7 players the Falcons are watching at the NFL combine

INDIANAPOLIS – In the pro football world, sometimes things matchup in the talent galaxy.

The Falcons plan to release defensive tackle Paul Soliai and need defensive line help.

Just so happens that the 2016 draft has a deep pool of defensive line talent.

“This is probably the best defensive line group that I’ve ever seen in my 40 years of doing this,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “This is as deep and good of a defensive end and tackle group that you’re going to find.”

The Falcons, who evaluating talent at the NFL scouting combine, hold the 17th overall pick in the first-round of the draft. They only have five picks in this draft. They lost their fifth-round pick in the noise-gate scandal and traded away their sixth-round pick to Tennessee in the Andy Levitre trade.

“We’ll continue to try to improve, learn and grow,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “That’s really where our focus is heading into the offseason.”

Here are seven players on the Falcons’ radar at the NFL scouting combine:

1. Reggie Ragland, linebacker, Alabama

Strengths: A traditional inside linebacker who plays the run well. He has some versatility to play at outside at strongside linebacker. “He’s a thumper,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “He’s a guy that really in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, would have been a top 10 pick guaranteed.”

Weaknesses: He weighed 259 pounds at the Senior Bowl and his ability to play in pass coverage is a concern. “You’d like to see that weight down a bit,” Kiper said. “How effective will he be in coverage in the NFL? We know he’ll get after the quarterback. You can move him around a little bit. He’s got some versatility. But how he plays moving backwards, not forwards, is the concern with Reggie Ragland.”

Projected round: Mid-to-late first round.

2. Shaq Lawson, defensive end, Clemson

Strengths: He’s very sturdy at 6-foot-3, 270 pounds. He comes on the edge with a vengeance and is stout against the run. He was very productive for the Tigers. Some prefer fellow Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd. “If you look at the body of work, you’d go Lawson,” Kiper said. “If you look at just one year and certainly with the way he played in the national championship game, you would go Dodd. Dodd was also going up against an offensive tackle that is not going to be an elite prospect from Alabama. So, that gave him an edge.”

Weaknesses: Lawson’s agility and flexibility is a concern. His three-cone drill run will be closely watched to see how he can move in tight spaces.

Projected round: Mid-first round. Several mock draft have him projected to land with the Falcons.

3. Leonard Floyd, linebacker, Georgia

Strengths: Floyd has speed and explosiveness coming off the edge. He’s perceived to have a huge upside rushing the passer.

Weaknesses: Didn’t perform consistently at a high level for the Bulldogs. “Week to week he was too quiet in games,” Kiper said. “He was handled by some tackles that should not be able to get the best of him.” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said: “Leonard Floyd is a polarizing figure from Georgia. Some people think he’s a top-10 pick, some of them think he’s going to be Barkevious Mingo, meaning a great-looking, fast, but underpowered player who ultimately won’t live up to what he should. So, Leonard Floyd is a polarizing conversation.”

Projected round: Late first-round, early second.

4. Robert Nkemdiche, defensive tackle, Mississippi

Strengths: Power player who should be able to wreck havoc inside. He was over-hyped coming out of Grayson and couldn’t possibly leave up to the expectations.

Weaknesses: His production didn’t match the hype and his career ended on a sour note with a drug-related suspenson.

Projected round: Mid-first round.

5. Noah Spence, linebacker, Eastern Kentucky

Strengths: Perhaps the best pure pass rusher in the draft. Teams can’t wait to compare Spence’s combine numbers to Super Bowl most valuable player Von Miller, Denver’s outside linebacker. Spence is nine pounds heavier that Miller was at the combine. But Spence may not be able to top Miller’s time of 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash, his 21 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press or his 37-inch vertical jump. “Let’s see how close Spence is to those numbers,” Kiper said.

Weaknesses: He had drug problems at Ohio State and was banned by the Big Ten conference. He’ll have to interview well and prove that he’s turned his life around.

Projected round: Top 10 in the first round.

6. Vonn Bell, safety, Ohio State

Strengths: He plays with great awareness and instincts. Will come up and hit and also has man coverage skills. He’s from Chattanooga, but played the final years of high school at Ridgeland in Rossville.

Weaknesses: Bell is a little on the smallish side at 5-11, 200 for a safety. He also doesn’t hit with the physicality that most teams line. He’s a drag-down tackler.

Projected round: Mid-to-late first round

7. Kevin Dodd, defensive end Clemson

Strengths: He’s 6-5, 275 pounds and long dominant against Alabama in the national championship game. Dodd has 23.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks for the Tigers.

Weaknesses: Considered a one-year wonder by some. He’ll need to have a very good workout in order to impressed more scouts.

Projected round: Kiper has Dodd going to Buffalo with the 19th pick. “Kevin Dodd from Clemson, I’ve got him as a late first-round type of player,” Mayock said.

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