The Atlanta Falcons had a strange 2022 season that saw them actually emerge as a contender in the NFC South for a point in time. While that was largely due to the NFC South being the weakest division in the NFL, that shows that the Falcons aren’t necessarily as far behind the pack in their division as initially expected.

The Falcons found a successful game plan on offense, relying on a strong rushing attack to power them through games. Their passing attack and defense certainly need help, but Atlanta has something they can build around over the next few seasons when it comes to their strong ground game.

Atlanta finished with a 7-10 record, which earned them the eighth overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. There are several different avenues the Falcons could take when it comes with this pick, and with the offseason beginning for all but four teams, mock drafts have already begun to roll in. With Mel Kiper of ESPN releasing his first mock draft, let’s take a look at who he believes the Falcons will take and see whether or not this is a pick we agree with.

Mel Kiper’s Falcons prediction: Myles Murphy, DE Clemson

The Falcons could try to address their quarterback position in the draft this offseason after Marcus Mariota didn’t pan out, but Kiper has them selecting Myles Murphy, a defensive end from Clemson, in an effort to shore up their woeful front seven on defense. And it’s a move that not many Falcons fans can really complain about.

Murphy was a stud during his three seasons with Clemson, racking up at least four sacks each season. Murphy was solid again in 2022 (40 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 11 TFL, 2 PD, 1 FF) after a breakout 2021 campaign, and solidified his status as one of the top defensive lineman in this draft class. After three productive campaigns with Clemson, it’s not hard to see why.

The Falcons have holes all over their defense, but their pass rush was abysmal in 2022. They had just 21 sacks on the season, with only the Chicago Bears having fewer sacks than them. Grady Jarrett led the way with six sacks, and while he remains a solid pass rusher, he hasn’t been getting much help alongside him.

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Enter Murphy, who would be a day one starter for Atlanta on the d-line alongside Jarrett. Murphy’s sack numbers at Clemson admittedly weren’t totally elite, but it’s tough to find a prospect on the d-line that can do more than Murphy. He has traits that could allow him to rack ten sacks a season over the course of a full 17-game season, which instantly makes him a guy worth keeping an eye on.

Murphy also is a fantastic run defender, which is a big part of the reason he finds himself being a top-ten pick in Kiper’s first mock draft. Murphy had at least 10.5 tackles for a loss in each season with Clemson, which again shows not just his consistency, but his ability to make any play become a big play. Not every great pass rusher is a great run defender, but Murphy appears likely to be one of those unique players.

Three-down linemen are not in high supply in the NFL nowadays, but Murphy appears to be just that, and he can be a building block for a Falcons defense that desperately needs an influx of talent this offseason. Jarrett is under contract with Atlanta for at least one more season, meaning he and Murphy could quickly become one of the better pass-rushing duos in the league.

There’s a chance the Falcons could take a closer look at the quarterbacks available, especially after Desmond Ridder’s inconsistent stint as the team’s starter. He admittedly didn’t have many options to work with, but Ridder certainly didn’t light things up like Brock Purdy did when he was thrown into the fire with the San Francisco 49ers. He could have a future in the league, but there’s no guarantee he will be Atlanta’s starting quarterback next season.

Given the holes on their roster, it’s tough to get totally picky with who the Falcons end up drafting, but it seems pretty clear that adding Murphy would allow them to fill one of the biggest areas of need on their roster if it isn’t the biggest hole on their roster outright. Atlanta had no pass-rush to speak of last season, and Murphy looks like he has the potential to become one of the top defensive-linemen in the league.

There are other ways Atlanta could go here, but it’s tough to argue with Kiper’s reasoning here, and it seems like Murphy and the Falcons would be a logical pairing when the eighth overall pick comes up in the 2023 NFL Draft.