Leighton Vander Esch

The most pressing need for the Atlanta Falcons in tomorrow’s NFL Draft is on the defensive line. That may not preclude the team from looking at linebacker as a position to fill. There are a few prospects that may have caught the eye of general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn.

Most mock drafts have the Falcons, a 10-6 team last season, grabbing Taven Bryan of Florida or Maurice Hurst of Michigan or hoping someone like Vita Vea slips to them with the 26th pick. There is a real possibility Dimitroff will look to trade the pick, but trying to grab someone like Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds or Georgia’s Roquon Smith would mean moving up, not down the draft board.


Per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, “There is nothing bad for me to stay about Roquan,” ESPN NFL front office insider Louis Riddick said. “He’s easily a top 10 player. He should be the first linebacker off the board as far as stacked players are concerned.”

The thought is Edmunds and Smith could go in the top 10 selections, or shortly thereafter. Ledbetter wrote there are some concerns about Edmunds teams should consider.

“The only downside to Edmunds, he’s 19 years old,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “He doesn’t even turn 20 until the week after the draft. I think his upside is higher than those other kids, but I think his floor is lower. I’m not sure what you’re getting with him at the end of the day.”

Ledbetter said the Atlanta Falcons have had private workouts with Boise State inside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, Alabama inside linebacker Rashaan Evans and Boston College outside linebacker Harold Landry. All three could be available at the back end of the first round. Evans should be the first of the trio to come off the board.

Vander Esch was moving up draft boards, but now it seems some teams have cooled on him due to a medical issue. Mayock said he plays with a neck brace for a reason, that he’s got a cervical issue, and teams around the league right now are having the conversation about how bad or good is it really and at what level should they select him.

Landry is an edge rusher/outside linebacker type that has been mocked on some sites in the first round, but could easily slip into the top part of the second round. The Atlanta Falcons also own the 58th pick and could look to move up should any of these players fall to round two.

One player the Atlanta Falcons and other NFL teams may look at is UCF’s Shaquem Griffin, who lost his left hand at the age of four due to a rare birth condition. He was the American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year award last season. He made 164 tackles and 33.5 tackles for loss the last two seasons.

“Griffin likely isn’t an every-down player in the NFL, but he is absolutely a Sunday player and can be the Jim Abbot of the NFL, projecting best as a special teams demon and dynamic sub-package linebacker,” according to Dan Brugler’s 2018 NFL draft guide.

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