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Atlanta Falcons: 2017 NFL Combine Players to Watch

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The Atlanta Falcons were the underdog story of 2016 as Dan Quinn’s young team reached the Super Bowl. After a heartbreaking collapse, their top priority going into the draft has to be improving their defensive line.

With the majority of their starters returning, there will also be focus on filling the gap at right guard. The team has capable starters elsewhere and are unlikely to lock in on a position. Instead, they will make sure that they find the right players to fit the scheme and locker room.

The 2017 NFL Combine begins on February 28th and the Falcons should have their eye on a handful of players in particular.

Takk McKinley – DE, UCLA

McKinley is an explosive pass rusher with the hustle and work rate that Dan Quinn loves. Vic Beasley lead the league but struggled in the postseason against better teams. With Adrian Clayborn set to return from injury, adding another consistent pass rushing threat would be huge.

Jason Cole reported that McKinley will have shoulder surgery after the combine and is likely to be out for 5-6 months. The torn labrum is the same injury that limited Beasley in his rookie year and caused Shaq Lawson to miss the beginning of the season. Expected to run a good time in the 40 yard dash and jump well, the team will be paying close attention to his agility drills in order to find out whether he can adapt and change direction.

Carl Lawson – DE, Auburn

Lawson is going to come into the NFL as a 3-down player. He has the size and versatility that the Falcons value in their scheme with the potential to play multiple positions. He is physical and aggressive and won’t be overpowered by offensive linemen. While so many edge defenders will be exposed against the run, he is capable of holding his own.

Similarly to McKinley, teams will be looking for Lawson to prove that he has the desired bend and agility. Having missed extensive time due to injury, there will be huge interest in his medical testing. Lawson will benefit from teams seeing him in the flesh and a good week of testing could ease any concerns.

Jaleel Johnson – DT, Iowa

Solidifying the interior defensive line should be high on the Falcons’ list of priorities. Johnson is a disruptive defensive tackle who could start instantly alongside Grady Jarrett. With Jonathan Babineaux’s time nearing an end, Johnson has the motor and penetration that fans love.

The former Iowa Hawkeye is expected to test extremely well. He recorded 19 miles per hour at one Senior Bowl practice. To put that in context, the next fastest defensive tackle recorded a top speed of 16.3 miles per hour. He is projected as a day 2 pick but has the potential for a dramatic rise with a good showing.

Forrest Lamp – G, Western Kentucky

Lamp is widely projected to move inside to guard in the NFL after an impressive college career at tackle. Solid in all areas of the game, he’s athletic enough to fit the Falcons’ zone blocking system. Those teams who see him on the interior will have been disappointed with the fact that he spent the majority of his time at left tackle at the Senior Bowl. The likely departure of Chris Chester leaves an opening at right guard between Alex Mack and Ryan Schraeder.

With his lack of experience at guard, the Falcons will be paying close attention to how Lamp looks in offensive line drills. In particular, his footwork and athleticism will be under the microscope with so much emphasis on second level blocks.

Budda Baker – FS, Washington

Ricardo Allen is a solid starter at a position with few elite players in the NFL. He’s a capable tackler, a leader, and one of the hardest working players around. Upgrading the position isn’t a priority, and there aren’t many prospects who could do it, but Baker is special. With blazing sideline-to-sideline speed, a willingness to hit, and excellent ball skills, Quinn would be forgiven for remembering how successful his Seahawks defense was with a playmaker at free safety.

Baker isn’t Earl Thomas, but he could be incredibly valuable in what is a passing league. The big questions for Baker will be about his size. There will be durability concerns. If he measures in under his listed 5’10 then certain teams might take him off their boards completely.