Falcons’ draft needs have come sharply into focus

Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff (left) and coach Dan Quinn.  Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff (left) and coach Dan Quinn. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

As head coach and football czar of the Falcons, Dan Quinn is in the final stages of preparing for his fourth NFL draft.

Since the season ended after the excruciating 15-9 loss to the Eagles in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, Quinn has been getting ready for the draft and the offseason program, which starts April 16.

The draft is set for April 26-28 in Arlington, Texas.

Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have worked well together over the past three drafts and need another strong effort to re-take the NFC South from the Saints and remain Super Bowl title contenders.

The college scouting part of the job has been challenging for Quinn. In free agency, he’s comparing professionals against professionals and that’s a little easier.

“In colleges, it’s comparing them against the NFL player,” Quinn said. “It would be bad to say that since you played well at Cincinnati against UConn, that’s a good. Does that mean you’re going to play well against the (Carolina) Panthers? Not necessarily. It might. But that is what makes it hard.”

Quinn can spot a player’s strengths and project how he fits into the team’s schemes. That’s why Quinn believes players make such a big leap from their rookie season to the second season.

“How hard it is to go (from) playing against UConn to playing against Julio Jones?” Quinn said. “It’s hard. The college side of things, the guys improve fast. The guys that we’ll add to the group, you’ll see the improvement.”

Sometimes, players don’t make that smooth transition. The Falcons went much slower with defensive end Takkarist McKinley than they did with Vic Beasley in 2015. Rookie Duke Riley opened last season as a starter, but ended it as a reserve and special teamer.

“At times, the on-the-job training in Year 1 is hard on the guys,” Quinn said. “If they are made of the right stuff and they are challenged, they are way better by Year 2.”

After free agency and quick glance at the depth chart, the Falcons have pretty clear draft needs.

The Falcons need a defensive tackle, wide receiver, guard, fullback and linebacker out of the draft or from the undrafted rookie pack.

Quinn has intensely studied the defensive tackles.

Washington’s Vita Vea and Alabama’s Da’ron Payne are considered the top two nose tackles in the draft. Also, Michigan’s Maurice Hurst and Florida’s Tayven Bryan are rated as first-round picks.

Payne visited the Falcons on Thursday, according to NFL Media.

“This is a unique group,” Quinn said. “There are a lot of big guys somewhere between 280 and 300 pounds that can really move. Having that kind of versatility, where a guy can penetrate and get up field, those are the things that I really look for at the position.”

The Falcons’ medical staff would have to clear Hurst, who was discovered to have an irregular heartbeat at the scouting combine.

“Overall, Hurst has the initial surge of quickness and power to break the rhythm of blockers,” wrote draft analyst Dane Brugler in his 2018 NFL draft guide. “His ball recognition and competitive hunger are NFL-ready traits, making him ideally suited as a one-gapping defensive tackle in an aggressive scheme. His heart condition will be viewed differently around the league.”

The Falcons didn’t re-sign Dontari Poe, who left for Carolina in free agency. He played 868 snaps, the second highest on the team behind Grady Jarrett’s 870. He signed a three-year, $28 million deal with a $10 million signing bonus March 16. A total of $13.3 million of the deal is guaranteed.

Poe played well against the run.

The Falcons believe they can find a defensive tackle in the draft, but they’ll likely have to trade up to get Vea or Payne.

Dimitroff has traded up in the first round in four of 10 drafts since arriving in 2008.

“When I keep going down the list and I keep going, there are a number of guys, that I said hey, this guy looks like he’s got a number of the traits, that he’s ready to help right now,” Quinn said.

“I’m not saying he’s not going to develop, but the skill set is there to say in our system this is how we see him playing. There were a number of guys that fit that bill.”

In addition to Vea and Payne, the Falcons have met with B.J. Hill of N.C. State.

The Falcons could try the sleeper route for a defensive tackle. They landed Grady Jarrett in the fifth round.

Defensive-line guru Chuck Smith, a former Falcons great, believes that Duke nose tackle/defensive tackle Mike Ramsay is underrated.

Ramsay is from Smyrna and played at The Walker School for coach John East. He lettered in four seasons and played in 50 games, with 25 consecutive starts to close out his career at Duke.

“This kid, one day is going to be a starter in the National Football League,” Smith said.

Smith has sent Ramsay’s workout videos to all 32 general managers and head coaches in the league.

Some have compared Ramsay, because of his build, with Jarrett.

The Falcons also are thin at linebacker after electing not to re-sign veterans Sean Weatherspoon and LaRoy Reynolds.

“At inside linebacker, there have been some guys that have jumped out to me there,” Quinn said.

The Falcons signed Brandon Fusco in free agency to compete for the right guard spot, but they could add Georgia offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn.  Also, Andy Levitre is coming back from biceps surgery and will be in the last year of his contract. The Falcons need to start restocking the position because offensive linemen are not entering the league NFL-ready after playing in spread offenses.

Wynn, who played left tackle last season, projects as a guard in the NFL.

“It’s a much improved offensive line group,” Quinn said. “I wish some of these guys had been in last year’s draft ... if some of these guys would have come out early, that would have been good.”

Quinn is not a big fan of the immediate grading of the drafts.

He likes to look back three or four years down the road to determine if a draft was productive.

“When you look back at the 2018 draft, I think you’ll go back and say there were a number players at the line of scrimmage that played well,” Quinn said. “I think it’s going to be a good quarterback draft. I think those three spots, offensive line, defensive line and quarterback (will grade out well.)”

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