The Atlanta Falcons have long suffered on defense and many believe the main culprit to be a weak defensive line. That’s a pretty tough argument to undercut since the pass rush has consisted of John Abraham, John Abraham, and the occasional Jonathan Babineaux. They have rotated, brought in, semi-developed, and drafted players to no avail. The lone high draft pick in the Smith / Dimitroff Era was Peria Jerry and that’s a microcosm for the past five years: supposedly loaded with potential, but actual production is nil.
It’s a pretty damning statement when the only two successful defensive linemen (at least consistently) were holdovers from the previous regime. Sure, there’s been spurts and flashes here and there, but surely nothing to write home about. Meanwhile, teams in the Falcons own backyard are finding ways to develop pass rushers. Former Bucs DE Michael Bennett was an undrafted free agent who notched 10 sacks and 6th round pick Greg Hardy pulled down 11 sacks in 2012. That’s almost triple (yes, triple) the amount of sacks that any Falcon not named Abraham or Babineaux have pulled down the last five years. It’s hard to imagine the Falcons not taking defensive end, defensive tackle, or both several times in the draft. A look at some of the later round candidates:
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DT seems to be one of the deepest positions in the entire draft this year. While there’s plenty of top-tier talent like Shariff Floyd and Sheldon Richardson to go along with a glut of late first round prospects such as Jonathan Hankins, Jesse Williams, Kawaan Short, and John Jenkins, there’s also a plethora of later round candidates that have some promise.
In fact, a very rough assessment of strength by position reveals that defensive tackle is arguably the strongest position from top to bottom
Missouri Southern St. – 6’1 – 335 – Bench: 38 – Forty: 5.37 – Arms: 32 ⅝ – Hands: 9 ⅜
Career: 42 games – 191 tackles – 52.5 TFL – 25.5 sacks – Projected Rd: 2 – 3
Williams is one of the most intriguing DT prospects out there. He absolutely dominated with an insane amount of tackles for loss and sacks, but it was all done in Division II, where he was a three time All-American. Most scouts have automatically dropped him down the boards due to his inferior competition. Many question his level of competition and strength and quickness when paired off with the best, but production is production, especially the ridiculous amount he had. Would be a great addition moving to the 3-4, but may not fit due to his inability to play in the 4-3. Someone will take a chance on him earlier than many predict.
North Carolina – 6’3 – 313 – Bench: 27 – Forty: 5.03 – Arms: 33 ½ – Hands: 10 ¾
Games: 25 – 96 Tackles – 20.5 TFL – 8.5 sacks – Projected Rd: 1 – 3
Williams is one of the most unpredictable candidates in the entire draft. Some have him slotted to go in the first round and other experts have him going as late as the 3rd. He had a large amount of production at North Carolina, but seems limited to a 4-3 scheme. Has all the tools to be a dominant DT, but entirely too inconsistent for scouts taste and would disappear for large stretches at a time.
Illinois – 6’1 – 307 – Bench: 37 – Forty: 5.15 – Arms: 33 ½ – Hands: 10
Games: 38 – 138 tackles – 16.5 TFL – 3.5 sacks – Projected Rd: 3-4
Spence is a superb run defender and has been compared to Bears DT Stephen Paea. He surely doesn’t have the best pass rushing stats, but he is big, strong (37 Bench), and will provide a strong interior presence for a 4-3 team and could be a good fit for the Falcons if they pass on a DT earlier.
LSU – 6’2 – 309 – Bench: 30 – Forty: DNP – Arms: 32 ⅜ – Hands: 9 ¾
Games: 30 – 107 tackles – 12.5 TFL – 5 sacks – Projected Rd: 4
Like Spence, Logan is a great run-stuffing DT, but will need some serious work on his pass-rushing ability to develop into a 3 down defensive lineman. Represents a good amount of value in the later rounds.
Tennessee-Martin – 6’4 – 329 – Bench: 22 – Forty: 5.22 – Arms: 32 ⅜ – Hands: 10 ⅛
Games: 47 – 109 tackles – 24 TFL – 7 sacks – Projected Rd: 4-5
Hughes is one of the more intriguing DT prospects later in the draft, particularly for 3-4 defensive teams. He has a big frame and is the prototypical size for a 3-4 nose tackle. He represents a great project with a lot of potential after the early run on big-bodied DT’s early in the draft. Started at the University of Tennessee, but was dismissed for non-football reasons before moving to Tenn-Martin. Likley out of contention for Falcons with black dot system.
Georgia Tech – 6’6 – 369 – Bench: 25 – Forty: 5.3 – Arms: 34 ⅞ – Hands: 10 ¾
Games: 53 – 75 tackles – 8.5 TFL – 2.5 sacks – Projected Rd: 5
The local high school and Georgia Tech product is a mountain of a man. At 6’6, 369 lbs he seems to be an immovable force. He obviously is pure space eater and will look to exclusively absorb double-teams, but Barnes is surprisingly quick for a huge NT. Also notched decent pass-rushing numbers for being so big. Like Hughes, some 3-4 team will take a chance on him earlier than some think. Fitness will obviously be the biggest hurdle.
Georgia – 6’5 – 342 – Bench: DNP – Forty: 5.44 – Arms: 35 ¼ – Hands: 9 ½
Games: 34 – 61 tackles – 6.5 TFL – 1 sacks – Projected Rd: 5-6
Even though overshadowed by his more famous DT teammate John Jenkins, Geathers has plenty of talent on his own. A good NT candidate was a junior college transfer to the Bulldogs and helped to form a big and powerful DT combo with Jenkins. Would likely have benefitted from returning for another year, but likely decided to make the leap with all the other talent leaving. Probably hurt his stock by not doing the bench. Like Hughes and Barnes, Geathers provides another good project in a deep DT class.
Mississippi State – 6’3 – 310 – Bench: 32 – Forty: 5.14 – Arms: 32 – Arms: 9 ¼
Games: 51 – 125 tackles – 18 TFL – 8.5 sacks – Projected Rd: 6
Perhaps no other candidate is as overlooked in a deep DT class than Boyd. He has extremely good measurables and really good production in the rough and tumble SEC. He has good pass-rushing statistics and it’s surprising he isn’t slotted earlier than he is. Plays too high at times and plays down to his competition sometimes, but that’s not really uncommon of most prospects. Someone will get a great prospect perhaps due to it being such a deep class.
Bowling Green – 6’2 – 302 – Bench: 30 – Forty: 5.33 – Arms: 32 ¾ – Hands: 9
Games: 50 – 157 tackles – 46.5 TFL – 28 sacks – Projected Rd: 7 – UDFA
Most will either discard or overlook Jones and he is slotted to go really late in the draft or maybe not drafted at all. But it’s impossible for scouts and teams to gloss over his massive production. Almost 50 tackles for loss and almost 30 career sacks deserves a second look. Played at Bowling Green and his physical skills won’t blow you away, but some prospects are simply “football players” and he seems to be one.
Georgia – 6’4 – 313
Jones will probably be venturing into the very late round or likely being undrafted, Jones may be a good player to take a chance on. Jones was somewhat lost in the shuffle in a move from the 4-3 to the 3-4. Like Geathers, heavily overshadowed by the more famous UGA defenders, but Jones is extremely versatile being able to play all positions along the defensive front and may project to be a superb role player and maybe more.
Jordan Hill – Penn State
Everette Dawkins – Florida State
Cory Grissom – South Florida
Jared Smith – New Hampshire
Defensive end has to be one of the most difficult positions to assess on the entire football field, at least for fans. Unlike other positions, there really seems to be no one certain way or one certain round to take defensive ends and have them be successful. The Bucs got 10 sacks from an undrafted free agent, but the Falcons had a huge bust with the #8 overall pick back in 2007. If you take one early, you may get the next JJ Watt, Jason Pierre-Paul, or Ryan Kerrigan. Or you could get the next Jerry Hughes, Vernon Gholston, or Derrick Morgan.
Even though most will focus on the first round and the likes of Dion Jordan, Ezekial Ansah, Bjoern Werner, Datone Jones, and Damontre Moore, there is a ton of talent sprinkled throughout the other rounds. Next to DT, defensive end is one of the deepest positions in the draft, which is good for the Falcons.
LSU – 6’3 – 262 – Bench: DNP – Forty: 4.81 – Arms: 33 ⅜ – Hands: 9 ¼
Games: 32 – 104 tackles – 32.5 TFL – 8 sacks – Projected Rd: 1-2
Many had Montgomery sneaking into the 1st round early on, but after some pretty stupid comments admitting to not giving full effort when playing inferior opponents, even betting with his teammates about it, it likely knocked him out of the first round completely. Some may regard his potential as worth a chance, but his paltry production will scare most away. The black system will probably filter Montgomery out of Falcons possibility.
Florida State – 6’4 – 276 – Bench: 28 – Forty: DNP – Arms: 34 ¾ – Hands: 10 ¼
Games: 25 – 118 tackles – 21 TFL – 16.5 sacks – Projected Rd: 1-2
Also known as Tank, the former Seminole has all the potential and even production to warrant an early pick. He excellent speed, size, and quickness. He pulled down 16 sacks in only 25 games. The problem is all about Carradine’s injury and the poor timing of it. He tore his ACL in November and some believe that he’s worth the risk, but all many Falcons fans can think of is Peria Jerry, and he wasn’t even injured during his final college season. Carradine is a quintessential high risk / high reward candidate for a team that takes him early.
Ohio State – 6’1 – 257 – Bench: DNP – Forty: DNP – Arms: 33 ¼ – Hands: 9 ½
Games: 50 – 155 tackles – 43 TFL – 19.5 sacks – Projected Rd: 3 – 4
Simon won’t blow anyone away with his physical skill set and probably hurt his stock by not participating in either the bench or the forty. Some even project him as a possible OLB candidate at the next level due to his smaller size, but he is extremely bulked up. Had very good stats and showed a great ability to get in the backfield to disrupt. Has an excellent motor that never quits and a great attitude.
Clemson – 6’4 – 276 – Bench: 26 – Forty: 4.78 – Arms: 36 ⅜ – Hands: 11
Games: 54 – 136 tackles – 23.5 TFL – 12.5 sacks – Projected Rd: 3
Goodman is one of the most interesting prospects in the draft. He has superb measurables, great size, very good speed, and some of the longest arms and biggest hands in the DE class. Described as the “meanest guy on the field” sometimes, but disappears others which describes his lack of major production. A very interesting candidate that may be worth a shot, especially if he can become more consistent.
South Carolina – 6’7 – 266 – Bench: 14 – Forty: 4.72 – Arms: 36 – Hands: 10 ⅜
Games: 62 – 161 tackles – 35.5 TFL – 18.5 sacks – Projected Rd: 3-4
Like Goodman, Taylor seems to have all the skills needed to be a boom at the next level. An extremely tall, quick, and fast defensive end, Taylor has also has some really good production and played in every single game in the SEC since enrolling as a freshman. The former gamecock seems to have one of the highest ceilings of any DE prospect and even added some really good production. The only fear is the “Ray Edwards Factor,” which is whether or not Taylor simply benefitted from having arguably the most dominant defensive player in college football on the other side in David Clowney. Also had a really poor showing on the bench, pushing up only 14 times.
LSU – 6’4 – 277 – Bench: DNP – Forty: 4.8 – Arms: 35 ½ – Hands: 10
Games: 52 – 96 tackles – 20 TFL – 10 sacks – Projected Rd: 4 – 5
Edwards is similar to Taylor and Goodman without the production. Has good size and decent speed, but has had pretty low production over his entire career, pulling down only 10 total sacks and not many more tackles for loss.
Michigan State – 6’6 – 281 – Bench: 23 – Forty: 4.96 – Arms: 34 – Hands: 10 ⅜
Games: 36 – 142 tackles – 30 TFL – 10 sacks – Projected Rd: 4-6
The cousin of former first round bust Vernon Gholston is an interesting dichotomy of a candidate. On one hand he has great measurables, but on the other hand he had a very slow forty time and pretty average production. Some sites are slotting him in the 4th, but others are putting him lower. Doesn’t seem to have a very high ceiling.
Missouri Western St. – 6’4 – 262 – Bench: 20 – Forty: 4.84 – Arms: 33 ½ – Hands: 10 ½
Games: 50 – 210 tackles – 57 TFL – 39.5 sacks – Projected Rd: 5 – 6
Like several other small school candidates, most will be quick to dismiss his production only as a product of weak competition. That may be true, but looking at Bass’ fantastic numbers, he’s simply impossible to discard. He leads all defensive end prospects in tackles (210), sacks (39.5), and tackles for loss (57). Don’t be surprised to see a team take him well before his projected round territory.
Michael Buchanan – Illinois
Stansly Maponga – TCU
Joe Kruger – Utah
Armonty Bryant – East Central
Certain candidates such as Corey Lemonier, Brandon Jenkins, and Trevardo Williams will be detailed in OLB post.
1) When should the Falcons go defensive tackle?
2) What DT prospects should they zero in on?
3) What players will they zero in?
4) Are any candidates worth trading up to get?
5) Should the Falcons take more than one DT?
6) When should the Falcons go defensive end?
7) What prospects should the Falcons target and draft?
8.) Which players will they zero in?
9) Should the Falcons take more than one DE?