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Trade-down scenario could help Falcons capture Gator

Florida safety Keanu Neal is a hard-hitting, in-the-box strong safety who could immediately step in as a starter in coach Dan Quinn's scheme. Rob Foldy/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons, with just five draft picks, have expressed a willingness to trade back with hopes of securing more picks.

Could such a scenario lead them to Gator Nation? It's possible.

It's no secret the Falcons have a strong interest in Florida safety Keanu Neal, a guy who views the Falcons as the ideal fit for him. Neal is a hard-hitting, in-the-box strong safety who could immediately step in as a starter in coach Dan Quinn's scheme. And Neal has familiarity with Quinn, who recruited him to Florida as the Gators defensive coordinator.

The Falcons have the 17th overall selection in Thursday's NFL draft. The general belief is that its too high to draft Neal, but it might be worth strong consideration if a player the Falcons targeted such as Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd is no longer on the board.

But you can justify trading down later in the first round and taking Neal -- who received a second-round grade from ESPN draft expect Todd McShay -- if you're convinced he can make an instant impact. Neal is likely to be gone when the Falcons select in the second round (50th overall).

So where might the Falcons end up if they decide to trade down? ESPN Insider and former NFL general manager Mark Dominik offered some context. Dominik always viewed first-round draft picks No. 18-No. 22 as "hot spots" for trade activity. As Dominik explained, most drafts consists of 18 to 22 first-round talents. So, teams picking at No. 23 and lower might consider trading up for their opportunity to land that desired first-round talent.

To Dominik's point, the Falcons themselves moved up from 30th overall to No. 22 to select Desmond Trufant in 2013 by trading their first-round pick, a third-rounder, and a sixth-rounder to the Rams. (The Falcons also acquired a seventh-round pick in 2015, which they used for cornerback Akeem King.)

In 2014, the Saints moved up from No. 27 to No. 20 to select receiver Brandin Cooks by sending their first-round pick and a third-rounder to Arizona. That same year, the Browns moved up from No. 26 to No. 22 to select this quarterback named Johnny Manziel by swapping first-round picks and sending a third-round pick to the Eagles.

No doubt the Falcons could benefit from an extra third-round pick, and Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff believes this draft possesses strong talent through the first three rounds.

If the Falcons indeed consider targeting Neal in a trade-back scenario, they might want to do it before Pittsburgh's pick at No. 25. One of Neal's two team visits was to the Steelers, and there is an obvious interest, although the Steelers could trade back themselves. And there are other teams giving Neal first-round consideration as well.