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Atlanta Falcons Combine Notebook, 2/28 Edition

Welcome to the NFL Combine notebook, where I'll be culling news about our beloved Falcons and players they might be interested in for your reading pleasures. As usual, I'll add my trademark useless insightful analysis of what I find.

If you're like me, you put a middling amount of faith in the combine. While it's great to see what players do while running, lifting, jumping and so forth, it's not the end of the world if a guy is a touch slower or five pounds lighter than expected. Some of the best workouts in recent history—think the Jets' Vernon Gholston—have meant nothing once players actually got into NFL game action. Still, it's useful information for the team and it's fun to look at as a fan.

For all the action, join me after the jump.

Draft Philosophy

Asking Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith to make predictions about free agency and the draft is kind of like asking a zombie to tell you what time high tide is. He may know, but he's certainly not going to tell you. Zombies eat brains, Smitty and the Comrade build a winning football team. The rest is gravy.

That's why D. Orlando Ledbetter's valiant efforts fall short in the end. While he talks a little bit about the role envisioned for Harry Douglas (slot receiver, a la Wes Welker), which may cross receiver off our collective wishlist, the biggest nugget here is that he says he "rarely" considers moving down and out of the first round. That signals to me that Dimitroff firmly believes there's going to be players the team will want at 19, and while the overall draft strategy is a mystery to us peons, Smitty did suggest that it will be more balanced in his interview with DOL. Standing pat and drafting defense and offense according to need? Sounds obvious, yet smart.

Personally, I'm still of the opinion that the team looks pass rushing linebacker/defensive end or cornerback in the first round, and then fills the other half of that equation in the second round. From there, you may see a couple of offensive linemen come off the board, or maybe even a wide receiver.

Potential Targets

In no particular order, here's some early results from the Combine, garnered from a variety of sources including the AJC and the Official Site.

  • Bruce Campbell has a great name and is a physically imposing tackle, which might make the Falcons give him some consideration if they don't believe Garrett Reynolds is a long-term solution at right tackle. The real issue with Campbell is that many scouts don't feel his in-game performance has ever matched up to those physical tools. Many teams are looking at him as a mid-round pick, where he could be a nice pickup for the team, but if some crazy team like the Raiders pull the trigger early I won't complain. Jared Veldheer is another possibility at tackle, as another awesome athlete with a little more polish.
  • Jimmy Graham is a guy to watch for those of you who have championed a tight end. He ran a 4.56 40 yard-dash and can catch, but his blocking would need considerable work. If the team was serious about a project to take Tony Gonzalez's place in a couple of years, they could do a lot worse than Graham, who could be had for a fourth round pick unless he continues to rocket up draft boards. Now that I'm writing this, I'm sure he will.
  • Devin McCourty is a guy to watch. The NFL is waiting for the jumble of second-tier cornerbacks behind Joe Haden to start untangling itself, and McCourty is a guy who could rocket up draft boards if he manages a fast 40. At 5'11, he's a little bit taller than some of our mighty mites, he has great football smarts and a reputation as a quick learner. I find myself hoping he doesn't excel in drills so the Falcons will have a shot at him in the third round, but that's unlikely considering that the Vikings have expressed interest in him as a potential first round pick.
  • If you're more interested in guards along the offensive line, Mitch Petrus might be your guy. I've always thought 40 time for a lineman was a poor indicator of success, and Petrus (from Arkansas, sadly) pulled his hammy huffing and puffing his way through it Saturday. A mauler in the run game, Petrus could be worth an eyeball in the middle rounds, especially if the Falcons decline to sign Harvey Dahl or Tyson Clabo.
  • Jerry Hughes is a name to watch very closely as we work our way through the combine. Thanks to the bizarre and rigid ideas of what certain players should look like, Hughes stands at 6' 1" 3/4ths, but the baseline for pass rushers is 6' 2", so his stock could fall dramatically. Once forecast as a first round pick, Hughes is an excellent defensive end who would be the steal of the draft if he somehow made it into round three. That's still unlikely at this point, but this is an extremely deep draft along the line and he could be the guy who falls. Keep him in mind come April.
  • Carlos Dunlap could fall as well. He measured in lighter than expected at the Combine—277 pounds versus 290—and the defensive end has serious questions about his work ethic and off-the-field troubles. That could contribute to a slide, though Dunlap is unlikely at best to make it past the second round. Man, I wish we had a second round pick this year.
  • Sergio Kindle is, at 250 pounds, a real possibility at outside linebacker, if the team is purely committed to pass rushing. He'd need a ton of work against the run, however, which makes me suspect the team isn't going to seriously consider him with the #19 pick. With his size, he'd probably fit best in a 3-4.
  • By now you know I really like Eric Decker at wide receiver. He's a big target and has both the frame and the willingness to be a decent blocker, and he can catch, too. So I'm simultaneously disappointed and delighted that lingering injuries are going to prevent him from running drills at the combine. That could drop his stock, especially since he's no lock to be ready in time for training camp, but the Falcons could give him an ideal situation to learn considering they have a little depth. If the team can get him in the later rounds, I would pull the trigger in a heartbeat on a project who could eventually replace Michael Jenkins.
  • Kyle Wilson tweaked his hammy and won't run. He's got such a good reputation that I doubt it will hurt him, though. Considering he's a lock to go in the mid-to-late first round, he's definitely someone the Falcons are going to have to look at. Doesn't hurt that he may be the second best cover cornerback in the entire draft.

So there's a quick look at a few intriguing prospects. I'll update this on Sunday, but in the meantime, discuss away!