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Falcons GM hints at potential interest in Iowa star defensive end

INDIANAPOLIS – As the draft nears closer, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff will spend the next few months evaluating potential draft picks he wants on his roster.

The Falcons top positional needs are the following: Defensive end, running back, cornerback, guard and tight end. Whether the Falcons fill those needs through free agency or the draft is still to be determined.

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Going into his 13th draft as general manager of the Falcons, Dimitroff has continuously been impressed with the talent that has come out of the University of Iowa and schools in the Big Ten conference.

"Those guys are hard-nosed, gritty football players who are going to get it done," Dimitroff said. "They are ready. We always say the Iowa players are pro ready."

Dimitroff acknowledged the Falcons will address the defensive end position and one of the top prospects at that position happens to come from the Iowa.

A.J. Epenesa has been linked to the Falcons in a number of mock drafts and based off Dimitroff's comments, this pick becomes even more intriguing.

"They are ready … we always say the Iowa players are pro ready," Dimitroff said.

With Vic Beasley not returning and Adrian Clayborn set to become a free agent when the new league year begins on March 18, the Falcons are relatively thin at the defensive end position from a depth standpoint. Clayborn and Beasley combined for 12 of Atlanta's 28 sacks.

Defensive end Takk McKinley, Atlanta's first-round pick in 2017, is someone the Falcons are counting on to step up in the upcoming season. Quinn said his only expectation for McKinley at this point is to get healthy after finishing the season in injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

The Falcons finished No. 29 in the league in sacks in 2019 and in order to get back to the postseason, Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn will need more from their defensive end group.

Epenesa, a 6-foot-6, 280-pound defensive end, recorded 26.5 sacks in his three seasons at Iowa. He's widely viewed as one of the top players at his position in this year's draft class.

Here's the overview NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein gave of Epenesa while saying Carlos Dunlap would be his NFL comparison:

"The size and production should force all evaluators to dial their focus in on what he's best at rather than any perceived areas of concern. He has average instincts against the run and is a step slow to shed, but he's strong at the point and he does his job. Epenesa won't just out-run tackles to the edge, but he's a skilled rusher whose diversity of attack, skilled hands and unique bull-rushing instincts could help him deliver his college sack production in the pros. He can play end in a 4-3 or 3-4 and could leap from good to great with additional work on technique and explosiveness."

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