Most of the talk surrounding the 2016 NFL Draft has been about the talent and depth at defensive line. Coach Dan Quinn has said he and GM Thomas Dimitroff are focused on building their team through the trenches, but the Falcons also have a need at safety, especially after the release of William Moore. Who is one safety in this year's draft class that you think Atlanta could snag come April?
Kelsey Conway: Keanu Neal out of Florida. I've heard a lot of talk about him being a second or third round type of player, and I think for the Falcons he could be a perfect fit. Neal is known for his physical style of play, NFL.com even went as far as calling him a "vicious hitter" in his overview. He's got the physical build to be a prototype NFL safety, and especially in Dan Quinn's defense.
Jay Adams: If the Falcons are going to pick up any safety help in the NFL Draft next month, it's probably not going to be with finding a starter in mind. While the defensive line and linebacker groups are solid with plenty of value among prospects, the same can't be said about the defensive backfield. If you're looking to add a safety to compete with what's already on the roster (keep in mind, too, free agency is far from over), you might look at a guy like Jeremy Cash who projects as a second- or third-rounder. He's a hard hitter who's not going to give you a ton of help in the coverage game. What he lacks there, he can make up for in run stoppage. He tallied 101 tackles in 2015, which is really impressive for someone at that position.
Andrew Hirsh: A safety probably won't make sense in the middle of the first round, so I'll shift my focus to guys projected to go in the second or third. Darian Thompson is someone who falls in that tier. The Boise State product is known for his hard-hitting nature, and that will certainly endear him to Quinn. More important than his raw physicality, however, is the way he channels it. Thompson isn't a head-hunter who frequently gets in trouble by trying to make bone-crunching stops; rather, he's good at maintaining control of his body and executing the right play. He also has the size (6-foot-1, 208 pounds), speed and ball skills to be a great fit in Quinn's scheme.
Keep in mind who the Falcons have on their roster at this position, what qualities do you believe a safety in Dan Quinn's defense must posses?
KC: Physicality and a good tackler is a must to fit in Atlanta's defense. All last season Dan Quinn talked about the importance of tackling in his defense, especially at this position. Every defensive player the Falcons add I would expect them to be extremely physical.
JA: If free agency and any media availability since the end of the 2015 season are any indication, he's looking for speed, speed and more speed. With your strong safety position, you're usually looking for a bruiser who can really strike fear in the hearts of receivers who dare venture into the middle of the field. You might see the Falcons take a departure from that tradition if Quinn values speed the way he's letting on. My guess here is that this position is still Kemal Ishmael's to lose and he's got enough speed to get the job done while also bringing run-stopping ability. Yeah, I know, I know — he was tackled by Blake Bortles on a sure pick-six, but one more block and Ishmael was gone.
AH: Speed is definitely a focus. Pass defense will be valued, too—especially given the issues Atlanta had covering tight ends in 2015. If the Falcons can draft a safety who can prevent opposing tight ends and slot receivers from wreaking havoc, it would make a huge difference long-term. It's been a while since Atlanta has had a true ball hawk at this position. Adding one can completely change the dynamic in the Falcons' secondary.
With so many good players on defense in this draft, who do you think will be the first safety selected and when do you see them coming off the board?
KC:I believe Jalen Ramsey will be a Top 5 pick this year, and after that I don't see another safety getting picked up until the middle of the second round. Because of the talent among the defensive line and linebacker groups, I don't see a team picking a safety in the first round.
JA: I guess on a technicality, I'll say FSU's Jalen Ramsey, who projects at both safety and cornerback. Some team that takes him could like him more at CB, which technically means he wouldn't be the first safety off the board? I dunno, but I think he's a very high pick in the draft at whatever position he ends up.
AH: It has to be Jalen Ramsey. The fact that some draft experts project him to go as high as second overall says a lot: the ex-Seminole is a rare prospect, one could develop into a generational talent. No one else at Ramsey's position can say as much.
If you were selecting for the Falcons right now, who is your pick?
KC: Reggie Ragland. It's going to be hard for me to pick against this guy. I know people have said his pro day showing raises some questions, but I believe he is the type of player who can come in and take command of a defense, and that's what the Falcons need. Ragland to me is the guy who will show you what he is capable of doing through his tape, not necessarily how he tests out.
JA: I'm going to shift away from the linebacker position, both inside and outside, because I think things are starting to get real scrambled there. Some of these late-first-round projections could find themselves in the top 15. I've been very big on Alabama defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson this draft season and would love to see him in a Falcons uniform. Add him to a very big and powerful defensive tackle rotation that includes a rising Grady Jarrett and the addition of Robinson could even make me a better linebacker. Well, maybe not. But he's my pick until I change my mind again.
AH: I still think Shaq Lawson is the pick if he's available, but thanks to a strong combine, odds are he won't be on the board when Atlanta is on the clock. So I'm going to shift to another area of need, linebacker, and go with Darron Lee. The Falcons don't have much depth at LB after releasing Justin Durant and focusing on other areas in the initial wave of free agency, and Lee could likely provide an upgrade at that spot right away. He's athletic enough to become a starter from Day 1; he's a good tackler with impressive range, too. If size and strength aren't issues—Lee isn't 240 pounds soaking wet—he could be an excellent choice at 17th overall.