Down picks, Falcons to take creative draft approach

Instead of fussing about being down a couple of draft picks, the Falcons plan to turn their lemony situation into a full pitcher of lemonade.

Who’s thirsty?

The Falcons are in the final stages of preparation for the NFL draft, which is set for April 28-30 in Chicago. This will be an important draft for the Falcons, who hold the 17th pick, but have only five picks.

The Falcons had their fifth-round pick taken away by the league as a penalty for pumping fake crowd noise into the Georgia Dome during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The Falcons traded their sixth-round in the deal to land offensive guard Andy Levitre.

“We think the draft is going to be interesting for us and creative for us,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said.

Because the draft is so deep in defensive talent, the Falcons may be in a position to trade out of the 17th spot and scoop up additional draft picks.

Also, the Falcons are one of the teams very interested in the results of the medical re-check of Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, who was considered a top-five player before suffering a knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1.

The Falcons, who spent lavishly on offense in free agency, have heavily scouted linebackers and safeties. The Falcons have also looked at the tight ends and interior offensive linemen.

Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland, Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson and Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee could be available at 17. Falcons linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich was at Alabama’s Pro Day to see Ragland up close. He scheduled to visit with the Falcons on Sunday and Monday.

The Falcons already have three linemen from Clemson, and Quinn went to Ohio State to see Lee, who has intriguing speed and instincts.

While scouting, Quinn relies on a lesson that he learned early in his career from the great Bill Walsh. Quinn started his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers when Walsh was the vice president and general manager in 2001.

“What specifically will he do for our team?” Quinn said is a question that Walsh would ask. “That was kind of the first time that I was exposed to even thinking that way. Myself, coming from college, you got your guys, lined them up and away you went. He was the first one that got me thinking in another way to say, ‘can he play on third downs.’”

Quinn tries to focus on the players’ strengths and project how they’d fit within the Falcons’ schemes.

“All the way back then (with Walsh) and then during my time at Seattle with Pete (Carroll), we talked in those terms,” Quinn said. “I still do now with Thomas.”

The knock on Ragland is that he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.72 seconds at the scouting combine. Former Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton ran a 4.71 and was drafted in the second round in 2008.

“Those guys, to me, have instincts and the ability to tackle in space,” Quinn said. “That’s one of the things in our game right now with the amount of nickel that we play, it’s going to be 65 percent almost 70 percent of games. … You better be ready to tackle in space.

“Those are things from safeties to linebackers that I’ll look for a lot. You may even take the whole season (of film) out on somebody and say, let’s find all of the space-plays and see if he can tackle.”

The Falcons made visits to Michigan State, San Jose State, Boise State, California, Stanford, UCLA, South Carolina, Ohio State, Florida and N.C. State.

While the Falcons traveled the country looking at players, they also heavily scouted their own backyard.

The Falcons had nearly 20 scouts and coaches at Georgia’s Pro Day. Dimitroff and Dan Quinn attended Georgia Tech’s Pro Day.

“I tell our scouting staff all the time, both Georgia Tech and UGA are places to go and sift through the talent whether it’s for draft consideration or if it’s for (college free agents),” Dimitroff said. “You’re going to find some of the best athletes in the country are playing at these two schools.”

The Falcons were interested in watching Georgia defensive end/linebacker Leonard Floyd go through his entire workout. He did not complete the workout because of an illness. The Falcons later had Floyd in for a personal workout.

Floyd projects to be selected as high as 10th overall by the New York Giants.

Former Falcons great Chuck Smith, who trains defensive line players, gave NFL prospect Robert Nkemdiche his stamp of approval.

“I have trained (and) consulted Robert Nkemdiche,” Smith tweeted. “He’s a great guy and I believe in him. We all learn and grow! Gonna be a beast!”

Nkemdiche, of Grayson High, was considered the top player in the nation coming out of high school. However, he’s getting mixed reviews after his career at Ole Miss. Several NFL scouts have noted his inconsistent play in college. Teams are also concerned about an arrest in Atlanta after he fell out of window from a Buckhead hotel.

Because of his physical tools, Nkemdiche is still considered a potential first-round pick and will attend the draft.

The Falcons have a lot of options to improve the defense.