For the fifth time in 12 years, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff will select in the top half of the NFL draft.
The Falcons are slated to select 14th overall and will get a chance to evaluate draft prospects at the NFL scouting combine, which starts Tuesday and runs through Monday in Indianapolis.
“To me, it’s all about big guys,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said of this year’s combine. “Premier talent and depth at the defensive line position, inside and outside. It’s outstanding and it carries deep into the draft.”
The Falcons No. 1 priority is fixing the offensive line, which gave up 108 quarterback hits last season and was 31st in stuffed runs of no gain or loss yardage.
“Offensive line wise, while there is not a premier guy somebody that is a top-five lock that we’ve seen in some previous years, I think it’s a really, really good class especially once you get into the middle of the first-round probably all the way to the middle of the third-, around the fourth-round range,” Jeremiah said. “Really good offensive linemen.”
The Falcons have fared well while picking in the top half of the draft.
In 2008, they picked quarterback Matt Ryan third overall.
In 2011, Dimitroff traded several picks to Cleveland to move into the sixth spot to select wide receiver Julio Jones.
In 2014, the Falcons selected Jake Matthews with the sixth overall pick and in 2015, they selected defensive end Vic Beasley eighth overall.
Here are five players on the Falcons’ radar heading into the combine.
Ed Oliver, defensive tackle, Houston: Oliver is lightning quick off the ball. Houston played him over the ball, but he could have slayed offensive lines by charging through the gaps. He’s has the versatility that the Falcons like to use in their defensive line rotation. He could play end in their 4-3 base and move inside to tackle in their 4-2-5 nickel alignment.
“He’s got some versatility to move around,” Jeremiah said.
Oliver had 13.5 sacks over 33 games and a whopping 53 tackles for loss.
He’ll have to explain his apparent insubordination when he got into a sideline argument with his head coach over a special jacket.
The position is deep and the Falcons could take Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery in the second round. “I really like that second round group of defensive tackles,” Jeremiah said.
Clelin Ferrell, defensive end, Clemson: The Falcons have thoroughly scouted the Clemson defensive linemen in the past.
They selected Beasley and Grady Jarrett (fifth round) in 2015 draft.
Ferrell is stout against the run, but doesn’t have an elite “take off” to get to the quarterback.
Dexter Lawrence, defensive tackle, Clemson: At 6-foot-4 and 350 pounds, he could help to anchor the defensive line and provide a push up the middle on passing downs.
If teams have to double-team him, then the other tackle and both ends have one-on-one matchups that they’ll have to win. He needs to work on his pass-rushing techniques and not always rely on his brute strength.
Teams need to find out how he failed a test for performing enhancing drugs that kept him out of the college football playoffs.
“Pass rush-wise, the limitations are going to cause him to go after (Clemson defensive tackle Christian) Wilkins,” Jeremiah said.
Jonah Williams, guard, Alabama: The Falcons have a need for a guard and Williams is projected to be a guard in the NFL. He’s 6-5 and 301 pounds. The measurement of his arms will be the driving force behind a move inside.
He projects well as a run-blocker and pass protector.
He played left tackle for the Crimson Tide.
“He runs his feet on contact and generates movement at the point of attack,” Jeremiah wrote in his preview of the top 50 players. “He's also effective working up to the second level. He takes proper angles and plays on his feet. I love his awareness and toughness. Overall, Williams is an excellent prospect and has a chance to be a Pro Bowl guard early in his career.”
Deandre Baker, cornerback, Georgia: Baker won the Jim Thorpe Award — given to the top defensive back in college football — as a senior.
Baker bypassed the Sugar Bowl to start preparing for the combine.
“(The Falcons) could go in a lot of different directions,” Jeremiah said. “For me, you look in the secondary. That could be a place that they could go. There are some real interesting corners. I don’t really have a top-10 pick type corner, but that’s about the range where you could see some corners start to come off the board. They might not have to go far for a guy like Deandre Baker who can play inside and outside. He’s got outstanding ball skills and awareness. He would make some sense.”
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