Falcons looking for the right ‘culture’ and ‘makeup’ in the 2023 draft

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons GM Terry Fontenot, coach Arthur Smith on the NFL Draft.

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons’ new regime, which is at a key juncture in the rebuilding process, has stressed making sure that the players they sign and draft have the correct “makeup” and “character.”

The Falcons believe they can add some of those players in the NFL draft, which runs Thursday through Saturday in Kansas City, Missouri.

“There are some good young men in this draft,” Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said. “Really good. Obviously, that is real important to us. When you look at the players that we’ve signed thus far, there are a lot of really good men that we’ve added.”

Defensive end Calais Campbell is a former Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner (2019), which is considered one of the league’s more prestigious honors and recognizes the NFL player that best demonstrates outstanding community service and excellence on the field.

“They have really strong character, a really strong foundation and a really strong culture,” Fontenot said. “We believe we added to this (area) this offseason. We want to continue to add to it in the draft. There are a lot of really good options in this draft, from top to bottom. Some really good men.”

The Falcons mean business. Two players, who ran into trouble with law enforcement officials, were released immediately by the team.

Barkevious Mingo, an offseason signee in 2021, was released after an arrest on child-indecency charges. Wide receiver Cameron Batson, who was on the practice squad, was released after a police chase and a brawl last season.

No one can predict future behavior, but the Falcons will continue to value high standards. They believe several players in the draft meet their requirements.

“It should be exciting, and we won’t get to coach them all, but there some very impressive people that we’ve talked to,” coach Arthur Smith said. “Talk about the future and the health of our sport, it’s inspiring.”

There’s no such thing as the perfect prospect.

“You want to be cynical now, people can complain about the rule, this has changed,” Smith said. “You don’t get to do five-a-days like you used to. You look around, and the league is in a good spot with the type of character of the players coming in this league. Very, very impressive.”

The Falcons look at several factors before making their conclusions.

“You look at the body of work,” Smith said. “Sometimes, Terry and I, in those short meetings, we’re going to get, usually – I’ve seen people eliminate themselves – but more times than not, the people who are talking to us, we are getting their best foot forward.”

That’s why the Falcons value the information that their scouts gather from sources at a players’ school or from other staffers that the players have had interactions with.

“You are just taking everything as it comes and goes and try to make the best decision for us,” Smith said. “We understand that, too. It’s just human nature. We want to know who that person is.”

The Falcons know that there still could be issues with players.

“There is no perfect system; there is no perfect test,” Smith said. “That’s why it’s really impressive the work that our scouts do and how they collaborate with everybody in our building. I think every interaction matters.”

Two players in the draft have issues that could impact the Falcons.

Former Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter has had legal issues, a subpar workout and work-ethic concerns. Former Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud allegedly has low cognitive testing scores.

Both were considered the top player in the draft at some point this offseason, but now could be available when the Falcons pick with the eighth overall pick.

How much weight to put on cognitive testing varies around the league.

“Those things have been around forever,” Fontenot said. “There are a lot of different tests. There are so many different ones. When you really look through it, it’s never one thing.”

He compared the different tests with the 40-yard-dash metric that is used to measure athletic abilities of players.

“(If there was) one test, one metric that we can say, this is going to be key to success or determining success, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now or we wouldn’t have a whole personnel department and all of these resources invested in trying to find the right players,” Fontenot said. “There are so many variables. There is a total picture.”

Danny Leskin, the Falcons’ senior coordinator of football analytics, helps to gather the data on the players.

“There is a lot of different information, and we take all of the information,” Fontenot said. “We look at what’s correlating to success. But there are so many elements as opposed to one number to determine a player’s success.”

Smith compared the information with the SAT and ACT used for college admissions testing.

“You are looking at people’s resumes, and some people don’t go higher than 4.0 (GPA),” Smith said. “I don’t know how you get a 4.5 GPA, but I guess they exist. You take it all with a grain of salt. You are trying to have some comparative data with standardized tests. Those have evolved. You are just trying to take it all in.”

Cognitive testing has its critics from several sectors, including those who deem them as racially discriminatory.

“There is no perfect test,” Smith said. “If you get a perfect score on the SAT and you’re a D student, do you let him in?”

Fontenot said, “Not at Tulane. Maybe North Carolina.”

Fontenot went to Tulane and Smith to North Carolina.

“Maybe, but that’s the best analogy that I can give you,” Smith said. “Can’t fault anybody. They’re (cognitive testers) trying to create a business for themselves. There’s a lot of stuff going on this time of year, rumors and whatnot.”

AJC’S 2023 POSITION-BY-POSITION DRAFT SERIES

WIDE RECEIVERSPast few drafts have spoiled NFL teams looking for wide receivers | Top 10 WRs

RUNNING BACKSRunning backs Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs may have to wait to hear their names called | Top 10 RBs

TIGHT ENDS Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer heads a dee TE class | Top 10 TEs

QUARTERBACKSBryce Young’s small stature no longer an issue in the NFL | Top 10 QBs

OFFENSIVE LINESkoronski’s short arm length being scrutinized for left tackle | Top 5 C,G, &OTs

DEFENSIVE LINE Is Jalen Carter the real deal or a potential bust? | Top 5 DTs, DEs

LINEBACKERSDutchtown’s Will Anderson expected to go in the top 5 of NFL draft | Top LBs

CORNERBACKSFormer Georgia standout Kelee Ringo one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL draft | Top CBs

SAFETIES Alabama’s Brian Branch, Jordan Battle are top safeties in the NFL draft | Top FS/SS

SPECIAL TEAMSMichigan’s Jake Moody hopes to kick way to NFL draft | Top STs

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