to add athleticism and depth to the position.

Marcus Mariota, a former Titans starter who was a backup for the Las Vegas Raiders the past two years, is expected to open this season as Atlanta's top option behind center, but Feleipe Franks was the only other quarterback on the depth chart before the draft. Mariota was signed to a two-year deal after Matt Ryan was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in March.

Ridder said he admires Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick in 2015, and believes they have a similar style of play.

"Just as far as our athletic abilities, our leadership, our ability to extend plays and then be smart with the ball once we do extend plays," Ridder said. "... I'm excited to get down there and learn from someone who has been in the game for a long time."

Smith said he likes hearing Ridder express his respect for Mariota's talents and eagerness to learn from the veteran.

"That's a good thing that he's looked up to Marcus," Smith said. "It will be a really good room."

As for the ground game, Allgeier (5-foot-11, 224 pounds) set BYU records with 276 carries and 1,601 rushing yards in 2021. He tied for the national lead with 23 touchdown runs.

"We love his yards after contact," Smith said. "The opportunities there in the running backs room are wide open."

Cordarrelle Patterson, who also plays at wide receiver, and Mike Davis return at running back and the Falcons also signed Damien Williams.

Allgeier began his college career as a walk-on and played one season at linebacker before moving back to running back.

"I've been slept on almost my whole life," he said.

Fontenot said he likes players who believe they have something to prove, adding that London "has a chip on his shoulder. Our coach has a chip on his shoulder. You want people around you like that."

Shaffer, the first Georgia player drafted by the Falcons since linebacker Akeem Dent in 2011, could push Jalen Mayfield for a starting job at left guard. Mayfield allowed 11 sacks as a rookie in 2021, the most by any guard in the league.

Shaffer (6-4, 314) started all 15 games at left guard in Georgia's national championship season. Smith referred to him as "a big, nasty mauler."

Shaffer and FitzPatrick were part of a school-record 15 Georgia players drafted.

"I'd say it's exciting for me just to see everybody get drafted," Shaffer said. "It puts a smile on my face."

Malone and Shaffer are from Cedar Grove High School in metro Atlanta. They're also first cousins, and Shaffer said he invited Malone to a post-draft party Saturday before he realized they would be NFL teammates.

"It's just a miracle how this whole situation played out," Shaffer said. "We knew our dream was to get to the league and keep putting on for our family. He was going to come see me today because I was going to celebrate. ... Now we're going to see each other every day. You can't complain about that."

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT