The annual NFL Combine is a festival of on-field drills, bench press reps, and the occasional “oooh’s and ahhh’s” around a freakish football player running a mind-blowing 40-yard dash.
For the Atlanta Falcons, the focus was on various spots on both sides of the ball. There are a few tidbits taken away from this edition of the Combine regarding the Falcons. Let’s take a look at a few things we took away.
- It appeared as if a particular edge rusher who did not participate in the on-field drills (K’Lavon Chaisson) may have gained the advantage on the Falcons’ draft board over another edge rusher who did participate (AJ Epenesa). Epenesa ran a 5.10 and 5.04 in the 40-yard dash, which is not great for a defensive end. Even when you take notice of his 10-yard split in that 40 (1.81 and 1.78 respectfully) it still is a partial letdown. No one expected Epenesa to test like an Olympic athlete ,but certain facets (10-yard split, 3-cone drill) were underwhelming. I still believe Epenesa should still be in play at 16th overall, but it’s hard to imagine he’s neck-and-neck with Chaisson at the moment.
- There is a real possibility that the Falcons will add to their linebacker corps at some point in the draft. If I were a betting man, I would roll the dice with a prospect being selected in the fourth round or later. A few linebackers that stood out at the Combine as mid-round prospects: Willie Gay Jr. of Mississippi State (4.46 in the 40), Texas Tech’s Jordyn Brooks (4.54 in the 40), LSU’s Jacob Phillips (39” vertical, 10.5 ft broad jump) and Colorado’s Davion Taylor (6.96 in the 3-cone drill).
- Improving the interior offensive line is a definite priority this offseason for the Falcons. Luckily for them, this is a very solid interior offensive lineman class. Temple’s Matt Hennessy and Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz both solidified their draft status as solid early Day 2 options. Both matched their athleticism on tape with impressive on-field drills. Hennessy posted a very superb 3-cone drill, while Ruiz executed the second-best vertical of all offensive linemen.
- As I am writing this, tears are beginning to form. Because it is slowly sinking in that veteran tight end Austin Hooper will no longer be a Falcon this offseason. So I paid extra attention to the tight end group, and while there were not any sure-fire first-round options, there were a number of tight ends who proved to be viable mid-round candidates. The Falcons met with Dayton’s Adam Trautman at the Senior Bowl and at the Combine, the 6’5 pass catcher showed his eye-opening ability. Especially with a 34.5 inch vertical and how polished he looked in catching drills. Florida Atlantic’s Harrison Bryant gets lost in the fray a bit even though he led the FBS in yards and touchdowns among tight ends last season. Look at his gauntlet drill and you will see a natural pass catcher.
- The running back class is incredibly deep. If the Falcons want to upgrade at the running back spot, there are options literally everywhere. LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire showed off his quick footwork during the on-field drills and reached for the sky with a 39.5 inch vertical. FSU’s Cam Akers silenced any questions about his long speed with a 4.47 40. Eno Benjamin of Arizona State showed his change of direction ability with his 6.97 time in the 3-cone drill. Those three are likely viable candidates as the draft rolls around for the Falcons but one name I can’t seem to take my eyes off of is AJ Dillon of Boston College. The 247-pound running back put on a show and was one of the best all-around athletes in the entire Combine. He can be a legit battering ram if the Falcons commit to running the football efficiently.