Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Atlanta Falcons 2024 NFL Draft Grades Roundup

The 2024 NFL Draft is now in the rearview mirror, and we have compiled a consensus ranking using NFL draft grades from a variety of sites.

What draft grades have the media given to the Atlanta Falcons? What are they saying about the Falcons' 2024 draft haul?

NFL.com - Grade: C+

Day 1 grade: C
Day 2 grade: C
Day 3 grade: B

Analysis: It was a strange draft for the Falcons, primarily because of the Penix selection, which was perplexing given their investment in Kirk Cousins this offseason. Penix's strong arm and accuracy from the pocket could make him a star if the injury woes that plagued him at Indiana don't return. Trading up to grab the athletic Orhorhoro was a reach, in my opinion, especially given the team's need at corner. Trice met a crucial need on the edge.

Dorlus fits the mold of Atlanta's defensive linemen. He should be able to play 5-technique or 3-technique depending on where he is needed. Bertrand should contribute on special teams before moving to defense in time. McClellan and Washington -- who broke out as a senior at Illinois -- offer depth at the skill positions. They'll need to find cornerbacks in the undrafted free agent pool after failing to address the position in the draft.

ESPN - Grade: C

Top needs entering the draft: Edge defender, cornerback, wide receiver

With the No. 8 pick, I long considered the Falcons as owning the biggest pivot point in Round 1. Would they trade down to make a deal with a team moving up for a quarterback? Would they stay put and take the first defender off the board? They had options, all of which could help a defense that had just 16 takeaways last season, which ranked 29th in the league. With the addition of quarterback Kirk Cousins, this is a team built to win the NFC South now, but it had to draft significant contributors on the other side of the ball.

And then Atlanta's selection was turned in on Thursday night, and there were mouths agape in the crowd here in Detroit. Look, we can debate Michael Penix Jr.'s (8) talent all we want, but the Falcons had a chance to improve their defense with the best prospects still on the board and didn't take it. Instead, they chose a quarterback to sit behind a guy to whom they just gave $100 million guaranteed. I just don't get the logic here, and it's not like Penix is raw, either. He turns 24 in May and has played a ton of football. It was one of the most shocking picks I can remember in Round 1.

GM Terry Fontenot got much better value on his next three picks. Defensive tackle Ruke Orhorhoro (35) is a stout run-defender, but Fontenot had to give up his extra third-rounder to move up eight spots to get Orhorhoro. Atlanta doubled up at the position with Brandon Dorlus (109), who I thought could sneak into Round 3. Fontenot also snagged edge rusher Bralen Trice (74), who had 16 sacks over the past two seasons. At least the Falcons helped their needs here.

It's not very difficult to grade this one in the moment based on the value of what Fontenot did in Round 1, even if I like a few other players in the class.

The Ringer - Grade: C

THE MICHAEL PENIX JR. SELECTION WAS AS PERPLEXING AS ANY PICK IN THIS DRAFT, and I say that as someone who actually likes Penix and believes he can be a future starter. It's just tough to reconcile with the fact this team just gave Kirk Cousins a four-year, $180 million deal that keeps him in Atlanta for at least two seasons. We may not see the soon-to-be 24-year old Penix until 2026, or beyond, which makes passing on a day-one contributor a tremendous opportunity cost. Outside of the Penix pick, Atlanta did well to beef up their defensive front on Day 2 and Day 3: The team traded up for Clemson defensive tackle Ruke Orhorhoro in the second round, before adding a disruptive edge rusher in Washington's Bralen Trice in the third and the versatile Oregon defensive lineman Brandon Dorlus in the fourth. The Falcons got better on their defensive front, but the short-term implications of taking Penix so early pulled down their overall grade.

USA Today - Grade: D

They did the expected by reinforcing the defense with a highly talented but not all that productive front seven player (Ruke Orhorhoro, Round 2) — when they could have had Newton — and a highly productive but not physically remarkable front seven player (Bralen Trice, Round 3). But, naturally, their draft will forever be regarded and defined by the shocking decision to select Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. with the No. 8 selection.

There's no legit argument against opting for quality depth under center given the annual league-wide attrition at the position — Cousins a prime example of the issue in 2023. But this is a highly suspect way to resource it after signing him to a four-year, $180 million deal last month, when he said he looked forward to retiring in Atlanta. And that also cuts to the handling of the matter — if the Falcons' brain trust knew they wanted Penix, there was little chance they wouldn't get him at No. 8 ... which suggests the right thing to do would have been to share the plan with Cousins much earlier than when the team went on the clock Thursday. Maybe this team has set up a seamless succession plan between an established passer and a highly compelling prospect. And maybe the well has been poisoned, and a team that should have been totally focused on loading up around Cousins made a royal miscalculation.

Fox Sports - Grade: C-

Taking quarterback Michael Penix Jr. at No. 8 — after giving Kirk Cousins $100 million guaranteed last month — was easily the most criticized pick of the draft. Giving up a third-round pick to slide up eight spots for DT Ruke Orhorhoro in the second round felt like a reach, though Atlanta made a concerted push to upgrade its defensive front, using five of eight picks there. If Penix finds success in the next two years, it's at the expense of a huge investment in Cousins, and the class as a whole feels underwhelming. —Greg Auman

CBS Sports - Grade: C-

Best Pick: Fourth-round defensive tackle Brandon Dorlus from Oregon has a chance to be an early rotation player. He's not huge at 6-3, 295, but he can push the pocket. He will be a steal in the Grady Jarrett mold.

Worst Pick: It's not that taking Michael Penix Jr. with the eighth overall pick was a bad move, but rather signing Kirk Cousins and then taking him was the bad move. If you liked him so much, don't sign Cousins.

The Skinny: This draft will be all about how the Falcons play out the Cousins-Penix dynamic. They had a chance to get a much-needed edge rusher if they didn't take Penix. Trading up to get defensive tackle Ruke Orhorhoro in the second round was questionable as well. They did add some good players in third-round edge Bralen Trice and Dorlus.

Sporting News - Grade: C-

Analysis: GM Terry Fontenot got plenty of heat from every direction for taking Penix in the top 10 after the team committed big money to Kirk Cousins. Penix's big arm is a good fit in the new passing offense, but the Falcons left a lot of elite, impact talent on the board as part of the opportunity cost. Not surprisingly, they chased that misstep by going defense-heavy for new coach Raheem Morris. McClellan and Washington were real offensive reaches on Day 3.

SI - Grade: A

Analysis: Call me crazy, but I'm a huge fan of the Penix pick. The quarterback landscape could be great in two years. It could be barren. But if the Falcons are truly building toward the future, why not make the inevitable transition easy. I think there's a lot of pro-Kirk Cousins sentiment out there, but Cousins will be 36 in August and is coming off an Achilles injury. He has also never reached a conference title game, so it was time to explore all options.

Touchdown Wire - Grade: D

Well. There's really no way to excuse the pick of Michael Penix Jr. this high with Kirk Cousins having signed a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million guaranteed in March, and with all the needs on defense here. We don't have enough space here to detail the ways in which the Falcons blew this pick, but it is what it is. Way to potentially erase the first 2-3 years of Penix's NFL career, guys.

As if that wasn't YOLO enough, the Falcons traded UP to select Ruke Orhorhoro, a pretty good defensive lineman, with Illinois' Johnny Newton and a whole lot of other defensive talent still on the board. I do like the addition of Washington Bralen Trice here — he's a highly productive edge-rusher with some upside. And Brandon Dorlus was one of my favorite multi-gap pass-rushers. The sleeper here is Illinois receiver Casey Washington, a big-framed target with some unlocked ability as a deep receiver.

The grade is all about those first two picks, and the Falcons getting cute in a draft that could have made them contenders.

More: 2024 NFL Draft Grade Roundups