Falcons prepared to stand pat at 17, upgrade defense

No more private workouts or three-cone drills on college campuses.

Arthur Blank’s private plane gets a rest. All scouting reports have been submitted.

Now, the Falcons are ready to turn in their draft card in the first-round of the NFL draft, which begins at 8 p.m. Thursday in Chicago. The draft runs through Saturday, with rounds two and three on Friday and rounds four through seven on Saturday.

“We are battling to find the right guys,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.

The Falcons, with dire needs on defense, plan to stand pat with the 17th overall pick. They are convinced that a solid defensive player will be available to help them close the gap on the Carolina Panthers, who’ve won the past three NFC South titles.

They are prepared to take calls, but unless they are blown away with a offer of a second-rounder, they will not trade down.

Some key prospects include Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd, Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland, Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee and Alabama defensive tackle Jarran Reed.

The Falcons were last in the league last season with 19 sacks and gave up 20 rushing touchdowns, tied with San Francisco for most in the league. They intend to upgrade the talent level on defense.

“One of the cool parts about the system is (all positions) have a pass-rush component to it,” Quinn said. “That’s always going to stay in the front of our thinking.”

Lawson, who led the nation in tackles for loss with 25.5 last season and 12.5 sacks, has a shoulder injury that will require surgery. The Falcons last spring drafted former Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley, who played all 16 games with a torn labrum.

Lawson has been in contact with Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox throughout the pre-draft process.

Ragland is considered the top middle linebacker prospect. He returned for his senior season at Alabama after receiving a projected second-round grade before last year’s draft.

There are selection scenarios which could make the Falcons consider an offensive player, but they plan to address the defense, following their “needs-based” and “system-specific” plan.

“We’ve looked at all of the different scenarios this year,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “We think the draft has some really good strength from 15 on …We think there are some good opportunities all the way into the third round.”

The Falcons have only five picks. Their fifth-round pick was lost as part of the penalty stemming from the artificial crowd noise scandal. They traded their sixth-round pick to Tennessee as part of last year’s Andy Levitre trade.

In addition to improving the defensive front, the Falcons would like to draft a safety, guard and tight end.

“The best part of the draft is finding those fits from what he did in college to what he’s going to do on your team,” Quinn said.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank has said he wants three starters to come from this draft and the team can probably land starters at the 17th and 50th slots. The 81st slot in the third round could be problematic for the personnel department. But the top two picks will be key.

“On the defensive side of the ball, they’ve got to look at those linebackers. And whether it’s Reggie Ragland, Darron Lee, Leonard Floyd, I think (they) are the three logical guys they have to be looking at,” NFL Network analyst Michael Mayock said. “I think what Floyd gives them that the other two don’t is the ability to play in their base package at one position and kick down to an edge guy in sub package.”

With the pass-rush addressed, the Falcons could go for safety or a guard in the second round.

“There’s some good guards in this draft,” Mayock said. “Nick Martin from Notre Dame is a center or guard and he can start day one like his older brother (Dallas’ Zach Martin). Cody Whitehair and Josh Garnett are second-round guards.”

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