Falcons had plans to get back into Round 1 after Michael Penix Jr. selection

The Atlanta Falcons had plans to move back into the first round to get one of the top defensive players in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Atlanta Falcons Introduce Raheem Morris as Head Coach
Atlanta Falcons Introduce Raheem Morris as Head Coach / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

The Atlanta Falcons confused the NFL world on Thursday night during the first round of the 2024 draft. Holding the eighth overall pick, the Falcons opted against going for one of the top defenders available or even wide receiver Rome Odunze. Instead, they drafted Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr.

This is nothing against Penix whatsoever, as he has tremendous arm talent. It's more his fit on the Falcons, who just signed Kirk Cousins to a massive contract this offseason. That deal runs for four years at $180 million, with $100 million being guaranteed. Add that with Penix turning 24 years old entering his rookie season. It was an odd fit.

While some Falcons fans may not have been pleased with the use of the eighth overall pick, it turns out that the team had other plans after the selection.

NFL Network's Steve Wyche relayed that Falcons head coach Raheem Morris told him they took Penix at No. 8 because they heard teams were going to jump up into the top 10 to take him. Wyche says the other player they were targeting with the eighth overall pick was UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu. Wyche followed that up by saying that the Falcons tried to trade that back up into the middle of the first round to get Latu, but nothing panned out.

"They decided not to take him there, but they tried to trade up into the teens to get Latu after this was done, and the Colts took him at 15. So that trade prospect, they couldn't get up that high, but that was a player they wanted to get. That was their top-rated defensive player that they wanted, also the first defensive player taken in the draft, but they tried to get back up, but the Colts beat them to the punch," said Wyche.

Falcons tried to trade back into first round to draft Laiatu Latu, but got beaten by the Colts

The Falcons at least tried to land two top prospects on both sides of the line of scrimmage. But it was all for naught, as the Colts valued Latu high enough to take him with the 15th overall pick.

As for the interest in Penix from teams looking to trade up, NFL journalist James Palmer reported that the Las Vegas Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, and New Orleans Saints were all looking to make that move. As Wyche says, Morris got word of interested teams, and the Falcons decided to take Penix at the No. 8 spot.

Latu was one of the top defensive prospects on the board, despite injury concerns. After suffering a neck injury back in 2020 at Washington, the program forced him into medical retirement. Latu would transfer to UCLA in 2022 after getting medically cleared, and he thrived playing for the Bruins.

This past season, Latu recorded 49 total tackles (28 solo, 21 assisted), 21.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, two passes defended, and two forced fumbles in 12 games played. Overall in his two seasons at UCLA, Latu posted 85 total tackles, 34 tackles for loss, and 23.5 sacks.

Not only were the Colts comfortable with Latu's medical history, so were the Falcons, as evidenced by their desire to trade back into the first round to try and get him to fix their pass rush. Their efforts, however, were all for naught.

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