The NFL Combine is just days away, and with only five picks in this April's draft, Falcons' scouts are going to have to make the most of their time in Indianapolis. With several glaring issues needing to be addressed, Atlanta can't afford to miss on any player this year.
The 2011 Draft went well for the Falcons. Julio Jones looks like a future superstar already, Jaquizz Rodgers is versatile and is most likely in for an expanded role next season, Akeem Dent made plays here and there and Matt Bosher finally settled in nicely as the season progressed.
There are several players already being discussed as potential future Falcons. Coby Fleener is the most commonly found first selection in mock drafts so far.
With hundreds of players receiving invites to Lucas Oil Stadium this week, Atlanta is bound to have an eye on more than a handful of players. Here are five in particular who should receive some extra attention from the Falcons.
The senior tight end from UL-Lafayette has the size and speed to provide a versatile replacement for Tony Gonzalez after he retires. He has to improve on his blocking, but a year under the wing of a future Hall of Famer will certainly help.
Green has decent speed and solid route running skills, but it is hard to gauge how effective he will be at the highest level of play due to his use for the Ragin Cajuns. He was often lined up out wide or put in motion, so there is some question about how he can perform in a pro system. The Falcons will want to keep an eye on this guy, because he will probably be around in Round 3. If they pass on a TE in the second, Green will provide a solid option later on.
David Wilson had a very impressive year for the Hokies in 2011, and although he does have some faults, he is a true playmaker with the skills to succeed for any NFL team.
His current 40 time on record is listed at 4.42. We've seen how ridiculous his speed can be on the field, so it will be intriguing to witness how fast he clocks in at the Combine. Right now it looks like Wilson could be taken well before the Falcons are on the board for the first time, but if he hangs around until the late second, it's hard to imagine Thomas Dimitroff and his crew won't strongly consider selecting his talents.
It's no secret Atlanta is in dire need of help with their pass rush. While Malik Jackson isn't going to be a game changer right away, he could be a project that pays off for the Falcons in the future.
Jackson is a 6'5", 270 lb. linemen with terrific physical tools, but his technique and style are inconsistent and flawed, leading to little production at times. Every scout seems to agree, though, that Jackson has plenty of upside. He's big, athletic and with some work might be a huge presence on the line.
He isn't projected to go anywhere before the fifth round, so he's at least worth a look.
This one is pretty obvious. A good majority of mock drafts are putting Fleener in Atlanta at pick No. 55, and if he has a solid showing in Indy those predictions might be correct.
Fleener has good experience playing with one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, and he's been a big help to Andrew Luck often. He has great hands and provides a big target for any QB to hit.
The question still remains, should the Falcons take a tight end with their first pick of 2012? If Fleener hasn't been drafted by Atlanta's Round 2 selection, he will be yet another tough prospect to decide on. Also, depending on how his Combine goes, he might be taken early in the second round. Either way, they should keep him on the radar at all times.
Zebrie Sanders is huge. At 6'6", 308 lbs. he brings obvious physical tools to the table immediately, but he does have some issues that he will have to work on with his NFL coaches.
Atlanta's offensive line has had issues off and on in recent history, noticeably at left tackle. Will Svitek managed to do a decent job while filling in for the lackluster Sam Baker, but it's not set in stone that he will start every game going forward.
Sanders would have to be taken in Round 2, and he probably wouldn't be able to step in right away and get the job done. Scouts tend to believe he will need some extra coaching to adapt to an NFL blocking scheme, but the upside is there. The Falcons should keep an eye on how he performs in several drills, especially with his mobility. He's been listed running several different 40 times, the highest being 5.12 (which is a little hard to believe). Whatever he does, hopefully he won't repeat the play shown above.