As soon as the draft ended, the Falcons started to assemble their class of undrafted rookie free agents.
The team’s six draft picks, the 27 undrafted players and several players on tryouts will take part in the rookie mini-camp which will be held Friday through Sunday.
“You want to talk about being hungry and determined, a number of these guys certainly are that,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “I didn’t get picked. I didn’t get selected. I’ve got something to prove.”
Cornerback Chris Lammons started 37 games at South Carolina and was ticked when he didn’t get invited to the NFL scouting combine.
Anthony Winbush amassed 25 sacks at Ball State and wasn’t drafted.
Former Alabama center J.C. Hassenauer bench pressed 225 pounds 28 times and started in the national championship game against Georgia.
Those are just some of the players who’ll be on hand trying to learn how the Falcons operate and secure spots on the 90-man training camp roster.
“Because we believe in competition so much, because we believe in development of players, people know that coming here as a college free agent is an excellent route to go,” Quinn said. “We’re going to make sure they have every opportunity to battle against anybody.”
Cornerback Brian Poole and right tackle Ryan Schraeder were undrafted free agents on the current team. Historically, Jessie Tuggle was undrafted out of Valdosta State and cornerback Brent Grimes has gone on to make millions in the NFL after being undrafted out of Shippensburg.
“The best man’s going to play,” Quinn said. “We really believe in developing the guys. So, if you’re a college free agent, they know what’s here. They know … we’re going to look after them to make sure we give them every opportunity to be at their best.”
Most of the eyes will be on wide receiver Calvin Ridley, the Falcons’ first-round draft pick.
“I’m excited about it,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “I guess I’m an honorary Alabama quarterback now. That state has been good to me. UAB was pretty good with Roddy White and Alabama has been very good, too (Julio Jones). I’m very excited about Calvin coming here. I think he’ll be really good for our organization.”
Georgia Tech defensive backs Lance and Lawrence Austin will participate as tryout players. The Falcons want to see Lawrence at safety and Lance at corner, according to Lawrence.
Last year, the Falcons brought in 27 tryout players to their rookie minicamp and signed two. Both, though, were put on the team’s practice squad and one (defensive tackle Taniela Tupou) was promoted to the active squad and played in one game.
Here’s a look at five undrafted players to watch at rookie minicamp:
Kurt Benkert, quarterback, Virginia. He started his career at East Carolina before transferring to Virginia. When the staff was replaced at ECU, he was not named the starter and transferred. He followed former ECU coach Ruffin McNeil to Virginia. He started 13 games as a senior and set a school-record with 3,207 yards passing and 298 completions. He completed 58.5 percent of his passes and tossed 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a senior. Overall, he started 23 of 27 college games and completed 534 of 925 passes (57.7 percent) for 5,817 yards, 46 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. He received $60,000 in guaranteed money from the Falcons.
Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, defensive end, UCLA. He played 41 games for the Bruins. He finished with 133 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. He was paid $10,000 by the Falcons.
Matt Gono, offensive lineman, Wesley College. A division III player from a small school in Delaware. Started at right tackle as a freshman. He shifted to left tackle as a junior. Started all 50 games of his college career. He projects as a guard in the NFL. He received a $7,500 bonus from the Falcons.
Luke McNitt, fullback, Nebraska. He played quarterback and tight end at Nebraska-Kearney before transferring. He played in 21 games for the Cornhuskers and was primarily a blocking back. He lifted 225 pounds 26 times and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.86 seconds. He received a $4,000 bonus from the Falcons.
Anthony Winbush, defensive end, Ball State. He was one of the top pass rusher in the Mid-American Conference and finished his career with 99 tackles, 52.5 for losses and 25 sacks. He was an All MAC selection last season, when he had 16.5 tackles for losses and 11.5 sacks. Winbush could play rush defensive end in a nickel package, which Falcons’ use around 70 percent of the time. Winbush trained with defensive-line guru Chuck Smith in Duluth. He’s worked on his functional football movement and change of direction. He was projected to be drafted in the fifth- or sixth round of the draft. He received a $7,000 bonus from the Falcons.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.