The countdown to the NFL draft has started in earnest for the NFC champion Falcons.
The Falcons’ draft board is set and now all that is left is the final round of private workouts and visits from up to 30 prospects.
The early returns on the partnership between Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn have netted remarkable results.
The Falcons hope to have a repeat of their 2015 and 2016 drafts, from which they found six starters and three major contributors to help catapult them to the NFC championship and the franchise’s second appearance in the Super Bowl.
In 2015, they landed Super Bowl starters in linebacker Vic Beasley (first round), cornerback Jalen Collins (second round) and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (fifth round). Last year they picked Super Bowl starters in safety Keanu Neal (first round), linebacker Deion Jones (second round) and linebacker DeVondre Campbell (fourth round).
Tight end Austin Hooper (third round, 2016), wide receiver Justin Hardy (fourth round, 2015) and running back Tevin Coleman (third round, 2015) also were contributors, and Hooper and Coleman are possible future starters.
Dimitroff and Quinn are adjusting to selecting at the back of the draft. The Falcons hold the 31st pick in the draft, to be held April 27-29 in Philadelphia.
“This is a little different for us,” Dimitroff said. “We’ve been up in the 20s over the last 10 years here and there, but to be at 31, I think it’s all about patience. I also think there are opportunities.”
The Falcons hold three picks in the top 100 with their second-round (63) and third-round picks (95).
This season, the Falcons have all of their picks except for the one in the sixth round, which went to Tennessee in the Andy Levitre trade.
Dimitroff has made a trade in each of his drafts. He traded back two spots with Houston to get the 52nd overall pick and picked up a sixth-round pick last year. They used the pick on Wes Schweitzer, who set to compete for the starting right guard spot.
Dimitroff will listen to all trade offers.
“Some of the teams with double picks or teams that have picks where they might want to move (into the first round), they are going to look at 31 and that potentially gives us an opportunity to be aggressive,” Dimitroff said. “We have never been short of aggressiveness in our approach with the Falcons, so we are always open to talk about that.”
The Falcons are working out most of the top pass rushers in the draft.
Defensive line coach Bryant Young is set to work out Ohio defensive end Tarell Basham on Tuesday in Athens, Ohio. Basham is scheduled to visit the Falcons on April 14 after he visits the Saints.
Basham, who’s 6-foot-4 and 269 pounds, was the Mid-American Conference’s defensive player of the year. He had 11.5 sacks last season and finished his career with the Bobcats with 29.5 sacks and 38.5 tackles for losses in 50 games.
Basham is the eight-rated defensive end in Dane Brugler’s 2017 NFL Draft Guide. Basham, who’s from Rocky Mount, Va., is a projected second-round pick.
“Tarell Basham from Ohio University, he’s a really good football player, and he can play for somebody this year as a rookie,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “… He might not go to the third, but I’ve got a second-round grade on him.”
The Falcons, who are in the market for offensive linemen after the retirement of right guard Chris Chester, worked out Utah linemen Garett Bolles and Isaac Asiata last week in Salt Lake City.
Bolles is widely ranked as the second-best tackle in the draft behind Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramcyzk. At 6-foot-5, 297 pounds, Bolles could be converted to guard in the Falcons’ outside-zone blocking scheme.
Asiata projects as the seventh best guard in the draft and is expected to be picked in the third round, according to NFL Draft Scout.com.
The Falcons have heavily scouted Western Kentucky offensive lineman Forrest Lamp and reportedly have him set up for a visit to team headquarters. Indiana’s Dan Feeney is the second-rated guard prospect behind Lamp, according to Brugler.
Some of the other lineman the Falcons have scouted and worked out include Troy’s Antonio Garcia, who played at Charles Drew High, and Portland State’s Cam Keizur. Chattanooga’s Corey Levin and Georgia’s Greg Pyke were the only guards at the Falcons’ Locals Day on Wednesday.
“Defensively, as we are young and continuing to grow, we love our direction,” Dimitroff said. “We know that we are going to have to continue to focus on building this defense.”
Quinn and his staff will continue to use their Plan D — development — program to quickly get the young players up to NFL standards.
“Dan does a great job as do his defensive coaches with regard to developing our talent,” Dimitroff said. “We are excited about going into the draft defensively as well because we think there are some really good strengths and we can continue to build.”
Please go to AJC.com and MyAJC.com to review D. Orlando Ledbetter’s “Top 100: Best Players Available” list.