The Falcons need help along the offensive and defensive lines.
They’ve previously used the draft and free agency to develop both lines and that won’t change this offseason.
When the Falcons’ personnel executives, coaches and scouts attend the NFL Scouting Combine, Tuesday through March 5 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, they’ll looked for players who can improve both units.
Offensively, the Falcons drafted left tackle Jake Matthews and right guard Wes Schweitzer. They traded for left guard Andy Levitre and signed center Alex Mack and Ryan Schraeder as free agents.
With the team looking to solidify the interior of the offensive line, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff believes you can find offensive linemen in free agency. With the proliferation of spread offenses and lack of contact and coaching time, most college offensive linemen are not immediately NFL ready.
The Falcons sat Schweitzer for all of his rookie season in 2016 and last season didn’t play fourth-round pick Sean Harlow. Both were being developed.
So, the Falcons probably won’t find any immediate guard help coming out of the college ranks.
“When we decided to make the move on Alex Mack in the past, I realized more and more, as we move into sort of this era of collegiate coaching as well as where we are with the pro side of things, that you can spend money on the offensive line, besides the tackles, and get a great return on your investment,” Dimitroff said. “And, I think I realize it more and more now given the rules situation and where the development is along the offensive line.”
Defensively, the Falcons were able to bring first-round pick Takkarist McKinley along slowly last season. In 2016, they had to play safety Keanu Neal, linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell as rookies.
“When you’re bringing players in from the collegiate ranks into your team, there’s a growth period there, especially along the fronts and especially along the offensive line,” Dimitroff said. “I think if you reached out to most general managers in this league, they’d be a lot more open to spending money in free agency at the guard and center position, and I think we’re consistent with that thought.”
The Falcons will get a chance to fill their needs through free agency, which starts March 14. If they can’t fill all of their needs, they will turn to the draft, which will be held April 26-28 in Dallas. The Falcons have the 26th overall selection in the first round.
With defensive tackle Dontari Poe and defensive end Adrian Clayborn in line to become unrestricted free agents, the Falcons must look closely at the defensive line prospects, too.
“That’s important to continue to build,” Dimitroff said. “We think our young guys will continue to develop and grow there, and we’ll continue to look to fortify that area along the front.”
The work on the draft starts picks up with the scouting of the 326 players at the combine.
Here’s a look at five players on the Falcons’ radar:
Isaiah Wynn, guard, Georgia: Wynn was the left tackle for all of the Bulldogs’ games last season as they marched to within minutes of a national championship. He played guard in the Senior Bowl.
In college, Wynn, who’s from St. Petersburg, Fla., was the backup right guard as a freshmen. He played left guard his sophomore and junior seasons.
He’s viewed as a guard by NFL teams.
Wynn was selected as the top offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl by executive director Phil Savage, a former NFL general manager.
“Senior Bowl practices, if you watched them, he was a dominant player,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “He’s only 6-2. He’s a pure guard. Atlanta needs help along the interior and he would be, I think, an immediate starter with the Atlanta Falcons.”
Billy Price, center/guard, Ohio State: Price was a two-time All-American for the Buckeyes. He won the Dave Rimington Award, which goes to top collegiate center. He could play guard and eventually replace Mack at center.
“I think Billy Price, certainly could (go in the first round) with his versatility to play center or guard,” Kiper said.
Maurice Hurst, defensive tackle, Michigan: After getting 59 tackles, 13.5 tackles for losses and five sacks last season, he was named and All-American and to the all-Big Ten defensive team by the coaches and the media.
“He’s a three-technique, one-gap penetrator,” Kiper said. “He doesn’t have the kind of size that some people are looking for, but if you want a guy who can be a penetrator, a disruptor in the backfield, Hurst is that guy.”
Some project that Hurst will fall out of the first round because he’s 6-foot-2 and 290 pounds.
“I had him in the first round before,” Kiper said. “I thought about him in the late first-round. I could have put them there, but bumped him into the early second round.”
Vita Vea, defensive tackle, Washington: At 6-foot-5 and 340 pounds, Vea is a massive run stuffer.
Several mocks draft have him going to the Falcons, but some believe they must trade up to land Vea.
“Vea will be gone,” Kiper said. “He’s going to test out great. He didn’t have quite the dominate year …in the games I watched, but he’s a talented kid. … I’d be shocked if he was there late in the first round.”
Braden Smith, guard, Auburn. He appeared in 53 games for the Tigers, including 41 consecutive starts. He had 82 pancake blocks over his career, a block that flattens an opponent.