Cover 9@9: Falcons’ Fontenot on the draft: ‘It’s really best player available for us’

He wouldn’t rule out a pass-catcher or a quarterback with the eighth overall pick

The no-spin zone: We’re going to skip the nine items this week and give you what Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot had to say about some of the team’s key issues heading into the draft, which is set for Thursday through Saturday in Detroit.

Minicamp update: The Falcons started the first voluntary offseason minicamp Monday and it is scheduled to be completed Wednesday.

Teams with new coaches get an extra minicamp.

“We just had our first minicamp practice as we are in the voluntary portion of phase three,” Fontenot said. “Man, it’s fun to get the guys out there on the grass. You do all of the work, but yet to see them out there, really moving, see where your team is, that’s fun.”

On bypassing the rookie QB market in favor of getting a veteran free agent: “It’s different if we are at (No.) 1 or 2, but when you’re at 8, there are too many variables in front of you. So, you can’t guarantee anything. You just don’t know. If quarterbacks go 1, 2, 3 (and) 4, it’s not going to surprise any of us. Right, being at that point and not knowing that, it’s different if you’re more in the top five or higher regarding your pick. There was a known commodity that we had an opportunity to sign. It doesn’t keep you away from signing quarterbacks. Look, whether if it’s in the first round or the seventh round, after the draft, a trade ... it doesn’t take you away from doing more at the quarterback position. Yes ... having that opportunity to sign a known commodity with the right makeup ... we really covet here because who knows what is going to be there in the draft.”

On what if the best player available at No. 8 is a pass catcher: “So, when we talk about best player available, it’s really best player available for us. I think sometimes when people hear best player available they are looking at some of the experts’ list. Each (year) you have 32 different draft boards (among NFL teams). They are probably a little more similar in the top 10 … but they can get very different as you go through the draft. But you truly have 32 different draft boards. When you talk about the best player available, you really are talking about the best player available for us. The key is not reaching for needs. In most cases, you’re going to have … you’ve got the different categories. The impact players. The elite players. You have the solid starters. Functional starters. The role players. The developmental ... you have all of these categories. In most cases, you’re going to have more than one position in that category. So, now you look at it (and say) these are the players that we have in this category. Let’s go with the position of need or the more premier position. You can choose. What you don’t want to do, as if you have a couple of players in this category and you have more of a need ... as opposed to taking an impact player, you’re taking a functional starter. That’s the key with that.”

On the play of the offensive line, in terms of pass blocking specifically: “It’s a very strong offensive line. Top to bottom. There are some good offensive linemen in this draft. I would say that we feel very good about our offensive line. They’ve all been out there (at minicamp) the entire time. We feel good about our line and yet, to your point, you always look to ... we always want to bring in competition at every single position. We never want to get comfortable. Even though we like our offensive line ... you don’t know how you are thinking big picture. Again, the players you draft are going to be here for the next four to five years. Whether if you are taking developmental players or players to come in and compete right now. With all of those factors, you definitely want to continue to add there. We’re excited about this offensive line. We’re excited about this draft class of offensive linemen, Yes, we could definitely take linemen at some point.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot shares a little insight on the franchise's preparation for the 2024 NFL draft, which begins Thursday.

Medical update on Kirk Cousins: “When you are going through those … much like when we had our medical meeting on the college prospects. There is always … you have this grading system that you go through. Each player gets a medical grade. We lean on the experts … (with) regards to the medical grades that we get. But the other factor in that, is the makeup of the player. If we have a college player with this medical grade and another player with this medical grade. But then we’ve got this obsessive worker with a high makeup and high football character that we know is going to get the most (out) of (rehab). Then you have a guy over here that’s a little lazier. Not a self-starter ... the makeup of Kirk, we know that he’s going to take advantage of anything he could do to get himself ready to go and in peak condition. He’s going to do that, so that’s where you got that comfort from.”

On paying Cousins a big salary: “Every player you sign is going to adjust how you do business in other areas. It’s always been our goal to add good players. Add good football players at every level and continue to develop them. You’re never just going to be a prisoner of the moment. You are always going to think big picture. It would change the way we approach this draft.”

Character counts: Fontenot said it’s best to review a player’s character reports before watching him play on film.

“That’s why you read the character before you start watching the tape, because if you watch the tape first and then read the character, you start making excuses,” Fontenot said. “It’s a little hard to go through it.”

On the importance of the medical reports: “You have the experts going through that process. We get cross-checks. We spend a lot of time on that. Then we listen to the experts. Again, it’s all risk assessment. You have to look also at that player and that player’s makeup in terms of this is the medical grade. It’s truly risk assessment and a weighing process. "

On the edge rushers and pressure players: “You have some good pass rushers, not just at outside linebacker. There are defensive ends. Defensive tackles. There are some good pass rushers in this draft. There are different types. You have the guys that win with power. The guys that win more with speed. You have the well-rounded players. The versatile players that you can move around. It’s a premier position ... if you have a pressure player, it’s premier. No different than a corner. Those are premier positions. If at any point, if you can get them, it doesn’t matter what you have in your building, if you can get them, you definitely want to get them. There are some good ones in this draft.”

On veteran defensive end Calais Campbell: “No update at this point, but we’ll never close any doors. We’ll get through the draft and once we get through the draft, we always go through the players that are available ... it’s a 24/7, 365 process to roster-building. We’re never stopping. The roster is never set. We won’t close any doors.”


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