BIRDLAND – With the 27th pick in the NFL draft, the Falcons could select UCLA defensive end/linebacker Akeem Ayers.
Here’s a quick look at Ayers:
Hometown: Los Angeles
High school: Verbum Dei
Age: 21 (July 10, 1989)
UCLA: He decided to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. He earned second-team All-American honors from the Walter Camp Foundation in 2010. He was slowed by shoulder and toe injuries last season, but still managed 10 tackles for loss and four sacks while playing defensive end and linebacker. As a sophomore, he had six sacks and four interceptions. He scored three touchdowns that season — two on interceptions and one on a fumble return.
HIGH SCHOOL: Letter three years and played defensive end, linebacker and wide receiver. He was a four-star recruit by scout.com and rivals.com. He made 94 tackles as a senior, including 22 in one game. At wide receiver, he caught 21 passes for 413 yards and nine touchdowns. He also returned 20 kicks for 626 yards.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING ABOUT AYERS: “Akeem Ayers, I’ve got him, I believe, as my No. 2 outside linebacker prospect. He’s played both with his hand in the dirt and up. He played linebacker at UCLA. I think he’s got first-round ability because of his natural ability to get to the quarterback. Most of the 3-4 teams are very interested in him, although I think he can play in a 4-3 scheme. So if you’re scheme diverse, that’s a good thing.” – NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock.
“Where some linebackers excel against the run, some in coverage, and others as pass rushers, Ayers makes plays in all three areas. He does a very good job reading and reacting against the run and he shows excellent anticipation in coverage. While he’s not a feared pass rusher, Ayers nonetheless has the ability to put his hand on the ground as a down defensive end and generate heat on the quarterback.” –ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, in Mel Kiper Jr’s 2011 Draft Report
“Over hyped rush linebacker prospect whose splash plays mask concerning weaknesses, including a tendency to coast on athletic ability, which is not elite. Disappointed scouts with an average (NFL scouting) combine workout, is not a natural pass rusher and could be overdrafted based on perceived upside. The sum is not as great as the parts.” — Nolan Nawrocki, Pro Football Weekly Draft 2011 Preview
FALCONS RATIONALE: What makes Ayers intriguing to the Falcons is his ability to rush the passer and drop in coverage. The Falcons played nickel more than 50 percent of the time and needed linebackers in coverage, or hybrid defensive ends who could drop or rush. There were a couple of times last season where John Abraham or Kroy Biermann were asked to drop into coverage and that usually didn’t work out too well. The Falcons first gear up to stop New Orleans and then a rising Tampa Bay offense. They know they need more playmakers on defense and Ayers could in and help right away.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog