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D. Orlando LedbetterD. Orlando Ledbetter

D. Led’s Mock 1.0: Falcons select Noah Spence with 17th overall pick

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Former Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence. (Associated Press)

Former Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence. (Associated Press)

FLOWERY BRANCH – The Falcons will have a shot to improve their defense in the first round of the NFL draft, which is set for April 28-30 in Chicago.

We’re projecting that the Falcons will address the offensive line and linebacker in free agency and go pass rusher in the draft.

If the draft falls anywhere close to how this projected pre-combine mock unfolds, the Falcons will have their choice of Eastern Kentucky defensive end/outside linebacker Noah Spence, Georgia defensive end Leonard Floyd, Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland, Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd or Mississippi defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.

We’re projecting that they’ll take Spence, the former Ohio State Buckeye.

The Falcons will do their homework on Spence, a lightning quick rusher off the edge, who was also stout against the run. He was banned from the Big Ten Conference after two failed drug tests. He later admitted that he used Ecstasy.

Normally, that would be enough to get him taken off the team’s draft board of squeaky clean fifth-year seniors and team captains. But with a new scouting department, more intensive background checks and perhaps some understanding, Spence can pass muster in draft room.

When you are last in the league in sacks (19) and gave up the most rushing touchdowns (20, tied with San Francisco), drastic measures and thinking outside of the box just makes good football sense.

Remember that assistant general manager Scott Pioli took former Georgia standout Justin Houston, who had a drug history. That move has paid off for the Chiefs as Houston, who was taken in the third round (70th overall) has turned into one of the league’s top pass rushers.

Spence was under the microscope at the Senior Bowl. He’s going to be under more scrutiny at the NFL scouting combine next week in Indianapolis.

Without the past, there’s no way Spence would drop to 17. But he’ll drop just like Nkemdiche, who also will have some explaining to do at the combine for his weekend at the Grand Hyatt in Buckhead.

Spence, who’s 6-3, 261 pounds, missed all of Ohio State’s march to the 2014 National title. He was declared indefinitely ineligible by the Big Ten in November 2014.

While at Eastern Kentucky, a FCS school, he was a first-team All-American and had 11.5 sacks in 2015 and was named the Ohio Valley Conference’s co-defensive player of the year.

Here’s how my Mock 1.0 stacks up:

  1. Tennessee Titans. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Mississippi
  2. Cleveland Browns. Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
  3. San Diego Chargers. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
  4. Dallas Cowboys. Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
  5. Jacksonville Jaguars. Veron Hargreaves, CB, Florida
  6. Baltimore Ravens. DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
  7. San Francisco 49ers. Jared Goff, QB, California
  8. Miami Dolphins. Jaylon Smith, DE, Notre Dame
  9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
  10. New York Giants. Sheldon Rankins, DL, Louisville
  11. Chicago Bears. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
  12. New Orleans Saints. Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State
  13. Philadelphia Eagles. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi
  14. Oakland Raiders. Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
  15. Los Angeles Rams. Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
  16. Detroit Lions. Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
  17. Atlanta Falcons. Noah Spence, DE/OLB, Eastern Kentucky
  18. Indianapolis Colts. Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
  19. Buffalo Bills. Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
  20. New York Jets. Jarran Reed, DL, Alabama
  21. Washington Redskins. Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama
  22. Houston Texans. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
  23. Minnesota Vikings. Vadal Alexander, OG, LSU
  24. Cincinnati Bengals. Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State
  25. Pittsburgh Steelers. Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson
  26. Seattle Seahawks. Leonard Floyd, DE, Georgia
  27. Green Bay Packers. Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Mississippi
  28. Kansas City Chiefs. Nick Martin, C, Notre Dame
  29. Arizona Cardinals. Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State
  30. Carolina Panthers. Cyrus Jones, CB, Alabama
  31. Denver Broncos. Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Ohio State

* There will be only 31 picks in the first round in 2016, with New England’s first-round pick forfeited.

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