The Atlanta Falcons need defensive players, and NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said during a conference call with the media on Tuesday that this is definitely a defensive draft.
There are reports that the team will part ways with NT Paul Soliai and expectations that DE Tyson Jackson may join him. Mayock says that this year's draft class features the strongest group of interior linemen he's seen since he began covering the draft, and that's good news for the Falcons as they look to shore up depth inside.
"You could wait until the third or fourth round this year and get a defensive tackle that in past drafts was a first or second rounder," Mayock said.
One of those players who may fall is Robert Nkemdiche, who Mayock said has first-round talent, but the off-field issues and concerns about inconsistency on the field may give teams pause.
"If you look at Robert Nkemdiche in a vacuum and just watch his Alabama tape against the best team in college football, he was dominant," Mayock said. "Off that one tape, if he didn't have any off-the-field issues and if he'd played that hard every week, we'd be talking about him as the first pick in this draft. That's how talented he is, and that's how much upside he has."
Receiver is another position the Falcons are expected to target, and the wide receiver class isn't all that strong, according to Mayock. He said this draft class is missing the explosive talent we've seen in recent years from players like Odell Beckham, Jr., Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks.
One player who has been linked to the Falcons, Braxton Miller, is a clear second round pick according to Mayock. Miller needs to develop as a route runner, which isn't surprising considering he just transitioned to the receiver position prior to the 2015 season.
"I think his skill set is awesome," Mayock said about Miller. "He's probably going to run 4.4, he's quick, he's fast, he's tough, he's really competitive, so I just think it's just a developmental timeline for him to be productive, and I think he's going to go in the second round."
The Falcons could stand to upgrade their interior line, and there are a few guys available in this draft who may be able to help. It just depends on how Atlanta wants to prioritize things and if they want to look for any veteran help at guard or center.
"I think the best one of that is Cody Whitehair from Kansas State," Mayock said. "I think Vadal Alexander from LSU is the next one, and I would probably put Germain Ifedi from Texas A&M in that same group. I think all three of them are second-round picks."
Mayock says Ryan Kelly, Nick Martin are both outstanding second-round centers who could also play either guard position.— SB Nation NFL (@SBNationNFL) February 23, 2016
I expect Jacob Tamme and Levine Toilolo to stick around, but it wouldn't be bad for Atlanta to add a tight end in this year's draft. Mayock's top two tight end prospects, Hunter Henry from Arkansas and Austin Hooper from Stanford, will likely be off the board before the Falcons get around to addressing that position, but Jerrell Adams out of South Carolina and Nick Vannett out of Ohio State should be available in the third if the Falcons want to go that high.
Beyond that, it just depends on what the team is looking for.
"I think they're going to go in the first three rounds, and then after that it's kind of pick your flavor," Mayock said. "You're looking for a big guy that can block, are you looking for a Tyler Higby from Western Kentucky, more of a pass receiver, or a Thomas Duarte from UCLA who is more like a wide receiver; is he a wideout? Is he a tight end? But that's a long way of saying it's a typical tight end class, and you've kind of got to go and take a specific look at what you need and draft that type of player."