Draft Less than Two Weeks Away
***Introducing Cage Member Just Little Ol’ Me — JLOM ((Mike Chastain)), Joining The Cage Writing Team***
With the NFL Draft coming soon excitement is growing for the possibilities of what the future holds. What players will the Falcons draft? Will the guy you REALLY want be a Falcon on Monday May 4th? Let’s look at the First Round possibilities.
What the experts are saying. “Pass Rusher Pass Rusher Pass Rusher”
Many of the experts have us drafting a Pass Rusher with the 8th pick. The Falcons were sack poor last season ranking 30th in the league with 22 sacks. The Buffalo Bills lead the league with 54 sacks. To keep the sack stat in perspective the top five teams with the highest sack totals in order were the Bills, Ravens, Eagles, Giants, and Chiefs. The only team from that list to make the playoffs was the Ravens. The team with the lowest sack total was the Bengals with 20. They made the playoffs. The Super Bowls champion Patriots were tied for 13th with 40 sacks on the season. Sacks are a very exciting part of the game, but the stats show that sack totals do not guarantee a playoff spot.
The Pass Rusher Prospects:
Dante Fowler Jr 6’ 3” 261lbs He is considered by many to be the most versatile pass rusher in the draft. He is very good at getting into the backfield quickly from any position on the field. He lined up at DT, DE, as well as all the Linebacker positions during his time at Florida. Coach Quinn was his Defensive Coordinator at Florida before moving on to the NFL. The biggest knock on Fowler is that his tackling needs to be greatly improved.
Vic Beasley 6’ 3” 245lbs He was the best looking Pass Rusher at the NFL combine posting a 4.53 40 time and pumping out 35 reps on the bench. He would be best utilized in a role similar to what Clay Matthews plays as an OLB in Green Bay. While Beasley is great as a pass rusher, 13 sacks and 23 TFLs in 2014, he needs to vastly improve his run defense. According to the “experts” he does not have the size to set the edge as a Defensive End.
Bud Dupree 6’ 4” 269lbs He played with his hand in the dirt at DE and standing up as an OLB. He played in coverage as well as a pass rusher while at Kentucky. He has the speed to cover TEs and the size to set the edge and stop the run in the NFL. Charles Davis listed Dupree as a player who will be a better pro than college player. He needs to do a better job of disengaging from blockers as that was an aspect of his game that he struggled with at the college level. There is much speculation of how many sacks he would have recorded if he was allowed to rush the Quarterback on every down.
Randy Gregory 6‘ 5” 235lbs Many experts see him as the pass rusher with the most upside and the best pure pass rusher in the draft. He is raw but has good length and agility when getting to the QB. Projects to be more of a 3-4 OLB than the 4-3 DE he played at Nebraska. Gregory struggled with a knee injury in 2014. Randy also had a positive drug test at the NFL combine which would have gotten him removed from the Falcons draft board in the past. He has the potential to become a fear pass rusher in the NFL, but needs to polish his game.
Shane Ray 6’ 3” 245lbs The SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year is slowly falling behind the previously 4 mentioned Pass Rushers. The one year starter has been dealing with a foot injury that kept him out of the NFL Combine. When he did perform at Missouri Pro Day he did not test as well as Vic Beasley who is the same size. The game tape shows that he has a quick first step, an effective swim move, and is fluid in changing direction when adjusting to the movement of the ball. A major concern for Ray is that he has a thin lower body and lacks the ability to add weight.
Leonard Williams 6’ 5” 302lbs He is not a true pass rusher, but a DT that is very adept at putting pressure on the QB. Many experts think he is the best player in the draft. He has been mocked by some as falling to the Falcons at 8. He would be a welcome addition, but the probability of him falling that far in the draft is very unlikely. He played in the DT and DE positions while at USC. He is expected to be a player similar to JJ Watt in the NFL with his ability to move up and down the defensive line.
If Atlanta does not take a pass rusher with the 8th pick here is a list, in no particular order, of some other options later in the draft.
Mario Edwards 6’ 3” 279lbs FSU (has athleticism, agility, and instincts to be successful in NFL)
Prestion Smith 6’ 5” 271lbs Mississippi State (quick off the edge)
Nate Orchard 6’ 3” 252lbs Utah (18.5 sacks in 2014)
Hau’oli Kikaha 6’ 3” 246lbs Washington State (19 sacks in 2014, uses his hands better than any pass rusher in the draft)
Owamagbe Odighizuwa 6’ 3” 270lbs UCLA (expected to be drafted in the bottom of the 1st round)
Ray Drew 6’ 4” 284lbs UGA (had 6 sacks in 2014, NFL size, considered a work in progress)
Davis Tull 6’ 2” 246lbs UT-Chattanooga (10.5 sacks in 2014, intriguing prospect with great athleticism, played 2014 season with torn labrum, has a 42.5” vertical and 4.57 40)
Eli Harold 6’ 3” 247lbs Virginia (2 year starter with 17.5 career sacks)
Kyle Emanuel 6’ 3” 255lbs North Dakota State (41 career sacks, average a sack every 8.9 passing attempts his senior year)
If not a Pass Rusher then what position? There are four other positions were the team has a need and could surprise some people by using the 8th pick to select. Those positions are Cornerback, Receiver, Running Back, and Offensive Line.
The NFL has become a pass heavy league and increased the importance for teams to have more than two quality corners on their roster. Currently Atlanta has Trufant and Alford. Coach Quinn had long corners in Seattle and I expect that he will be looking for some long corners to man the field in Atlanta.
Trae Waynes from Michigan State is arguably the best corner to come out of the college ranks in the past two years. Many fans remember Atlanta drafting DE J. Anderson in the 8th spot when Darrell Revis was still on the board in 2007.
Why would Atlanta draft a Wide Receiver with the 8th selection when the team has other needs? As previously stated the NFL is a passing league. The Falcons currently have an aging Roddy White, an often injured Julio Jones, an unproven Leonard Hankerson, an aging Devon Hester who had decent production last year, and special teamer Eric Weems. Atlanta could potentially take any of the following three wideouts at number 8 if they are still on the board. Kevin White out of West Virginia is regarded as the receiver with the most upside and sits on the top of most draft boards at his position. Amari Cooper from Alabama is considered to be the most polished pro ready receiver in the draft. Devonte Parker, who is comparable to AJ Green because of his leaner than ideal frame, missed the first seven games of the 2014 season with a foot injury. Parker came on strong in the second half of the season and put up great numbers. It would be interesting to know where he would be in the receiver conversation if he would have been healthy all season long. The Falcons already have a receiver with foot injury issues.
This year’s Running Back class is loaded with talent, but that might not stop Atlanta from taking a Running Back with the 8th pick in the draft. Todd Gurley who many Atlanta fans know very well is considered by many experts as being the best Running Back to come out of college since Adrian Peterson. He has been compared to Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks. The red flag on Gurley is his injury history, not being able to stay on the field for a full season the last two years, and the extent of his current knee injury that was sustained this past season. Even not knowing how Gurley will perform after recovering from the knee injury experts still talk about him being worthy of a top ten pick. Melvin Gordon is the other top Running Back in the draft. Most experts compare him to Jamal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs because he has a similar skill set. He is only about 10lbs lighter than Gurley, but is not considered to be as good as an inside runner, pass blocker, or reciever as Gurley is. Kyle Shannahan likes between the tackle runners and while Coach Quinn has stated that he believes Devonta Freeman can be the starting every down back it is yet to be proven. If you do not have multiple horses in the stable, then one injury can ruin your running game!
Atlanta’s offensive line has lots of questions to answer before the start of the new season. With the release of Justin Blalock there is a vacancy at Left Guard, Center needs to be addressed, and Right Tackle is still a question mark. On the NFL network’s Path to the Draft show they listed Ryan Schraeder as our starting Right Tackle on their depth chart. There has been talk about the possibility of Atlanta selecting Brandon Scherff with the 8th pick. He played Tackle at Iowa, but he projects to be a better Guard in the NFL. The experts compare him to Zack Martin who played Tackle for Notre Dame and was drafted by the Cowboys to play Guard, which he did well. But, the experts are also quick to point out that they believe that Martin was a better player coming out of college than Scherff. The main issue they have is that Martin did not miss blocks and that Scherff is known to have missed blocking assignments in games. Another option would be to draft La’el Collins out of LSU to play Right Tackle or Guard. He did spend some time at Left Guard at the Senior Bowl and looked good in that position. He has long arms and quick feet. He does a good job of staying square with the defender in pass protection. Some consider him to be the best Tackle in the draft, but he does not seem to get as much talk as some of the other Tackles available. The knock on Collins is that he can be over aggressive which leads to mistakes. He did have 65 pancakes his sophomore year and then again this past season. This pick might be a reach at number 8, but one never knows how the draft may fall out.
These are not the only options available to the Falcons at pick number 8th. They could go Safety and take Landon Collins out of Alabama, but he is known more as a hitter than a cover guy and projects as a Strong Safety in the NFL. They could choose to draft a big Defensive Tackle like Danny Shelton out of Washington. He played every down for Washington this past year and has the ability to wear down Offensive linemen, but his stock dropped some after being handled by Ali Marpet and Laken Tomlinson during Senior Bowl practices. Atlanta could choose to trade back and acquire more draft picks to help fill the various needs that the new coaching staff’s scheme requires. This year’s draft has depth in a number of areas of need for the Falcons. Who do you want them to draft at 8? How far do you think Atlanta could trade back in the first and still get a day one starter that will fill a need.