One bold prediction for each rookie

NFL teams don’t go into the draft expecting to find an All-Pro with every pick. For the most part, they just want to find players who can contribute or fill a specific role.

The Atlanta Falcons came away from the 2022 draft with eight prospects, and you could make a case that most of them will see the field this season. Here’s one bold prediction for each member of Atlanta’s 2022 draft class.

Drake London will lead all rookies in receiving yards

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

This year’s draft was loaded with wide receivers but the Falcons took the first one off the board by selecting USC’s Drake London eighth overall. Atlanta has completely revamped its wide receiver corps and London is the new face of the position. While the Falcons traded for Bryan Edwards and signed a handful of free agents, London will likely serve as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver. This gives him a leg up on Chris Olave, Jahan Dotson and some of the other rookies. London should flirt with a 1,000-yard season if he stays healthy.

Arnold Ebiketie will lead team in sacks

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Ebiketie’s upside is what convinced the Falcons to trade up into the second round to acquire him. The Penn State standout may already be the best edge rusher on the roster, even if he’s a little raw. Atlanta let Dante Fowler and Steven Means go, and signed Lorenzo Carter in free agency. Carter had five sacks last season and his career-high was six sacks in 2019. Plus, Ebiketie is more of a natural pass-rusher than second-year LB Ade Ogundeji. I think he ends up in that 8-9 sack range as a rookie.

Troy Andersen will lead all Falcons rookies in tackles

(AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Andersen is entering a bit of a logjam at inside linebacker, but his versatility should help him get on the field this season. While I do expect Rashaan Evans and Mykal Walker to start, Andersen will definitely be in the mix. Even if he starts out in a situational role on defense, Andersen’s ability to play multiple spots combined with his special teams contributions will result in him leading all Falcons rookies in tackles this season.

Desmond Ridder will score 5 touchdowns

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Marcus Mariota will almost certainly open the season as the team’s starting quarterback but Ridder could still get on the field. Arthur Smith was willing to replace Matt Ryan with Feleipe Franks at times last season, so surely there will be a package for Ridder on offense. Unless the Falcons are a surprise playoff team, there should be ample opportunity for Ridder to get his feet wet this season. Rookie prediction: five touchdowns.

DeAngelo Malone will record at least 5 sacks

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Malone is a sneaky good pass-rusher who can contribute right away and potentially start down the line. Atlanta drafted Ebiketie in round two, and despite my prediction that he will lead the team in sacks, Malone finished his college career with 180 career pressures. I’m betting the Western Kentucky product finishes his rookie campaign with at least five sacks.

Tyler Allgeier will lead team in rushing TDs

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Allgeier is joining a crowded but slightly long-in-the-tooth running back room in Atlanta. Cordarrelle Patterson was a revelation last season, but with Mike Davis out of the picture, the team needs a quality No. 2 back capable of getting tough yards. Allgeier can do that and more. He finished the 2021 season with 23 touchdowns – tied for most in the FBS. I think Allgeier will lead the Falcons in rushing touchdowns in 2022.

Justin Shaffer will make 53-man roster, serve as backup guard

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This isn’t exactly a bold prediction, but not every sixth-round pick makes the roster. Shaffer is a good long-term project for Arthur Smith. While I doubt he seriously competes for a starting job this season, I think Shaffer is a lock to make the final 53 and will serve as the team’s primary backup guard.

John FitzPatrick will make the team as tight end No. 3

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FitzPatrick was one of two Georgia players selected by Atlanta in the sixth round. While he’s not exactly Kyle Pitts as a receiver, the former Bulldog can effectively replace recently retired veteran Lee Smith as the team’s No. 3 tight end this season. FitzPatrick can do a little bit of everything, while filling a need.

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