Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot ready to make final draft push

Falcons coach Raheem Morris and general manager Terry Fontenot share a laugh while responding to a question Monday, Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, during Morris' introductory press conference. (Jason Getz/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Falcons coach Raheem Morris and general manager Terry Fontenot share a laugh while responding to a question Monday, Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, during Morris' introductory press conference. (Jason Getz/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

ORLANDO — With less than a month left before the Falcons are on the clock, the front office plans to lock in and polish their NFL draft preparation plan.

The Falcons are set to pick eighth overall in the draft, which is set for April 25-27 in Detroit.

“So yeah, we are full tilt right now,” Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said. “We have Pro Days going on right now. We’re at those. We do private workouts. We spend time with those. Obviously, we have locals workout, which is so critical.

“That’s always a fun time because we talked about all the prospects that we have in Georgia and in this area. So, getting to see those guys at that day is always critical.”

The Falcons also hold the 11th pick in the second round (43rd overall) and the 10th (74th) and the 15th in the third round (79th).

The Falcons also hold picks in the fourth (108th overall) and fifth (142nd) rounds and two in the sixth round (186th and 196th), the latter acquired from Cleveland in the Deion Jones trade in 2022.

The Falcons do not have a pick in the seventh round.

During the Pro Day workouts, private workouts and in-person interviews, the Falcons will look to confirm the information from their scouts. But at this point in the process, they know who can play football and which players fit their schemes.

The Falcons are trying to determine if the players fit into their team culture and address any behavioral red flags.

“We’ll get in the room with the coaches in another week and start those April meetings,” Fontenot said. “We’ll really start grinding through those, and that’s a very thorough, detailed process.”

The Falcons are setting up their 30 visits with players.

“We take advantage of every one of those exposures (because they are) so critical,” Fontenot said. “Making sure we got the film. Make sure we know what we’re bringing in this building. Once, we touched down in Atlanta, we’re going to go dark, get into this tank and get ready for this draft.”

Fontenot will lean on assistant general manager Kyle Smith to help him power through the final month.

The Falcons also will get information from first-year coach Raheem Morris. They are particularly interested in the Rams’ 2023 draft, in which they added three players in linebacker Byron Young (third round, Tennessee), defensive tackle Kobie Turner (third, Wake Forest) and wide receiver Puka Nucua (fifth, BYU) who went on to make the PFWA’s all-rookie team.

While most mock drafts have the Falcons selecting Alabama edge rusher Dallas Turner, they believe there is depth in the draft at edge rusher and most other positions.

“Raheem (and general manager Les Snead) showed that with players (they were) able to draft in L.A.” Fontenot said. “They had a lot of success. We have a lot of confidence in our scouting staff. So, we’re going to add in those areas, and we’re going to make sure we get the most of those players.”

The Rams had 14 picks in the draft last season. Young had eight sacks and Turner finished with nine while playing with future Hall of Famer Aaron Donald, who retired this offseason.

The Falcons hope to put more talent around defensive tackles Grady Jarrett and David Onyemata. Defensive end Calais Campbell and outside linebacker Bud Dupree, who tied for the team lead in sacks with 6.5, have not been re-signed as free agents.

“You’ve got depth in all areas of the draft,” Morris said. “You can get players (who) can go out there and play. I think I learn that last year with the Rams with our ability to find what we found on the (defensive) line. In our ability to find B.Y. We found Kobie Turner and some of those guys who could rush the passer.”

The Falcons will look to add talent throughout the draft.

“You have first-round talent,” Morris said. “You’ve got second- and-third round talent. You have last-day-of-the-draft talent. That provides you a lot of hope that you’re going to be able to add to your football team in some of the areas of need that you have.”

Most projections of the first round are setting up where the Falcons could have the pick of one of the top defensive players in the draft, which would include Turner, Florida State’s Jared Verse and UCLA’s Laiatu Lata. Improving the team’s pass rush has been a long-standing project.

“I think the edge rushers are well known and well documented about what they can do,” Morris said. “It’s about how they would fit with us and some of the stuff they can do with us to be a part of our football team. I’m really excited with the opportunity to add some of those people at some point in the draft.”

The Falcons plan to stick to their “best player available” philosophy.

“I’m always talking about (Baltimore executive) Ozzie (Newsome),” Fontenot said. “I’ve always respected him so much. When you look back at the history of his drafts and the things he did. With not worrying about reaching for needs and just improving that football team. We’re going to make sure we get an impact player.”

Before signing Kirk Cousins in free agency, the Falcons studied the top quarterbacks in the draft. USC’s Caleb Williams, LSU’s Jayden Daniels and North Carolina’s Drake Maye likely all will be taken before the Falcons select. Also, Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy could be selected.

The second tier of quarterbacks would not be the best player available at the eighth spot. With Cousins set to turn 36 before the season, the Falcons likely will land a developmental quarterback at some point in the draft.

“We’re definitely going to add a quarterback, right?” Fontenot said. “We’re not going to go into the season with two arms. But it could be the draft. It could be before or after the draft. We’ll be open-minded about how we go through that.”

The Falcons tried to sign defensive end Danielle Hunter in free agency, but he signed with Houston.

“It’s a premier position,” Fontenot said. “So, I would say any offseason, that’s going to be a priority right because … just like the most important thing on offense is the quarterback right, the quarterback’s play. On defense it’s, can you get the quarterback on the ground?”

The Falcons ranked 19th in the league with a sack on 7.65% of their attempts and tied for 19th (42 sacks) in sacks. Baltimore led the league with 60.

“So, it is a premier position,” said Fontenot, who is adamant about not “reaching” for players.

“We just have to make sure that we’re bringing in dynamic players, dynamic impact players and not reaching for needs,” Fontenot said. “You have to have to make sure that we’re doing that, but I have a lot of confidence that we will.”

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