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Atlanta Falcons

  Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel | Player Wire

  In a mild surprise during the first-round of the NFL Draft Thursday, the Atlanta Falcons addressed a need by selecting Florida safety Keanu Neal.

The Falcons, last in the league in sacks with 19 last season, were expected to address their anemic pass rush. Instead, they found a replacement for safety William Moore, who was released.

Neal was one of the fast climbers during the pre-draft process. The buzz around Neal and the Falcons grew loudest in the final days preceding the draft.

"We had targeted our first round pick Keanu Neal from the beginning," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "He was guy that we really believe was the top safety for our system."

The Falcons picked Neal over Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland, Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee and UCLA linebacker Myles Jack. The Falcons stayed true to their "needs-based" and "system-specific" drafting system.

"The strong safety position is a critical one for us and one that's really valuable," head coach Dan Quinn said. "You have to have the run-and-hit factor of playing a linebacker because we play our safeties so close to the line of scrimmage."

Neal beleives he can fit into the Falcons' defense quickly.

"They want guys who are interchangeable," said Neal, who bypassed his senior season to enter the NFL draft. "Who can do more than just one thing and I fit that."

Neal was partially recruited by Quinn before he left Florida to return to Seattle. Neal said that teams had told him he was a late first-round or a second-round pick.

"He is a guy that embodies what we were looking for as far as his passion and his toughness on and off the field," Dimitroff said.

Quinn was delighted to be reunited with Neal.

"For our team we added a terrific competitor and a great hitter," Quinn said.

Many draft analysts had Neal, a 6-foot, 211-pound strong safety who was the Gators' third-leading tackler with 96 tackles, rated differently.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock rated Neal as the third best safety in the draft behind Ohio State's Vonn Bell and West Virginia's Karl Joseph. Nolan Nawrocki had Neal with a "second-to-third round" grade.

However, NFLDraftScout.com, annually one of the most accurate evaluators, apparently saw Neal much the same as did the Falcons. NFLDraftScout.com rated Neal 29th overall, but as the first strong safety, ahead of Joseph, 49th on their list, and Bell, at 52. The only safety of any kind rated ahead of Neal by NFLDraftScout.com was Florida State's versatile Jalen "I'm a cornerback who plays safety" Ramsey, who some listed as a free safety.

In Thursday's first-round action, Ramsey was taken No. 5 by Jacksonville, Joseph No. 14 by Oakland and Bell was not drafted.

The Falcons had a campus visit and a private workout with Neal, who tested well at the Scouting Combine.

Neal sat out the first two games of the 2015 season with a hamstring injury.

The Falcons also heavily scouted Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who went to the Chicago Bears with the ninth pick. Floyd, who worked out for the Falcons on Saturday in Athens, was the first player taken from the SEC.

Ragland was flagged by some teams because of a medical issue, according to NFL Media. He reportedly has an enlarged aorta.

The condition requires monitoring and could lead to aneurysms. Surgery could be required.

Falcons linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich and area scout Anthony Robinson scouted Ragland at Alabama's Pro Day in March.

Lawson, a former Clemson standout, had been in regular contact with Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox.


Notes, Quotes


 Here's what Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff had to say about second round pick Deion Jones: "He adds tenacity to our defense. You see the theme that we are going for here. Obviously, that is what (head coach) Dan Quinn is about. That is what this defense is about. The ability to cover. That's going to be an important part of it. Ability to have range.

"He scrapes very well. He has a really nice feel to scrap inside, step up and make plays. All in all, we think he's just another well-rounded defensive player."

Fourth-round draft pick De'Vondre Campbell looks forward to reuniting with former Minnesota Golden Gopher Ra'Shede Hageman.

Campbell was selected with the 115th pick (fourth round) in the draft Saturday.

Hageman was drafted in the second round by the Falcons in 2014.

"He was one of my bigger role models when I got here," Campbell said. "He kind of helped me settle in to Minnesota. Just getting me comfortable with the situation that I was in. I will always be thankful for that."

Campbell planned to talk to Hageman before coming to Atlanta for the team's rookie minicamp.

"He's just someone that I can always look up to and ask for advice if I need it," Campbell said. "He's been in the league for a few years now, I know that he has some pretty good tips for me to kind of help me out in my first year."

The Falcons were slated to have the 19th pick in the fifth round of the draft, but had to forfeit it as part of their penalties for pumping fake noise into the Georgia Dome during the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

The pick was slated to be the 119th pick overall.

With the 120th pick, the pick behind the Falcons' vacated slot, the Titans selected cornerback LeShaun Sims from Southern Utah.

The Falcons could have used a cornerback at that slot. They are unsettled at the right cornerback spot with second-year player Jalen Collins slated to miss the first four games of the season because of a suspension for using performance enhancement substances.

Sims is the first Southern Utah cornerback to ever be drafted, and joined Miles Killebrew as prospects from Southern Utah taken in the draft.

A four-year starter for the 2015 Big Sky champion Thunderbirds, Sims made 25 pass breakups, 33 pass deflections and eight interceptions during his career.

-The Falcons prepared for the end of the draft.

They posted a sleek video devoted to talking about the virtues of the coaching staff. The video was sent to agents or prospective undrafted players from the team's scouting department at 11:19 a.m. Saturday.

Last season, three undrafted players made the team in safety Robensen Therezie, running back Terron Ward and defensive tackle Joey Mbu.


Strategy & Personnel


  A closer look at the Falcons' picks (6):

Round 1/17 - Keanu Neal, SS, 6-0, 211, Florida

As expected, Neal's freakish athleticism was on display at the Combine. His broad jump was impressive, as he finished three inches ahead of second-place T.J. Green from Clemson. CBS Sports had Neal rated as a fourth- to fifth-round prospect early in the pre-draft process.

Round 2/50 - Deion Jones, LB, 6-1, 222, Louisiana State

Jones is a speedy player. He gives the Falcons another player who can cover running backs. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn has repeatedly talked about getting faster on defense this offseason. Jones was the fastest of all of the linebackers at the Combine. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award and was the Tigers' leading tackler and defensive Most Valuable Player last season.

Round 3/81 - Austin Hooper, TE, 6-3, 254, Stanford

He's considered an athletic pass-catching tight end who had to wait his turn at Stanford. Some believe that he could have benefitted from another year of seasoning in the college ranks. He can develop into a mismatch option-route runner as a receiver. He's also played some H-back and as a move tight end. Some scouts believe that he's a better prospect than former Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry, who was selected early in the second round.

Round 4/115 - De'Vondre Campbell, LB, 6-4, 232, Minnesota

Played both inside and outside at Minnesota. He has discussed playing weak-side linebacker with Falcons linebacker coach Jeff Ulbrich. He started 13 games and started 11 games. He finished third on the team with 92 tackles, including 6.5 for loss. He had a team-high four sacks and was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the coaches and the media.

Round 6/195 - Wes Schweitzer, G, 6-5, 314, San Jose State

He played some left and right tackle in college. He's was a fifth-year senior and two-year starter at left tackle. Played in 31 games with 25 career starts. He was honored in 2012 and 2015 on National Student-Athlete Day by the National Consortium for Academics & Sports. He's a three-time academic all-conference award winner. Played a season under Falcons assistant offensive line coach Keith Carter in 2014.

Round 7/238 - Devin Fuller, WR/PR/KR, 6-0, 195, UCLA

Fuller hauled in just 24 catches last year as a senior. Fuller was a former Army All-America athlete prospect out of high school. He struggled to find a niche in UCLA's offense. He shuffled between playing some slot as a junior to playing outside as a senior in 2015. He is also a potential kickoff and punt returner. Fuller won the Captain Don Brown Memorial Award for most improved player on offense at the annual team banquet.





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"He was one of my bigger role models when I got here," Campbell said. "He kind of helped me settle in to Minnesota. Just getting me comfortable with the situation that I was in. I will always be thankful for that."

Campbell planned to talk to Hageman before coming to Atlanta for the team's rookie minicamp.

"He's just someone that I can always look up to and ask for advice if I need it," Campbell said. "He's been in the league for a few years now, I know that he has some pretty good tips for me to kind of help me out in my first year."

Hmm. I heard Hageman was lazy and immature? Can't believe everything you hear. I expect Hageman to breakout sooner than later.

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2 hours ago, The Falcon Jedi Knight said:

1 of those guys will be starting in 2016. The rest will hopefully start on Special Teams

Neal will be starting from game one. I expect Jones to be starting and Hooper to have nearly as many snaps as Tamme by game five. We have experience in front of Campbell, so I don't have a feel for him. I'll be happy if Schweitzer makes the team and gives us a few plays per game, but I expect him to be on PS. I only expect Fuller to make the squad if he has a few opportunities to make returns in the preseason and does well when they present themselves.

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