After months and months of research, analysis, debate, and discussion, the big day is finally almost upon us. With a little less than a week away, it’s like the build-up to Christmas morning to some, but for others it’s just a way to pass the time until real games actually start. Of all the drafts in the Dimitroff Era, this one appears to be one of the hardest to predict. And that’s saying something for the extremely stealth and sly Mr. Dimitroff. There’s a general consensus that this draft seems similar to the draft of 2009 that spent every pick on defense except one. There are many unproven players and a ton of holes on defense, so the belief is that it’s not a matter of if the Falcons go defense, but when and how often.
Linebacker is an area that is less certain than cornerback. Even though most all fans believe that linebacker is a major concern, there’s not necessarily any indication that the front office and coaching staff feel the same way. All three starters return from last year’s NFC Title run: Weatherspoon, Nicholas, and Dent. Weatherspoon seemed headed for his first Pro Bowl before injury, Nicholas had his ups and downs, but still led the team in tackles, and Dent started off slow before seeming to come on at the end of the year.
The problem, however, is the way the season ended. Even though it’s surely not all their fault, they were the easiest scapegoat in the near collapse to the Seahawks and the did-collapse to the 49ers because the tight end seemed pretty much uncovered for large parts of the game. Some of is coaching, some of it scheme, and some of it pass rush, but the linebackers do need to improve in coverage and overall play-making ability. Outside of a few seasons here and there, the Falcons linebacking corps has been the opposite of playmakers. this is a great draft to find some.
Even though the Falcons won’t be getting any of the “elite” outside linebacker type of players like Dion Jordan, Jarvis Jones, and Barkevious Mingo, there is a ton of talent littered throughout the entire draft. Although there is a decent dropoff after the elite level and the 2nd to 3rd round area, there is a ton of potential and superb college production to take in the draft. Even though the coaching staff and front office might be happy with their current crop of LBs (a long stretch), there is simply too much talent to not either upgrade immediately or at least groom for the future.
Brown is generally considered to be the top LB prospect after Jarvis Jones, at least in terms of true outside linebackers. Brown has been compared to Curtis Lofton for his supreme tackling abilities, where he racked up 218 tackles. He didn’t participate in the a few combine events, which may hurt his stock, but is generally considered to be a ready-made starter. Some sites have him slotted as more of an inside linebacker with his lack of playmaking stats. Brown is considered a late first round by some and an early second by others. However, it’s hard to believe the Falcons will take Brown since they are in dire need of playmakers and Brown doesn’t offer that, at least in terms of rushing the passer. Maybe his coverage skills would make up for it.
One of the absolute best outside linebacker prospects in the entire draft. Greene may not the have the notoriety of Jones or Brown, but he may end up being as good or even better in the long run. Honestly, when you look at his stats, it’s hard to believe that he’s not considered to be first round material. He had almost 400 career tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 9 pass break-ups, and 6 INTs. Although most believe that Greene would be a reach in the 1st round, he has future star written all over him. If the Falcons pass on him in the first, he’ll be long gone by the time they pick in the second. Some will look at his height (barely over 6 feet) and be scared away, but Greene may be one of the best overall prospects in the entire draft. The former Scarlet Knight was a team captain, which only helps his case.
Collins is very similar to Greene in his massive potential, while being somewhat overlooked in the grand scheme of the entire draft. Even though he is slotted somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd round, it’s unfathomable to think that Collins will even be around when the Falcons pick in the 2nd round. Collins is loaded with potential and college production. He is almost 6’4, 250 lbs, runs a 4.64 forty, and 19 reps on the bench. Not only is he soaked with talent, he also has fantastic production. He’s locked down 313 tackles, 45 TFL, 21 sacks, 15 pass break ups, and 3 interceptions. Talk about a playmaker. Some may feel that the 2nd round will be a reach. They will likely be proven wrong, at least if his production translates to the next level.
The former Huskie leads off a fantastic third round area of talent at outside linebacker, with rare combinations of talent and production. In terms of value, there may not be anyone better than Moore if the Falcons can somehow get him in the third. He is a load at 6’0, 245 lbs, runs a 4.65 forty, and notched the second highest bench (29) besides Cornelius Washington. Along with excellent physical skills, he’s got the production to back it up. He has one of the highest per game tackle ratios of any OLB prospects (6.9), one of the highest tackles for loss per game ratio (1.1), and one of the best per game sack ratios as well (0.4). Oh, and he can cover in space too, as he had the most pass break ups of any other OLB prospect in the draft (18). More, in fact, than many of the defensive back prospects. Like Collins, the Falcons will probably have to take Moore with the second pick or trade up, because a prospect with playmaker written all over him won’t last long.
While not having the gaudy numbers that Greene, Collins, and Moore have. Gooden is one of the fastest and overall most solid OLB prospects overall. He had pretty good production at Missouri and wasn’t know much for getting in the backfield, but may be one of the better coverage LBs out there. He had 11 pass break ups and pulled down 5 INTs. He’s one of the fastest (4.47) and performed as one of the best on the bench, the 3 cone drill, and 20 yard shuttle. Gooden actually grades out, per NFL.com, as higher than both Collins and Moore and many see him as more ready to be an every down starter. Like Greene, Gooden was a team captain, which Dimitroff is very fond of.
For whatever reason, the A&M Aggie has been overlooked by many scouting sites and have him placed close to the fourth round. Perhaps they’re missing something, as Porter could turn out to be the darkhorse candidate to have the most impact on the next level. A slower 40 time and average workout on the bench combined with a smaller framer (6’1, 229) may be scaring some away. A look at his production says it shouldn’t. He can rush the passer (14.5 sacks, 34.5 TFL) and has one of the better pass breakups (12). Porter is a ballplayer. In fact, NFL.com graded him higher than Greene, Collins, Moore, and Gooden. Only Jarvis Jones and Arthur Brown received a higher grade. The Falcons had him in for a personal visit and it won’t be lost on them that he was a team captain on one of the best teams in college football last year (only team to beat Alabama, in Tuscaloosa no less).
The OLB from Penn State appears similar to Gooden, whereby he seems to do good in coverage, but isn’t the pass rusher that some of the other OLBs ahead of him are. The former Nittany Lion is pretty average across the board in most all areas, neither being near the bottom, nor hitting the top. Hodges would seem to be a good OLB to develop, but anyone expecting him to be an immediate standout may be disappointed.
It’s hard to look at hardly any other project that has vaulted up draft boards as much as the former Dawg. Somewhat lost in the shuffle with his more notable defensive teammates, such as Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, John Jenkins, and Barcarri Rambo, Washington did as good as anyone to increase his stock in the 3-4 months prior to the draft. He had an outstanding Senior Bowl and superb combine. He is 6’4, 265 lbs, ran a 4.55 forty, and had the highest number of bench reps of ANY player at the combine (36). Some slot him as a defensive end, others as a 3-4 OLB, and some put him both. Washington doesn’t have the stats to back it up like some of the others, but you can bet your bottom dollar that some team will take him way earlier than he’s projected (3rd – 4th rd).
Quite possibly the most underrated linebacker in the entire draft. Throw out all the fancy measurables and underwear Olympics skills because Thomas is a straight up football player. It always happens every draft, a player has massive production in college but doesn’t meet the scouts “smell test” at the Scouting Combine. How else can you explain Alfred Morris going in the 6th round or DE Michael Bennett going completely undrafted. Thomas did have a terrible combine. He ran an extremely slow forty @ 4.91 and had one of the lower performances on the bench of all LBs. However, the Falcons would be crazy not to consider someone who can pile up these stats: 228 tackles, 50 TFL, 27 sacks, 6 pass break ups, and 2 interceptions. NFL.com certainly didn’t let the combine bother them when they gave Thomas a higher grade than Gooden, Moore, Collins, and Greene. If the Falcons wait a little later for an OLB, they would be absolutely out of their minds not to consider Thomas. He also has good size @ 6’3, 244 lbs.
The former Howard star won’t blow you away and may be more in line for a backup role, at least at first. But no outside linebacker in the entire draft had more tackles per game than Pough. In fact, even when you include inside linebackers, only Manti Te’o had more tackles per game than Pough. Not only that, but Pough had the most tackles for a loss (70.5 / 1.7 per game) of any defensive player invited to the combine. He appears to be a throwback tackling machine and could be an option if the Falcons decide to double-dip at the position. Maybe be better suited for MLB or at least an ILB in a 3-4, but since the Falcons need major help stopping the run, Pough could be an excellent option.
Magee borders on the territory of possibly not being drafted. Funny enough, he reminds some of another former Arizona State LB named Robert James. He’s undersized and not overly fast, but did show a good ability to get in the backfield (24 TFL, 10 sacks). Might be more of a special teamer and major, major project.
Devonte Holloman – South Carolina
Kiko Alonso – Oregon
Jelani Jenkins – Florida
Etienne Sabino – Ohio State
This inside linebacker appears to be one of the weaker positions in the draft. It’s pretty top-heavy with a few elite type of players such as Manti Te’o, Alec Ogletree, and even maybe Kevin Minter, but there are huge gaps and dropoffs at the position.
Akeem Dent is still a question mark, but showed enough promise in the very limited time he had on the field to at least get another year to start. However, outside of Dent they literally have no one else to man the middle. Mike Peterson has been a consummate Falcon, but it’s high time to move on and develop in the middle, particularly if Smith and Nolan want to use more 3-4 looks. Some believe here in The Cage that giving guys like Biermann, Nicholas, or even Spoon chances in the middle would be a good idea. However, that would require thinking outside the box and trying things that are different and that’s not this coaching staff’s forte.
Even though Te’o and Ogletree are getting all the hype, Minter is very close behind. Many teams, in fact, have him slotted to go late in the first round. At a bare minimum he won’t be escaping the early second round. The former Tiger is fast, strong, and will hit. He doesn’t have the most gaudy of stats or biggest numbers from the Combine, but he’s a tackling machine that would fit nicely in the middle of a defense. It’s highly doubtful the Falcons would look to inside linebacker @ #30, which is where they’d have to take him.
After the top three, there’s an enormous dropoff in talent. Many are slotting those three to go in the first or early second. Most draft sites than rank the next group as 3rd or maybe even 4th round candidates. Kevin Reddick and Jon Bostic will be steals for a team if that’s the case. Reddick doesn’t get the hype, but he has better numbers than both Minter and Ogletree (tackles, TFL, sacks). He’s also faster than both Te’o and Minter. Reddick was a team captain, which will surely pique the Falcons interest.
Like Reddick, Bostic isn’t the most notable of ILB prospects, but he may hold the most potential. His college stats are decent, but he a an excellent Combine, at least in terms of speed. He was the fastest inside linebacker in the group and only Cornelius Washington had a faster time (4.55) of all linebacker candidates. Bostic had the fastest 40 time, 3 cone, and 20 yard shuttle as well. If the Falcons could land him in the 4th or 5th round, they could have a gem on their hands.
Oddly enough, there is a ton of value at inside linebacker towards then end of the draft and it starts with Mauti. The former Nittany Lion has decent college production, especially in tackling, but may hold more potential. Not known for being disruptive in the backfield, per se, he was the strongest inside linebacker at the Combine (28 reps). Didn’t run the forty, which may have hurt him. If the Falcons wait on later ILB, Mauti will surely get a look.
The former Scarlet Knight might be a darkhorse at ILB. He’s not overly fast (4.84) or immensely strong (19 reps), but he has some of the playmaking numbers of any inside linebacker available. He notched 34 tackles for a loss and only Bruce Taylor (16.5) had more sacks than Beauharnais. His measurables won’t blow many away, but he appears to be a major football player the Falcons could use.
Klein may be an attractive option as well, even though he doesn’t have the highest stats, he does seem to have some potential. The former Cyclone has good speed at 4.66 and decent strength, but not overwhelming. He is a great tackler, one of the best of the ILB candidates, and would be a good player to take a chance on later in the draft.
Maybe it’s the slow forty time (5.01) and lower weight (237) that’s bringing him down, because Taylor seems to have very good stats to back up his potential. Only Kevin Reddick and Jarvis Jones pulled down more tackles for loss and Taylor was the absolute best ILB in terms of sacks (16.5). For a team that needs a pass rush any way they can get it, Taylor would be a great choice later in the draft.