The annual “Underwear Olympics” could help us get a clearer picture of who the Atlanta Falcons could be looking at in the NFL Draft.
We obviously still have to see what the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons do in free agency before we can really concentrate on where they might go in the draft.
However, the Scouting Combine was upon us, and I do have the NFL Network, so I focused on the following position groups March 3-6:
Offensive linemen that project to guard in the NFL: It’s no secret that this position is likely one the Falcons place a high priority on. Chris Chester was the weak link in the O-line this season, is 34 years old and is a pending free agent.
While Atlanta may like Wes Schweitzer, I doubt they’re going to bank on him developing to the point of being an upgrade over Chester. Even though they’re rumored to be going after one of the top guards in free agency, I still watched prospects at the Combine.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they used the 31st overall selection on Forrest Lamp of Western Kentucky (whom they met with at the Senior Bowl and again at the Combine) or Dan Feeney of Indiana.
As far as the drills themselves are concerned, I’m actually not that worried about the bench press reps. Weight room strength doesn’t necessarily translate to functional football strength.
I’m more interested in the prospects’ times in the 40, the 3-cone drill, and the shuttles, as those numbers would indicate to me whether or not they have the athleticism required for the zone-blocking scheme the offense will continue to run.
The 10-yard splits at the beginning of the 40-yard dashes will also be key, as I see them as clues to how well offensive linemen fire off the snap and how well they can get to the second level. The vertical leap and broad jump will also be indicators of lower body explosion.
Obviously, I also want to see how they perform in the position-specific drills.
Tight ends: It appears that Jacob Tamme will be allowed to walk away in free agency, but that Atlanta will attempt to retain Levine Toilolo. I believe they also like Austin Hooper as a starter and the potential of Joshua Perkins and D.J. Tialavea.
However, I still expect them to entertain the possibility of of taking advantage if one of the best TE draft classes in recent memory.
A good all-around player at this position would be nice. I’ll be curious to see how Jake Butt’s medical exam turns out. I do want to see 40 times and 10-yard splits from this group, as well as vertical leaps. The position-specific drills will be important, of course.
Again, I’m not too worried about the bench press, but am interested in the cone and shuttle drills.
I’d like to see Atlanta get a back in the 225-pound or more range just to be a short-yardage and goal-line specialist.
I want to see the 10-yard splits within the 40-yard to get an indication of acceleration to the hole. I also want to see the vertical leaps and broad jumps to give me an idea of lower body strength.
Edge rushers: No surprise here. The Falcons need to find a compliment to defending NFL sack leader Vic Beasley. Yes, the possibility exists that Dwight Freeney might come back, but I’d rather Atlanta went younger and got somebody for the long haul.
This is a draft rich in players who could flourish in the LEO position in Dan Quinn’s defense.
Yes, I want to see 40 times and 10-yard splits here. Acceleration off the snap and speed to the quarterback are key here. The position drills to see hand usage are important. The cones and shuttle to see the ability to redirect the initial charge as the QB scrambles away are also key.
Big DTs: I like what I saw out of Grady Jarrett and Ra-Shede Hageman as the year went on, especially in the playoffs and the Super Bowl. I’m excited to see what new DL coach Bryant Young can do with them.
I do want to see the bench press numbers with this group, as well as the vertical leap and broad jump.
The Falcons need more ‘backers who can run and cover to play special teams and take on TEs and RBs in the passing game.
The 40 will be the big drill here. Change-of-direction drills like the cones and the shuttles will also be important. The veritcal leap will also figure prominently. The position drills where they ask linebackers to drop into simulated coverage will figure prominently.