Falcons’ UDFA Class Boasts ‘Unmatched Quality’: Analyst

Javian Hawkins

Andy Lyons/Getty Images Javian Hawkins of the Louisville Cardinals runs with the ball against the Virginia Cavaliers on October 26, 2019.

Thor Nystrom of NBC Sports Edge loves the group of 20 undrafted free agents signed by the Atlanta Falcons.

“The Falcons had the NFL’s No. 1 UDFA class this year,” he says, introducing his recent ranking of all NFC teams. “Atlanta not only finished No. 1 in my metrics for most overall talent acquired, but the Falcons’ haul boasted unmatched quality at the top. The fact that Atlanta directly addressed post-draft positional needs with draftable-grade UDFAs who can make the 2021 roster makes this crop all the more alluring,” he notes.

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Javian Hawkins is ‘the most talented back on Atlanta’s roster’

One of the main reasons why Nystrom loves the Falcons’ undrafted free agent group is running back Javian Hawkins, a two-year starter at Louisville who he calls “the most talented back on Atlanta’s roster,” In fact, he believes Hawkins—5-foot-9 and 183 pounds—could eclipse unrestricted free agent acquisition Mike Davis as Atlanta’s RB1 as early as the start of the regular-season, noting that he combined “quicks, an okey-doke spin move and legit long-speed to pile up a catalogue of explosive runs” in college. Nystrom is even more impressed that the Falcons got him for just $35,000 in guaranteed money, “No. 42 in the UDFA class,” according to the analyst.

Feleipe Franks is ‘the best undrafted QB’

But Nystrom also really likes quarterback Feleipe Franks, calling him “the best undrafted QB,” and better than drafted quarterbacks like Ian Book (New Orleans Saints) and Sam Ehlinger (Indianapolis Colts).

“Franks struggled mightily with accuracy earlier in his career at Florida but had an eye-opening 2020 season after transferring from Florida to Arkansas,” he notes, which helps explain why Tom Pelissero of NFL Network recently referred to Franks as an “intriguing project,” one who is “very talented and very raw.”

Indeed Franks—6-foot-6 and 244 pounds—had a 58.4% completion rate and produced 7.6 YPA in 2018 while throwing to the likes of Kyle Pitts and fellow 2021 first-rounder Kadarius Toney (New York Giants). But he improved to a 70.2 percent competition rate and 9.1 YPA after leaving Florida.

“This is not progress to scoff at, considering his arm strength, and his toughness, power, and athleticism in an enormous package as a runner,” notes the analyst.

Linebacker Erroll Thompson

Nystrom goes on to single out one other prospect by name, that being linebacker Erroll Thompson (Mississippi State), who he believes will make Atlanta’s Week 1 roster.

“He’s a tough, smart player who will star on special teams early. And I’d be surprised if the Falcons didn’t find one or two other players outside my top-three who will end up breaking camp with the team,” he concludes, before noting that the Falcons have “one of my three favorite UDFA classes of the past three years. And it might be my favorite of them all.”

The Rest of the NFC South

As for the other teams in Atlanta’s division … Nystrom ranks the New Orleans Saints as having the fifth-best UDFA class in the NFC, with the Carolina Panthers at No. 7 in the conference. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Super Bowl title-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers are near the bottom of the rankings, arguably a less than enticing destination for undrafted players, as there are few holes on the team’s roster.

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