INDIANAPOLIS - Falcons head coach Mike Smith can't help but feel he's ahead of the game.
Atlanta's coaching staff got the opportunity to coach at the 2014 Senior Bowl. In doing so, Smith and his coaches got an up-close look at 55 NFL Draft prospects, both as players and as people. They even got to cross over the Jacksonville Jaguars, who were coaching the other Senior Bowl team, and get a look at their 55 players during the week of practice. That's 110 interviews out of the way before the process even began for most teams in the NFL.
"Spending time with 110 draft-eligible players, the advantage is big for the two staffs that were able to do that," Smith said Thursday. "We feel like we're ahead of it. I know I'm ahead of it. Knowing the players, especially the seniors. I'm not as well-versed on the 98 juniors that declared for the draft. That's always a catch-up time."
That catch up time will be this weekend in Indianapolis. While 30 teams in the league have to divide their 60 allotted interviews amongst the seniors and underclassmen, Smith feels like the Falcons now have an opportunity to focus on the underclassmen at the NFL Scouting Combine.
"Our interview schedule will be skewed that way," Smith said. "We got an opportunity to have extensive interviews with 110 guys already. We feel like we have a big advantage than the other 30 teams. I think us in Jacksonville get an advantage."
That advantage may be felt even more in a year when a record 98 underclassmen declared for the NFL Draft. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert called this the deepest draft he's seen in 30 years, but he also called it one of the most immature groups of prospects he's seen. Titans general manager Ruston Webster echoed the sentiment.
"Anytime you're talking about juniors, that's a concern," Webster said.
"We have to our research. Any of those guys that we draft we have to feel good about it."
The Falcons will get do more thorough research on the underclassmen than any other teams. For coaches who don't get to dive into the draft until around this time every year, the jump start could pay dividends.
"Every coach I talked to talked about the draft after their spent the week in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, they felt like they had their best draft," Smith said. "We're looking forward to going through the rest of this process."