5 players on the Falcons’ radar for the NFL draft

The draft begins Thursday with the Falcons holding the eighth overall pick

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons are going into the NFL draft knowing that any penalties that might come from the league’s review of tampering allegations won’t affect this year’s draft.

An NFL spokesman said Tuesday that the matter involving the free-agent signing of quarterback Kirk Cousins will “not conclude this week.”

“With the draft approaching on Thursday, we just had our final pre-draft meeting,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Monday before the Matt Ryan news conference.

The Falcons currently hold the eighth overall pick in the draft, which is set for Thursday through Saturday in Detroit.

“We’ve obviously finished up our meetings,” Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said Tuesday. “We’ve had the medical (meeting). We finished up with the scouts. Sent the scouts home at the end of last week.

“We still have another security meeting coming up. There are still boxes to check. We feel great about where we are. It goes down to the wire. The hay is not in the barn until we turn that card in.”

Here are five players on the Falcons’ draft radar at No. 8:

Dallas Turner, OLB, Alabama, 6-foot-3, 242 pounds: He’s considered the best pass-rushing prospect in the draft and a natural fit for the 3-4 defense that coach Raheem Morris and defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake are implementing.

Turner, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, played three seasons for the Crimson Tide. He finished his career with 22.5 sacks and had 15 tackles for losses last season.

Turner has an overall 6.71 grade by NFL.com, which projects him as a Year One starter. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds and 4.46 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine, which was faster than former Alabama running back Derrick Henry, who ran a 4.54 at the 2016 combine.

Turner also had a 40.5-inch vertical jump.

At the combine, Turner was in heavy demand. He met with 12 teams on the first night, including the Falcons.

Some scouts have questioned Turner’s toughness when comparing him with former Alabama standout Will Anderson. They point to Turner’s lower sack production, as Anderson had 34.5 sacks over his three seasons in Tuscaloosa.

Laitu Latu, DE, UCLA, 6-5, 265: He’s considered the most technically sound pass rusher in the draft because he knows how to use his hands when battling offensive linemen.

Latu’s medical report will be key, but the Falcons have some inside information on him.

Lake was the head coach at Washington and announced Latu’s medical retirement before the start of the 2021 spring practice. The school’s doctors wouldn’t clear him because of a neck injury.

He was cleared by the doctors at UCLA in 2022. He had 10.5 sacks in 2022 and 13 sacks in 2023. A native of Sacramento, California, Latu became the first winner of both the Lombardi Award and the Ted Hendricks Award.

The Falcons met with Latu at the scouting combine.

Latu sustained a neck injury during practice and missed Washington’s four-game COVID-19 season in 2020. He had cervical neck-fusion surgery. After Latu met with five specialists, it was determined that it was no longer safe for him to play football because of the potential for paralysis.

Dr. Robert Watkins, a noted back and neck surgeon, cleared Latu to play after a battery of tests. Washington still wouldn’t clear him, and he transferred to UCLA in January 2022.

“You have the experts going through that process,” Fontenot said about the team’s medical evaluations. “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 make up in terms of this is the medical grade…t’s truly risk-assessment and a weighing process. "

Jared Verse, DE, Florida State, 6-4, 260: Started his career at Albany, an FCS school where he played three seasons. He continued to dominate at a higher level after transferring to Florida State.

He’s also considered a dynamic pass rusher who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds at the scouting combine. He lifted 225 pounds, 31 times.

He had 10.5 sacks at Albany in 2021. He had 18 in 25 games (22 starts) with Florida State.

Byron Murphy II, DT, Texas, 6-1, 308: He’s the hot name as the draft approaches who’s climbing a lot of team’s draft boards.

Murphy was the Big 12 defensive lineman of the year. He lifted 225 pounds 28 times at the NFL combine.

There are only about seven or eight top rated defensive tackles in the draft, while the edge rusher pool is deeper.

Teams have placed more a premium on collapsing offensive lines from the interior.

“Even though everybody is kind of looking at the sack issue that they’ve had and them needing an edge rusher, I wouldn’t just totally rule out Murphy there as somebody that they could be at least interested in,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said.

In interviews with eight scouts, the names of Aaron Donald (6-foot-1, 286 pounds, 4.66 seconds in 40-yard dash), Grady Jarrett (6-0.5, 301, 5.08), Ed Oliver (6-2, 284, 4.73) and Justin Madubuike (6-2.5, 293, 4.85) were presented as comparable players with Murphy, according to longtime NFL writer Bob McGinn’s draft series on golongtd.com.

Michael Penix Jr., QB, Washington, 6-3, 212: The Falcons sent a sizable entourage, including general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Raheem Morris, to Seattle to hold a private workout with Penix.

The Falcons made a similar trip to Austin, Texas, before selecting running back Bijan Robinson with the eighth overall pick last season.

John Nagy, the executive director of the Senior Bowl, noted that the Falcons have been doing a lot of work on Penix.

The Falcons signed veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins to a four-year contract worth up to $180 million. Cousins is coming off Achilles surgery and is set to turn 36 before the season starts.

Penix, 23, would serve at least a couple of years under Cousins before taking over in a transition.

Penix started his career at Indiana before transferring to Washington. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting last season and eighth in 2022.

Penix passed for 13,741 yards, 96 touchdowns and 34 interceptions over his college career. He completed 63.6% of his passes and had a career passing rating of 146.6.

The private workout was a follow visit for the Falcons, who met with Penix at the scouting combine.

Penix guided the Huskies to the College Football Playoff last season, as he had 36 touchdown passes. Like Cousins, he’s more of a pocket passer.

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