Editor's Note: This story is the fourth in AtlantaFalcons.com's Road to the Draft series.

The series gives behind-the-scenes looks at the Falcons evaluation and scouting process leading up to the NFL Draft on April 28-30. The other three stories can be read here: Georgia's Pro Day, Senior Bowl, NFL Combine.

By Kris Rhim



Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot laughed with excitement as he pulled his cellphone out of his pocket.

It was the day before the NFL scouting combine was set to begin, and Fontenot was asked how the evaluation process impacts his personal life. He turned his phone to show a text message from Kyle Smith, Falcons VP of player personnel, who sent him footage of an offensive lineman prospect at around 10:30 p.m. the night before.

"Here's Kyle texting me about a swing tackle!" Fontenot said with a laugh, as proof of how the draft evaluation process is a 24-hour commitment. By this point, Fontenot's wife, Tanya, knows that if he's getting a text late at night, it's likely from Smith or another member of the Falcons personnel staff.

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"I'm single and have no kids, so you know, this is the job," Smith said, with a smile, on the combine's first day. "That's something I gotta work on, but yeah, at this time of year, there's no balance for me. It's all in."

When the NFL season wraps up with the Super Bowl in February, it marks the beginning of one of the busiest stretches of the year for NFL front offices. College all-star games – some of which happen before the Super Bowl is played – the NFL scouting combine and college pro days are significant checkpoints in the evaluation process leading up to the NFL draft in April.

It means long hours, innumerable film reviews, countless conversations about the top college prospects in the draft, and sacrificing life outside of football.

"There's no life, not right now," director of college scouting Anthony Robinson admitted. "And that's cool. I'm good with that."

The Falcons have the eighth-most valuable draft capital in the NFL, with five picks in the top 82 selections in this year's draft – including the No. 8 pick. The robust draft ammunition will help the Falcons accelerate their return to prominence by getting multiple players expected to be significant contributors. There is also the possibility that the Falcons will trade their picks for future draft capital or to get a proven player around the league.

"At eight, the potential for you to add a really good football player to this team is exciting," Robinson said.

The arduous journey to the draft, from summer scheduling to player evaluation beginning with area scouts in August, comes to a close today with the NFL draft. In the days leading up to Falcons' evaluators' "Super Bowl," as Robinson puts it, he and the rest of the Falcons personnel staff spend endless time at the team headquarters in Flowery Branch, Ga. searching for the perfect fits in Atlanta.



In the weeks and days ahead of the draft, Robinson typically arrives at the Falcons Headquarters at around 7:30 a.m. and heads straight to the Falcons draft board, which was set following the Senior Bowl in February. The board has shifted since then, as scouts learn more about prospects. It will continue to change until draft week.

Each day Robinson and the rest of the Falcons player personnel department meet with coaches to discuss players from the team's draft board. Aside from a break for lunch, the meetings run roughly from 8 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

"There's a lot of guys you're talking about, and you want to hear everybody's opinion on the player," Robinson said. "It's a pretty long process, but it's fun."

When he is not in daylong draft meetings or eating lunch, Robinson watches game footage on players he is still uncertain about.

He leans on Falcons area scouts, who have been evaluating these players for multiple years, in some cases, and know the prospects better than anyone in the building. He also makes calls around the NFL to other talent evaluators he has built relationships with, searching for any new information on players he may have missed.

Eventually, the day ends for Robinson at around 7:30 or 8:00 p.m.

"You're just trying to get as much prepared as you can for those three days," Robinson said. "... This is really like our Super Bowl."

This year's draft will be Robinson's 14th in the NFL, which he has spent all with the Falcons, rising from scouting assistant to his current role leading the college scouting department. He has been in the draft room for selections of Kyle Pitts, Jake Matthews, A.J. Terrell, and others.

At this stage, he is more excited than he is nervous.

And aside from the player evaluations, the one thing that keeps him up at night is his outfits for the three-day draft. Robinson says he is past the point of laying out his draft day ensemble the night before like an excited teenager would before their first day of school. Still, he's hoping to be as sharp as Fontenot, who Robinson says had a custom-fitted suit that was the best among the group last year.

"I don't have the fit really picked out yet," Robinson said with a smile. "I kind of got an idea of what I want to do, but we'll see it could change over the weekend."

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