FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- With the Falcons selected as one of the two coaching staffs to coach in the East-West Shrine Bowl on Feb. 2 (and with practices already underway) a lot of the organization's eyes are on Las Vegas. But not all.
Since Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith were hired on two years ago as the organization's next general manager and head coach, the Senior Bowl has been a hot spot for the Falcons to build relationships with college players that directly impacts their decisions when the weekend of the NFL Draft arrives.
The Senior Bowl takes place in Mobile, Alabama, on Feb. 4 this year, two days after the conclusion of the Shrine Bowl on Feb. 2. Like the Shrine Bowl, the Senior Bowl holds a few practices prior to game day. And like the Shrine Bowl, the Falcons have top representation in Mobile, too. However, with the bulk of the Falcons coaching staff in Vegas because of the nature of their roles there, a smaller contingency of coaches and scouts are in Mobile.
Like special teams coordinator Marquice Williams finds himself the acting head coach of the Shrine Bowl's East team (while tight ends coach Justin Peelle and inside linebackers coach Frank Bush act as his coordinators), Falcons quarterbacks coach Charles London will act as the American team's offensive coordinator at the Senior Bowl.
It's important that London is there in this capacity, too, as the Falcons have shown invested interest in the Senior Bowl over the last two off-seasons.
Before we dive into why they do and how they've shown they do, let's first go over a particular term Fontenot likes to use in his press conferences: Touchpoints.
Every time the Falcons organization gets to interact in some capacity with top college prospects, Fontenot calls it a touchpoint. So, think all-star games. Think college pro days. Think the NFL Combine. All of these moments are when the Falcons can meet, get to know and work with players that - come the end of April and beginning of May - they could draft.
In fact, a primary "touchpoint" for the Falcons in the last two off-seasons has been the Senior Bowl. They actually have a significant track record of drafting players they meet in Mobile.
In Fontenot and Smith's first year in Atlanta, the Falcons drafted five players from the 2021 Senior Bowl (S Richie Grant, CB Darren Hall, OLB Ade Ogundeji, DL Ta'Quon Graham and WR Frank Darby). Last year, they again drafted five players who they met at the 2022 Senior Bowl (QB Desmond Ridder, OLB Arnold Ebiketie, ILB Troy Andersen, OLB DeAngelo Malone and OL Justin Shaffer).
The week of Senior Bowl practices and prep as well as the game itself has become an important stop on the Falcons road to the NFL Draft.
With this in mind, here are a handful of players to watch as the Senior Bowl arrives, with a heavy emphasis on positions the Falcons could target early in the Draft.
Keeanu Benton (Wisconsin): National team
DJ Dale (Alabama): American team
Zach Pickens (South Carolina): American team
Derick Hall (Auburn): American team
Nick Hampton (Appalachian State): National team
Byron Young (Tennessee): American team
Tyrique Stevenson (Miami): American team
Darrell Luter Jr. (South Alabama): American team
Mekhi Blackmon (USC): National team
Tyler Steen (Alabama): American team
Darnell Wright (Tennessee): American team
Dawand Jones (Ohio State): National team
Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos of our rookies from the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.