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2017 NFL Combine: Positions to watch for the Atlanta Falcons

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The Atlanta Falcons are likely to focus their efforts on a few key positions at the Combine. Here’s a look at the depth.

NFL: NFC Championship-Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

When the scouting combine formally kicks off on Tuesday, the Atlanta Falcons will be ogling (those damn weigh-ins) players who might fit some of their most pressing needs. We have some thoughts on those needs.

Feel free to quibble with my choices, as I’m not the staff draft guru, but my goal is to give you guys a glimpse at some of the players that could be on this team’s radar. After seeing who the Falcons show interest in at the Combine, we’ll have a much better sense of who might be on this team come late April.

Tight End

Top Player: O.J. Howard

One to Watch: Michael Roberts

Projected Falcons Draft Round: 5-7

This isn’t necessarily a loaded class, but there are a couple of obvious standouts in Alabama’s Howard and Miami’s David Njoku, who are both athletic, dynamic receivers with the toolkit to be stars. The Falcons are unlikely to pull the trigger on either player in the first round, and the smart money’s on both being gone by the time they pick in the second.

Why Roberts? He’s projected to go late on the second day or early on the third day, and scouts have called him potentially the best blocking tight end in this class. Atlanta may be letting Levine Toilolo walk, so Roberts would give them their successor and with a player who does have some upside as a receiver.

Guard

Top Player: Forrest Lamp

One to Watch: Dan Feeney

Projected Falcons Draft Round: 2-3

There’s a little bit of blurring here, as Lamp and LSU’s Ethan Pocic probably will both draw consideration in the late first and early second round. You’ll want to watch Feeney, though, as he’s a tremendous run blocking guard who could compete to start immediately. He also blocked for Tevin Coleman, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Edge Rusher

Top Player: Myles Garrett

One to Watch: Charles Harris

Projected Falcons Draft Round: 1-2

Unfortunately, we’re not going to see Garrett in Atlanta. That leaves the Falcons chasing an edge rusher with a little lower ceiling.

Harris makes sense here, as do Taco Charlton from Michigan and Derek Barnett from Tennessee, if they make it to 31. Out of the three of them, Harris seems both most likely to make it to Atlanta’s selection and to be one of the better fits for a team that really needs more pass rushing punch, particularly if Dwight Freeney hangs up his cleats or moves on.

Defensive Tackle

Top Player: Jonathan Allen

One to Watch: Jaleel Johnson

Projected Falcons Draft Round: 1-3

I’m not 100% convinced this will be a draft priority for the Falcons—though I’m hopeful—because the tea leaves indicate that the Falcons will be using some of their free agent dollars to address the position.

Jaleel Johnson is a favorite of our draft analyst Charles McDonald and could very well be the pick at #31 for these Falcons. He could be a massive difference maker in the middle for Atlanta, and so I find myself hoping he’ll be in the mix.

Free Safety

Top Player: Malik Hooker

One to Watch: Fish Smithson

Projected Falcons Draft Round: 4-7

Free safety is not a top priority for the Atlanta Falcons at the moment because Ricardo Allen is absurdly affordable, has two years of starting experience under his belt, and played at a pretty high level in 2016. That means you’re not going to break the bank for one of the top safeties in this class... but you might want to bring in legitimate competition for Allen and a quality third safety if you’re thinking about letting Kemal Ishmael walk.

God, what a name for Smithson, eh? He’s not a big guy, but the Kansas safety was a playmaker in college and is fearless in run support, as well as at least decent in coverage. If the Falcons are searching for a mid-round choice to bring in, they could do much worse than Smithson.

Who do you have eyes on?