With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror, the offseason is in full swing for all 32 teams as we rocket towards free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft. The next event on the Draft Season calendar is the NFL Combine: a week-long convention in Indianapolis that gives NFL teams an opportunity to evaluate a huge group of prospects up close and personal. While fans are most familiar with the on-field workouts—sometimes dubbed the “underwear olympics”—the medical checks and player interviews are just as important for teams.
Just like for the Senior Bowl, we’ll be breaking down the top players to watch for the Atlanta Falcons at every position group. We’ll start on the defensive side of the ball and work our way through the offense as we approach the start of the Combine on-field workouts on March 2. Speaking of, here’s the schedule for those workouts if you’re interested.
NFL Combine 2023 On-field Workouts Schedule
THURSDAY, March 2 at 3 PM ET: EDGE, IDL, LB
FRIDAY, March 3 at 3 PM ET: CB, S
SATURDAY, March 4 at 1 PM ET: QB, WR, TE
SUNDAY, March 5 at 1 PM ET: RB, OT, IOL
Workouts will be televised live on NFL Network and can also be watched on NFL+, if you have that subscription.
DEFENSE | EDGE | IDL | LB | CB | S | OFFENSE | OT | IOL | WR | RB | TE
As you might expect, we’ll kick things off with arguably the most important position group for Atlanta: the edge rushers.
The Falcons are once again in desperate need of help at edge rusher, and once again have an excellent opportunity to add to the position in the draft. This class features another very deep group, with 9 EDGE players in the top-50, 17 in the top-100, and 27 in the top-150 of The Draft Network’s consensus rankings. And that’s before the NFL Combine, where some late-Day 3 players will surely elevate their stock with some impressive workouts. Needless to say, Atlanta will have ample opportunity to add a good EDGE player at pretty much any point from Rounds 1-4.
Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
The consensus top edge rusher—and depending on your rankings, perhaps even the top overall player in the class—Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. is a dynamic player with outstanding production over the past two seasons in the SEC. Anderson is a special athlete with rare burst and bend, and he’s capable of some truly special plays when rushing outside. I’m curious to see how much Anderson does at the Combine, but if he works out, he’ll be one of the most exciting prospects to watch.
Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey had a solid week at the Senior Bowl, but his stock has seemingly cooled with the rise of prospects like Keion White and Lukas Van Ness. An impressive performance at the Combine could vault him right back into the first round conversation. Here’s a snippet on his game from my Week 13 Mock Draft:
Foskey has played four seasons for the Fighting Irish, with three as a significant contributor. The senior recently broke Justin Tuck’s all-time sack record at Notre Dame with 25 in his career. Obviously, Foskey is a terrific, consistent pass rusher—he’s got back-to-back seasons with 10 or more sacks. Foskey is a very good athlete with a terrific frame at 6’5, 260, and he’s got the speed to truly threaten the edge. His skillset is versatile, as Foskey can line up all over the formation and can make plays as a run defender.
Derick Hall, Auburn
Another standout from the Senior Bowl, Derick Hall is another name to keep an eye on at the Combine. He’s unlikely to be in play for the Falcons at pick 8, but has a slight chance of falling to 44.
Auburn’s Derick Hall certainly has an enticing package of traits. His athleticism at 6’3, 250 pops off the tape. Hall has an elite first step that can immediately put pressure on offensive tackles, and he pairs it with excellent lateral mobility. He’s also a strong player who can make impact plays against the run and threaten with his bull rush. Hall needs to develop his pass rush counters and improve his hand placement as both a pass rusher and run defender, but the talent is clearly there for Hall to become an impact player in the NFL.
Will McDonald IV, Iowa State
Arguably the biggest riser relative to expectations from the Senior Bowl, Iowa State’s Will McDonald IV put on a show with his blend of athleticism and pass rushing moves. He caused constant problems for pretty much every tackle he faced in Mobile. At 6’3, 235, he’s on the smaller side, and his ability to defend the run at the NFL level could be a concern. His future is probably as a pass-rushing specialist, and I’m interested to see how well he tests in Indianapolis.
Myles Murphy, Clemson
One of the top edge rushers in the class and a frequent pick for the Falcons in mock drafts, Clemson’s Myles Murphy is definitely a player to watch at the Combine. Murphy is prototypically-sized at 6’5, 275 and possesses outstanding athleticism. It’s easy to see why some have him as a top-5 prospect, as he has some of the best flashes of pass rushing ability in the class. He’s also frustratingly inconsistent at getting off blocks and has issues with finishing plays, as his lack of high-end production shows. I also think he really ought to be better defending the run at his size. His measurements and athletic testing will be big for determining just how early he’ll go in the draft.
BJ Ojulari, LSU
LSU’s BJ Ojulari is one of the most intriguing pass rushing specialists in the class and a potential Day 2 target for the Falcons. The younger brother of current New York Giants EDGE Azeez Ojulari, BJ Ojulari has a similar body type and style of play. Athletically, Ojulari looks excellent, with some of best speed rushing reps I’ve seen in the class. I also think he’s one of the best “benders” in a group that has a lot more linear athletes and power rushers. The production has never been very consistent due to the constant turmoil at LSU over the past few years, and Ojulari is currently more of a run-and-chase player against the run. Some terrific testing at the Combine could help him elevate his stock.
Nolan Smith, Georgia
A player I’ve already mocked to the Falcons, the Combine will be very important for Nolan Smith’s draft stock. How does he check out medically? Will he be able to work out at all? How small is he, really? These are all important facets of Smith’s evaluation. Here’s what I had to say about his film:
Smith is a bit of a challenging evaluation, as he lacks traditional size at 6’3, 235, but you’d never know it by watching his film. Put simply, Nolan’s play against the run defies logic. He’s a terrific run defender despite his size limitations who is adept at setting the edge and making terrific tackles. Smith has outstanding athletic traits, with the explosiveness and bend to potentially become an elite speed rusher at the NFL level. That athleticism also translates to plus play in zone coverage and elite range as a pursuit player. Right now, he’s much more polished and effective against the run, as he doesn’t have much of a pass rush plan or many moves at his disposal.
Lukas Van Ness, Iowa
Perhaps the biggest overall riser from the the 2022 season, Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness went from the fringes of the draft to a potential top-10 pick. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah—one of the more plugged-in draft analysts in the industry—has sent Van Ness to the Falcons at 8 in both of his mock drafts so far. I personally think that’s extremely aggressive for a player with just two seasons and 13 total sacks under his belt, but I do trust DJ quite a bit. I haven’t gotten to his tape yet, but apparently Van Ness is expected to blow up the Combine with his measurements and testing. If he puts up Travon Walker-level numbers, all bets are off.
Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
The other edge rusher commonly linked to the Falcons at 8 is Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson, and the scouting report is going to sound pretty similar. He’s got elite, prototypical size at 6’6, 275 combined with incredible athletic traits. Wilson differs from the other top players a bit in that he’s actually a terrific run defender on the outside, but might be best served by pass rushing from the interior due to his outstanding burst and length. If the Falcons are looking for a Cam Jordan-like presence who can play outside on base downs before reducing inside in passing situations, Wilson is the closest option in the class. Wilson is another player to watch closely at the Combine.
Keion White, Georgia Tech
Could Keion White wind up as the highest-drafted Senior Bowl prospect? I think it’s entirely possible, as he’s been mocked as high as the top-10 since Mobile. Without a doubt one of the most impressive players in attendance, White dazzled scouts with his ability to win from a variety of alignments and with both speed and power. White is another potential inside/outside player who the Falcons could target as early as 8, as falling to the middle of the second round seems unlikely at this point. Just how well he tests will probably determine his ceiling in this draft class.
Other players to watch:
I hope you enjoyed the first of our NFL Combine preview series. Stay tuned tomorrow for our next position preview: interior defensive line.