It’s a pretty busy week for the Atlanta Falcons as their offseason program begins amid the team hosting several of the top prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft this week. Earlier this week we reported on several scheduled visits for the team over the course of this week. But apparently those reports were far from comprehensive.
Yesterday, Central Florida running back Storm Johnson was in town visiting alongside three other prospects. It was already known that UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr would be visiting the team on Tuesday, but Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier and Louisville safety Calvin Pryor were two more that were in the Falcons facilities along with Johnson.
— Storm Johnson (@StormJohnson8) April 22, 2014
Johnson’s scheduled visit was reported over two weeks ago and the team has shown steady interest in him since it was reported that head coach Mike Smith attended Central Florida’s pro day. Both he and Barr are projected to be Falcon selections in a recent FalcFans mock draft.
The team’s interest in Pryor was learned earlier this month when they reportedly conducted a private workout of the safety. Pryor projects as a first-round pick, but it’s possible he could slip into the top of the second round where the Falcons pick.
Interest in Shazier is new, although the Falcons sent coaches to Ohio State last Thursday to workout several players. Perhaps the team wishes to get a closer look at Shazier, since the top brass were instead in Auburn checking out that school’s prospects on the same day.
Shazier projects as a late first-round pick, and is not only one of the top linebackers in this draft class but also in the nation. He led the Buckeyes defense in tackles each of the past two years from the weak-side linebacker position. This past season he posted career-highs with 144 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks on his way to earn All-American status. As a sophomore, he posted 112 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, five sacks, one interception and 12 passes defended.
In other draft-related news, Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post reports that Florida defensive back Jaylen Watkins has already visited with the Falcons. Watkins might be overshadowed by younger brother Sammy who played at Clemson and is widely considered the top wide receiver in this year’s draft class.
Jaylen got to showcase his versatility this past year with a move to safety from cornerback. He started a total of nine games, six at safety and finished the season with 52 tackles, two for loss and seven passes defended. Watkins had career-highs of three interceptions and 11 breakups as a junior when he started 11 games at cornerback.
Watkins measured 5’11”, 194 pounds at the Combine in February, and clocked a 4.41-second 40-yard dash and lifted 225 pounds 22 times on the bench press, the latter tying the best among corners. At his pro day in March, he recorded a 31.5-inch vertical jump and 7.13-second three-cone drill.
Watkins is not the only defensive back with a offensive-minded brother that the Falcons have taken a look at. Per another Wilson report, the Falcons have met with Minnesota safety Brock Vereen, who is the younger brother of New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen.
Similar to Watkins, Vereen is also a convert from cornerback, having started at that position as a sophomore. But after a knee injury, he was converted to safety his junior season. He finished that season as a starter with 64 tackles, one interception and 10 passes defended. This past year as a senior, he began the season at strong safety before injuries forced him back to cornerback. He finished with 59 tackles, one interception and 6 passes defended.
Vereen had an impressive Combine performance, topping the weight room performances for safeties with 25 bench reps. The 6′, 199-pound safety ran a 40 in 4.47 seconds, a three-cone in 6.90 seconds and a short shuttle in 4.07 seconds, all of which were the second fastest at his position group.
Both Watkins and Vereen could potentially project to be second-day draft picks.