Five players on the Falcons’ draft radar

The Falcons are closely monitoring the quarterback market for the upcoming draft - and not because they are in the market for a signal-caller.

With the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft, the Falcons will take their decision-making right down to the wire. The draft is Thursday through Saturday in Kansas City, Mo.

Who the Falcons select, will depend on when the top quarterbacks are selected. While Alabama’s Bryce Young may be headed to Panthers with the top pick, there is doubt around where Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson will go. If they go before eight, an excellent position player will get pushed down the Falcons.

Here are five players on their draft radar in the first-round:

Tyree Wilson, DE, Texas Tech: He is 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds and is considered the second best edge rusher in the draft behind Alabama’s Will Anderson, who’s projected to go to the Texans with the second overall pick.

Wilson underwent foot surgery on Nov. 12, but said he’s close to 100% recovered. He had a screw placed in his foot.

He started his career at Texas A&M before transferring after his freshman season. He played the past three seasons for the Red Raiders.

“I feel like I’m a different pass rusher, said Wilson, who had 17 career sacks. “I’m not just committed to power. I feel like I can do power and speed and be effective inside and outside. Really just being that dominant dude on the field.”

The Falcons signed defensive end Calais Campbell (99 career sacks) and outside linebacker Bud Dupree (46.5 career sacks) in free agency, but they could add some youth to the pass rush in Wilson if he slips to them.

“See myself as an edge rusher, stand up or hand on the ground,” Wilson said. “That’s where I prefer to line up, but if I have to play inside I can do that.’’

Nolan Smith, LB, Georgia: He’s 6-3 and 235 pounds. He played in 38 games and made 110 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks.

His final season was cut short by a torn pectoral muscle. His ability to shed blockers is impressive.

“I’m just country strong,” Smith said.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projected Smith to the Falcons in his most recent mock draft.

Smith can play the run, drop in coverage and provide some pass rush.

“He could be a problem off the edge for opposing offensive coordinators,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said.

Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas: He’s considered a top-five talent, but NFL teams have devaluated the running back position in recent years.

Saquon Barkley was the last running back taken in the top 10, when he was selected second overall in 2018.

No running back was taken in the first round last season.

Robinson is considered special. He had 91 forced missed tackles as he displayed his elusiveness.

He was an unanimous All-American in 2021 and winner of the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation’s top running back, last season.

He played in 31 games and made 28 starts for the Longhorns. He finished ranked fourth in Texas history with 3,410 yards rushing and 41 total touchdowns (33 rushing, eight receiving).

The Falcons drafted Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round last season. He came on strong down the stretch and finished with 1,035 yards rushing.

Robinson and Allgeier could lead a committee of backs and the Falcons could have the option to play Cordarrelle Patterson more at wide receiver.

“Just creating mismatches for defenders all over the field and being able to create space for yourself, the offense and opening up the offense,” said Robinson, describing his style of play.

Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon: He’s 6-2 and 201 pounds. He was named All-Pac-12 after he led the Ducks in interceptions (four), pass breakups (seven) and blocked kicks (one) in 12 games. Gonzalez started his career at Colorado before transferring to Oregon.

The Falcons released Casey Hayward, who opened last season as the starting right cornerbacks, on Friday. Cornell Armstrong finished last season as the starter after Darren Hall was benched.

The Falcons signed Mike Hughes in free agency and traded for Jeff Okudah, who was third player taken overall in the 2020 draft.

The Falcons also lost nickel back Isaiah Oliver (49ers) in free agency.

“It’s pretty much a coin flip to see who goes first between him and (cornerback Devon) Witherspoon from Illinois,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “With Witherspoon you get a little bit more playmaking, a little bit more aggressive, a little bit more urgent, whereas with Gonzalez you obviously get the size and the speed that’s pretty elite. He is a real fluid, smooth athlete.”

Lukas Van Ness, DE, Iowa: He is 6-4 and 275 pounds and was named the All-Big Ten All-Academic team for the second year in row.

He won the school’s Team Hustle award after moving to end from tackle and has 13 career sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss.

“I have the ability to play all over the defensive line,” Van Ness said. " As you know, last year I played defensive tackle. Then this year, I played a little bit more defensive end, but I believe I bring everything in terms of playing the run and playing the pass.”

He models his play after J.J. Watt.

“He was just a guy, I loved turning on the tape every Sunday, watching this game and trying to model myself after him,” Van Ness.

Others: Northwestern tackle Peter Skoronski, Ohio State tackle Paris Johnson, Georgia tackle Broderick Jones and Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee.


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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