FLOWERY BRANCH — Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said Friday he believes Missouri defensive end Shane Ray, whose toe injury kept him from participating in the NFL combine, will be ready for the start of the 2015 season.
The Falcons, who need pass-rush help, could consider Ray with their No. 8 overall pick in next week's NFL draft.
Ray's draft status could be hurt by speculation that he might need surgery.
"We deal with not only our medical people but the medical people at the respective schools," Dimitroff said. "In our opinion right now, a guy like Shane and ... other people who have issues like that, it's our belief that they will be ready to play at the beginning of the season. Obviously that has a lot to do with where a player like that ends up on your board."
Clemson's Vic Beasley, Florida's Dante Fowler, Kentucky's Bud Dupree and Nebraska's Randy Gregory join Ray as the draft's top-rated edge rushers.
Dimitroff said he's been told Georgia tailback Todd Gurley, recovering from knee surgery that ended his 2014 season, should play "at some time in the early parts" of the 2015 season.
Running back and edge rusher are two top needs for Atlanta.
The Falcons haven't drafted a running back in the first round since taking Michigan State's T.J. Duckett with the No. 18 overall pick in 2002.
Atlanta released running back Steven Jackson. Free agent Jacquizz Rodgers, who was Jackson's top backup, signed with the Bears.
Devonta Freeman returns after rushing for 248 yards with one touchdown as a rookie last season. The team re-signed backup running back and special teams standout Antone Smith.
The Falcons' running game has struggled in recent seasons. Dimitroff and first-year coach Dan Quinn could seek help at the position later in the draft. Quinn has the final say on personnel matters, including draft picks, in the Falcons' new hierarchy.
Gurley could be an enticing option in the first round, especially if the top edge rushers on the Falcons' draft board already have been taken.
"Man is he tough," said Quinn, the former Seattle defensive coordinator, who said he became a fan watching Gurley "and the attitude and the style he plays with."
"He's one of those guys that we in the NFL turn on CBS on Saturday afternoon in the hotel and watch guys compete and battle and there are certain guys that jump off the tape, and he's certainly one for me over the last few years," Quinn said.
Gurley (6-foot-1, 236 pounds) ran for 911 yards and nine touchdowns in six games in 2014. His season was shortened by a four-game NCAA suspension for taking $3,000 for autographed memorabilia. In his first game off the suspension, Gurley tore his anterior cruciate ligament, ending his season.
Gurley's ranks behind only Herschel Walker in Georgia career records with 3,354 yards rushing and 44 total touchdowns.
"He's going to have an interesting influence on this draft given his talent along with the concerns for if he will (play) early or not," Dimitroff said. "He runs with all that passion and all that anger and urgency that teams are looking for."
Gurley and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon are considered the top running backs in the draft.
The Falcons have drafted only three skill position players in the first round in the last 10 years: wide receiver Julio Jones in 2011, quarterback Matt Ryan in 2008 and wide receiver Roddy White in 2005.