After weeks of anticipation and speculation we are finally closing in on draft day. The prospect visits are essentially finished and it is time to take a final look at who the Falcons have met with and see what information we may glean from those visits.
Just as with my last breakdown I will break down how many players the Falcons have met with at each position and where those players are projected to be drafted. From this we should be able to get an idea of where the Falcons may be focusing their attention later in the week. I'll be using my spreadsheet detailing all the players the Falcons have met with if you would like to follow along. It should also be a useful tool to have handy on draft day so bookmark it, print it out, and share it with your fellow Falcons fans. I'm going to list the position groups from the largest to smallest.
Wide Receivers -- 19 players visited:
Edge Rusher --
16 players visited: Edge rushers may not represent the position the Falcons staff has met with most often but I think it's safe to call it the position they have placed the most importance on. Of the sixteen players they have met with thirteen are projected to go in the third round or higher. Five of those players (Clowney, Mack, Barr, Ford, Van Noy) have met with the Falcons multiple times and Anthony Barr has met with Atlanta three times. Marcus Smith and Trent Murphy were players the Falcons coached in the Senior Bowl that have been brought back for private workouts. The emphasis on the position is obvious. Whether that culminates in a trade up for Clowney or multiple picks in the early rounds pass rusher is a safe bet if you want to project the Falcons draft picks.
15 players visited:
13 players visited: Carlos Hyde, Jeremy Hill and Terrance West sit atop this group as the highest rated players. Hyde and Hill are almost universally considered two of the top three backs in the draft and West is a fast riser that could sneak ahead of some of the more well known names. All three should go somewhere in the second to third round. The Falcons have met with both Hyde and West multiple times. Should the Falcons pass on the top tier backs they've also met with Devonte Freeman, Jerick McKinnon, Storm Johnson, and DeAnthony Thomas who all carry fourth-to-sixth round grades. Raijion Neal heads up the seventh round/undrafted options the Falcons have met with.
Tight Ends --
10 players visited:
Offensive Tackle --
9 players visited: If I had to rate the Falcons greatest needs going into the draft offensive tackle would have tied with pass rusher as the most pressing. Looking back over the list I am not entirely sure they agree with me. They have met with the top three tackles so their bases are covered there. After those three it is just Cameron Fleming and Jack Mewhort and several late round or free agent players. If they felt it necessary to draft a tackle early you'd think Morgan Moses, Antonio Richardson, JeWuan James or any of the other second tier tackles would appear on the list to allow them some flexibility with the sixth pick. It could be a sign they intend to trade up or it could signal their intentions to address tackle with their first pick. Either way it seems counter-intuitive to see so few tackles on the visit list.
Outside Linebacker -- 7 players visited: I have defined this group as players who fit the weakside linebacker role in a 4-3 look. In a base 3-4 look some of them could slide inside but I don't see any of them as pass rushing threats on the outside in a 3-4. Ryan Shazier and Telvin Smith are the biggest names of the group. Shazier will likely be long gone before the Falcons shift their focus to this position but Telvin Smith and or Jordan Zumwalt could be surprise picks in the middle rounds. Zumwalt was on the Senior Bowl squad so the staff should have a good read on him. If they decide to add a player in this mold Kevin Pierre-Louis could be the most logical choice. I doubt they invest a high pick at this position but Pierre-Louis would represent good value in the later rounds.
Inside Linebacker --
5 players visited: Despite the short list of names at this position I do believe it is one the Falcons are likely to address in the draft. There are no true 3-4 inside linebackers on the Falcons roster and their recent workout with veteran linebacker Dan Connor confirms my suspicion that they have identified this as a need. Christian Jones, Yawin Smallwood and Preston Brown are the three highest rated players the Falcons have met with and all carry middle round draft grades. Jordan Tripp and Jordan Zumwalt are both middle round players that could change position to play inside as well. The Falcons are not likely to invest higher than a third or fourth round pick in the position but it's a position I expect them to address at some point.
5 players visited: Of the five quarterbacks the Falcons have met with only Garrett Gilbert and Connor Shaw are projected to be taken in the draft. Both carry seventh round draft grades. It is safe to say quarterback is not a position the Falcons will focus on heavily in the draft but with three seventh round picks it is not out of the question that they may bring in someone late to develop as a reserve behind Ryan.
Offensive Guard --
5 players visited: This is another small group of players but there are a few interesting names among them. Xavier Su'a-Filo sits atop the group with a borderline first round grade. Trai Turner is a raw but powerful middle round option. Spencer Long's knee injury has pushed him down draft boards but if he is able to regain his health he could be a very solid late round pick. I do not expect to see the Falcons place a lot of importance on drafting a guard but should Su'a-Filo or Turner fall below their projections it would not be shocking to hear either name called.
Fullbacks -- 4 players visited: The Falcons have shown an interest in upgrading at fullback after visiting with free agent Greg Jones earlier in the offseason. Jay Prosch is considered the best fullback in the draft and the Falcons have met with him. He has a borderline fifth-to-sixth round grade. J.C. Copeland is the only other fullback the Falcons have met with that is projected to be drafted and he is labeled as a sixth-to-seventh round pick.
Defensive End --
4 players visited: I limited my definition of defensive ends to players who were more in the mold of a 5-tech defensive end or this group would be larger. With Mike Nolan's hybrid system it seemed more sensible to lump all the edge rushing prospects at end and outside linebacker into a different group. Scott Crichton (second round) and Josh Mauro (fourth round) are the only two players they've met with that are projected to be drafted.
Defensive Tackle --
3 players visited:
1 player visited: Ohio State's Corey Linsley is the only center the Falcons have met with and he carries a late round projection.
The biggest takeaway from this is not who is on the list but rather who isn't. I said this in my last breakdown but it bears repeating; the lack of second round safeties and offensive tackles is no accident. I believe it is a sign that they intend to either trade up for Clowney or Mack or they plan on taking a tackle at six and a pass rusher in the second. Their desire to add a top edge rusher is obvious as they have visited with literally every single player projected to go in the top three rounds.
If it were not for the deep draft class at wide receiver I would be calling for a potential double-dip on pass rushers early but Dimitroff may not be able to ignore the potential value at receiver in the third or fourth round. If one of their guys is there be prepared to welcome a new receiver to Atlanta. I do not think that scenario changes much in the event of a trade up either.
There are several tweener or hybrid players scattered among the defensive players and I will be interested to see which ones (if any) are drafted. Players like Jordan Tripp, Antone Exum, Telvin Smith, Scott Crichton and Christian Jones could play several different roles for Atlanta's defense and they are just the first five I could come up with off the top of my head. There are at least ten other guys you could say the same thing for. Mike Smith and Dimitroff both mention versatility every chance they get so this is not an unexpected observation but it will be an interesting storyline to follow.
This is likely my last pre-draft fanpost so I want to thank everyone who has taken to time to read, comment, or rec my ramblings so far. Everyone in the Falcoholic community has been very welcoming since I have registered with the site and it is greatly appreciated!