With nine picks, the Falcons, coming off a disappointing and injury-riddled 7-9 season, know they must nail this draft, which is set for Thursday through Saturday in Nashville, Tenn.
Good offensive and defensive linemen should be available for the Falcons, who are scheduled to select 14th in the first round.
The wide receiver and cornerback groups are not very impressive, though.
“It’s always the same excitement and enthusiasm as we go through the draft because that’s still the lifeblood of it,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “That’s where you’re going to build so much of your team and your roster.”
The Falcons have been a needs-based drafting team under general manager Thomas Dimitorff, who has traded up 10 times, four into the first round (to get Sam Baker, Julio Jones, Takk McKinley and Desmond Trufant).
The Falcons may be in the market to trade up in this draft to get Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. The Falcons have friends in the seventh (Jacksonville) and eighth (Detroit) spots.
Jacksonville general manager David Caldwell was Dimitroff’s right-hand man as the director of college scouting from 2008-11 and director of player personnel in 2012. Detroit general manager Bob Quinn and Dimitroff worked with the Patriots from 2002-07.
The Falcons likely will need to get in front of Green Bay to get Wilkins.
“As you’re going through it, you’re just trying to find the best fits for the team,” Quinn said. “That’s what it always come back to, the team. How do we constantly push the team to see how we can improve.
“If it works that player that you are going to select in that window can help the team, the best at that moment, then you let it rip.”
Quinn is ready for this vital draft.
“Five years in, I have a better appreciation for the process than I’ve ever have,” Quinn said.
Here’s a look at five players on the Falcons’ radar screen:
Ed Oliver, DT, Houston: The Falcons have heavily scouted Oliver, but after his pro-day workout, he’s not expected to be around long. New York Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had defensive tackle Aaron Donald with the Rams and reportedly is a big supporter of Oliver. The Jets hold the third pick, but reportedly want to trade it.
Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson: He was a four-year starter for the Tigers. He had 250 tackles, 41 tackles for losses, 16 sacks, 56 quarterback pressures, 16 pass breakups, three forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries over 2,441 snaps. He played in 59 games and made 45 starts while earning All-American status three times. At 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, he played at tackle and end for the Tigers.
Greedy Williams, CB, LSU: He’s long (6-foot-2) and fast (4.37 in the 40-yard dash), but his tape doesn’t show that he’s a willing tackler. The Falcons will believe they can remedy his tackling issues and eliminate his “business decision” plays. The Falcons have a need at cornerback after parting ways with Robert Alford, Brian Poole and Justin Bethel. Wilson arguably is the best cornerback in the draft. The Falcons also scouted Vanderbilt’s Joejuan Williams and Houston’s Isaiah Johnson for later in the draft.
Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson: Massive at 6-4 and 342 pounds. He finished his career with 162 tackles, 20 tackles for losses, 11 sacks, 43 quarterback pressures, five pass breakups, a caused fumble and three recovered fumbles. He played 1,541 snaps over 40 games, including 36 starts. He was a first-team All-American last season and was a three-time All-ACC pick. He’ll have to explain his suspension from the college playoffs for using performance-enhancing drugs.
Cody Ford, OT, Oklahoma: The Falcons added four linemen who all weigh over 300 pounds this offseason as they prepare to move away from primarily using out-zone running plays. Ford, at 6-4 and 338 pounds, now fits the scheme. Ford played tackle and guard for the Sooners. “My style of play is to get the job done no matter what it takes,” Ford said. “My mentality going into every game, every play is to finish everybody in front of me.” Ford is open to playing guard in the NFL. “Personally, I feel better on the outside,” Ford said. “But talking to teams... it has pretty much been, ‘Can we use you everywhere?’ I’m all right with that.”
ATLANTA FALCONS DRAFT PICKS
Round 1, No. 14 overall
Round 2, No. 45 overall
Round 3, No. 79 overall
Round 4, No. 117 overall
Round 4, No. 137 overall (compensatory)
Round 5, No. 152 overall
Round 5, No. 172 overall (compensatory)
Round 6, No. 186 overall
Round 7, No. 230 overall
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