Will the Falcons draft a pass rusher? Lots of folks think so

Justin Houston of UGA lines up as a defensive end. Hmmm. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Justin Houston of UGA lines up as a defensive end. Hmmm. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Lots of places claim to be Draft Central. Today we come to you from Mock Draft Central, the place where everyone guesses as to what NFL teams will do. My longstanding guess has been that the Falcons will draft a pass rusher of some sort, be he a defensive end (more likely) or an outside linebacker (less likely). I’m encouraged that a majority of draft-watchers agree with me.

Of 12 mock drafts surveyed from the Big Six online sites — ESPN, SI.com, CBSsports, Sporting News, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com — eight foresee the Falcons taking a defensive end in Round 1. (Although NFL.com, for reasons unclear, lists Cameron Heyward of Ohio State as a defensive tackle. But he seems a DE to me and to most everybody else.)

Five of those eight mocks have the Falcons taking Adrian Clayborn of Iowa, which is about as close to a consensus as you’re apt to get when a team picks 27th. Of the three mocks that have the Falcons taking a DE other than Clayborn, two project him to be gone by the time the Falcons select.

Mocks that have the Falcons picking Clayborn include: Mel Kiper of ESPN (link requires registration); Don Banks of SI.com; Rob Rang of CBSsports; Bucky Brooks of NFL.com, and Pro Football Weekly (as done for Yahoo! Sports).

Mocks that have the Falcons picking a DE with Clayborn off the board: Todd McShay of ESPN (link requires registration) goes with Brooks Reed of Arizona, projecting Clayborn to New Orleans three picks earlier, and esteemed former colleague Steve Wyche of NFL.com goes with Heyward, having projected Clayborn to Tampa Bay with the 20th pick.

The one mock that has the Falcons picking a DE with Clayborn available: Pat Kirwan of NFL.com, who likewise goes with Heyward.

The four mocks that have the Falcons addressing a different position: Chad Reuter of CBSsports, who projects offensive tackle Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin; Charles Davis of NFL.com, who projects defensive back Aaron Williams of Texas; Brian Baldinger of NFL.com, who projects tight end Kyle Rudolph of Notre Dame, and Pro Football War Room for Sporting News, which projects cornerback Ras-I Dowling of Virginia.

The Falcons' Round 1 pick should be:

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Not one of the 12 mocks has the Falcons taking a man of local interest: Justin Houston, the Georgia outside linebacker. (Although five project him as a first-rounder, with three of those leaving him available at No. 27.) I’d thought a while back that Houston might be a fit here, but now I think he’s more apt to land with a 3-4 team.

Having drafted Sean Weatherspoon, an outside linebacker, in Round 1 last season, the Falcons probably won’t take another so soon. (At least not this high.) Having spent big on Dunta Robinson in March 2010, they probably won’t take a cornerback in Round 1, either. And I know they want to bolster their offensive line for the years ahead and find the eventual heir to Tony Gonzalez at tight end, but I don’t think those are necessarily first-round priorities.

The Falcons won 13 games last season but showed a clear need for a better pass rush. This is one of those times the mocks might have it right: DE is so obvious a way to go that it’s almost the only way to go.

By Mark Bradley

84 comments Add your comment

juvenal

April 20th, 2011
11:24 am

they will all be gone…..

juvenal

April 20th, 2011
11:25 am

probably a DB…

juvenal

April 20th, 2011
11:34 am

big DEs that can pass rush short this draft, Houston may be around-an Abrams type…

Mark Bradley

April 20th, 2011
11:41 am

I think the NFL may view Houston as a 3-4 OLB more than a 4-3 DE. He has been both, though.

TONY

April 20th, 2011
11:50 am

I say go with Stephen Paea from Oregon State, without an inside push, whic we are lacking, a DE is just pointless. The middle of the line that commands double teams, will free up our defensive ends. This guy is a beast

rduck

April 20th, 2011
11:56 am

Clayborn, when healthy is a beast. Would love to have him available at #27. Heyward would be my next choice, then Houston and CB Williams last.

Brian Hunt

April 20th, 2011
11:56 am

Houston can play 4-3 DE and he is built in the Abraham / Bierman mold, so he’s an option. Heyward is more of a 3-4 DE, which would project more to DT in a 4-3 scheme. I don’t see him as an option because the team is stacked at DT with Jerry, Walker, Peters, Babineaux, etc.

FSURob

April 20th, 2011
11:59 am

How about WR Torrey Smith and get a legit deep threat? Otherwise, there’s Jernel Jernigan and Titus Young in the 2nd or 3rd round I guess, but we really need someone to expand the length of the field…honestly not sure the Falcons have had that since Tony Martin helped the team to the Super Bowl.

Curious George

April 20th, 2011
12:02 pm

With all the past, present and future player arrests, should the Falcons draft a parole officer as well?

Dr. Warren

April 20th, 2011
12:03 pm

I have some reservations about Clayborn’s health prospects long-term. I’d still like them to nab a speedy wide receiver instead of a DE.

Todd

April 20th, 2011
12:03 pm

Houston took a lot of games off at UGA, he’s talented to say the least. Clayborn, I just don’t know, he really struggled in Big 10 competition last year. Now there are reports that he has a syndrome that has one arm stronger than the other. There isn’t a skill position player(WR,RB) with value at 27, best bet is to trade down. Pick up Titus Young or Jernigan 2nd rd.

Yurtle_the_Turtle

April 20th, 2011
12:03 pm

I don’t get mock drafts. Clayborn is not a top-10 pick because he has one arm shorter/weaker than the other arm. If it is such a problem for a #9 team to pick him because his success will be limited, why do we want him at #27? I would understand a limitation like speed or strength sending a player down the draft board but either he does or doesn’t have the arm issues to play DE in the NFL.

AthensDawg

April 20th, 2011
12:05 pm

I would like to have either Cam Jordan or Clayborn. People are forgetting that we need to get a TE. DJ Williams from Arkansas or Kyle Rudolph would be a good pick. Drafting any one of these positions would be good for our football team.

Monster Mash

April 20th, 2011
12:11 pm

The Falcons need an impact player at 27th pick that other teams have to game plan for; and they can get one. That player might be a DE, an OLB, a WR or an OT. If 8 DEs were to come off the board before the Falcons pick 27th, it means (1) OTs are slipping to us and (2) there will not be a great demand for DEs in Round 1 next year. Would you rather have the 9th best DE or the 3rd best WR or OT? If the Falcons can’t get Kerrigan or Smith at DE nor Solder or Carimi at OT, they will try to drop back into Round 2 and pick up either WRs Kankerson or Jernigan. and at 59th either OLB Bruce Carter or DE Allen Bailey. They will not waste a 2nd Round on a TE, but will take Housler from FAU in the 3rd.

dawgfan

April 20th, 2011
12:14 pm

Techies might remember Clayborn as the guy who almost singlehandedly laid a major whoopin’ on the Triple Option Express in the Orange Bowl. I’m sure if he had a big performance against UGA that Bradley would have been sure to remind everyone of it.

Thanks.

hawesg

April 20th, 2011
12:18 pm

Given the way Smitty rotates his DL players, Houston makes a large amount of sense given Dimitroff’s draft tendencies. He’s a high character, high motor football player rather than an off the chart talent.

Since this draft is deep in DE and DT, I wonder if teams will attack areas of need like DB, LB or WR first and let the deep crop fall to later picks.

But if the DEs that fit (and Heyward seems like Jamaal Anderson 2.0 to me) are gone, and there’s a guy like Carimi or even Solder around, I could see the Falcons draft their new LT and move Baker into one of the spots vacated by the departure of one of Dahl/Clabo/Blalock.

Todd

April 20th, 2011
12:19 pm

Best bet is to trade down, pick up Titus Young or Jernigan in the 2nd. Houston is a talent, but he simply did not play up to his potential at UGA, took off a lot of games. Clayborn is a gamble with his syndrome. If Kerrigan is available, I would take him.

hawesg

April 20th, 2011
12:21 pm

I wonder, also, if Dimitroff wants to risk another early round pick on a kid with physical limitations, given how many games Moore, Perry and Weatherspoon have missed to injuries. That would seem to be a red flag with Clayborn. Heyward looks more like a 3-4 DE.

But the idea they should squander a first round pick on a TE when there isn’t a first round TE talent seems out of character for this regime. Dan Reeves, maybe…

Mark Bradley

April 20th, 2011
12:26 pm

The one knock on Thomas Dimitroff: His last two No. 1 picks got hurt.

yo mama

April 20th, 2011
12:26 pm

I think trading out of first round for a second round pick and a first rnd next yr might be the answer this year, save serious first round money, and stock pile by taking a first rounder next year, and beefing up in round two this year. the margin of talent isnt much different from 27 to 47 in the draft order. so why pay the big money. am i right?

Birdman

April 20th, 2011
12:27 pm

So if Clayborn or another DE is selected, does this spell the end of the Jamaal Anderson fiasco? Having selected two Dt’s early in the last 2 drafts, plus Babs playing above expectations, they can’t afford to keep Anderson in that rotation Spend that money elsewhere.

Falcon 34

April 20th, 2011
12:34 pm

Adrian Clayborn according to draftcountdown.com…….

“Does not project as an elite pass rusher in the NFL. A versatile, all-around good DE that can also play DT.”

We already have one of those named Anderson and hard to imagine fixing our pass rush with a guy who got a whopping 3 sacks as a senior. Sorry, but I absolutely HATE this pick.

Since the year 2000, rookie DE’s have averaged 3.3 sacks in their first year.

Boycott the Draft

April 20th, 2011
12:34 pm

Don’t support the greed.

The only way they’ll get the message is if the draft has its worst ratings ever.

Birdman

April 20th, 2011
12:38 pm

I would applaud selecting a new LT with the 27th pick, or alternatively trading back picking up another 2nd plus 3rd. WIth 2 second rounders, 2 3rd rounders, we could get 4 early contributors.

fanoffalcons

April 20th, 2011
12:44 pm

Who is the best safety? Zero bad behavior tolerance…. lets rethink

Calab

April 20th, 2011
12:47 pm

Clayborn’s suspect arm should not be an issue as long as he has a great motor and a mean streak. If anything, the naysayers give him extra motivation to do great. Does anyone remember one eyed Bob Whitfield?

willie

April 20th, 2011
12:50 pm

We can’t hope one of these guys is there…we need to trade up a bit and grab Kerrigan or Bowers. We need an impact DE badly.

greenjacket

April 20th, 2011
12:57 pm

go for a defensive end from UCF. they looked tough against the dogs!

juvenal

April 20th, 2011
1:15 pm

you have to wonder how far Bowers falls because of the injury…….

dawgfan

April 20th, 2011
1:15 pm

greenjacket, they did look pretty good against the Dawgs. They were certainly a lot better than the joke defense on North Avenue that hasn’t been able to stop a granny in a wheelchair since “the smartest guy in the room” Paul Johnson arrived.

Thanks.

GTT

April 20th, 2011
1:30 pm

Don’t go TE. Justin Peele is good enough to start for many teams that don’t have Tony Gonzalez.

Hankie Aron

April 20th, 2011
1:31 pm

Very good synopsis of the 1st round draft pick greatest need for the falcons. Hey you like how I used synopsis? You like big words Mark that confuse some people. By the way on a more serious note, the column on Outlar yesterday was great, not good.Most younger generations are oblivious to him and his work

blue

April 20th, 2011
1:31 pm

FSURob; the only problem is, despite lack of a deep threat, that is NOT why they were knocked out by GB. It was because they could not stop the other team from scoring at will.

DC Dirty Bird

April 20th, 2011
1:39 pm

Monster Mash seems to be on to something. We can’t repeat the same mistake we made in 2009 with Jerry. Instead of selecting the best available player, we selected what was the best available at a position of need. Hopefully we take the conservative gloves off and go for an impact player or simply trade the pick for multiple selections in the 2nd and 3rd round.

juvenal

April 20th, 2011
1:42 pm

definitely need to go D-felt like Matt thought he had to score every time vs. GB, & made some bad choices…..

DC Dirty Bird

April 20th, 2011
1:51 pm

blue, we were in the game until the pick 6 right before halftime. Why did they get it, because every defense rolls its defense towards Roddy. We need explosive plays on both sides of the ball. I would say DE is every bit of a priority as WR, but we have to be cautious about value. If the DE availabe at 27 grades out lower than the WR or LT left on the board, we have to pass on DE and go for best available.

MikeYJ

April 20th, 2011
1:58 pm

Mark, with there probably being a psuedo-rookie salary cap in the new player contract, would Dim trade down for more picks? That could be an option for the Falcons also.

Joey

April 20th, 2011
2:09 pm

Houston showed last season that if needed, he can drop back in coverage, so yes, Mark, he is a better fit at OLB in a 3-4.

He is getting kinda big for that, however, at 270 lbs.

juvenal

April 20th, 2011
2:18 pm

& he might work harder, if he’s paid-fits in as Abram’s spell & replacement…….

Joey

April 20th, 2011
2:21 pm

Mark, have you seen that ad the NFL is running to get us to watch the draft? What struck me is they are showing about a half-dozen drafts of the Packers, and dang if everyone of them are stars (or superstars) now.

The Pack’s GM is either lucky or a great talent evaluator.

Larry

April 20th, 2011
2:24 pm

“DE is so obvious a way to go that it’s almost the only way to go.”

I know, Mark, but those that don’t get it you and I will be funding their health care and living expenses somewhere down the road as they’re too dumb to know how profoundly and hopelessly dumb they are…we call them liberals here in Cobb County.

Mark Bradley

April 20th, 2011
2:25 pm

The Packers are a well-run team, Joey. What can I say?

Larry

April 20th, 2011
2:36 pm

“The Packers are a well-run team, Joey. What can I say?”

True, but infinitely better coached on offense and defense. Dom Capers completely turned around their defense in one season to “elite” status while the Falcons defense looked WORSE in the playoffs 3 years after their collapse against the Cardinals on the infamous “3rd and 16.”

I’ll never forget the announcers saying “BVG looks at a loss for what to do against Green Bay’s offense.” Chew on that comment for a moment!

Will

April 20th, 2011
2:42 pm

I’m not big on Justin Houston, but I’d rather have a hybrid DE/OLB than another hybrid DE/DT (Anderson). I’ve heard the Dawg fans talk alot about how most of Houston’s production rushing the passer has come from when his hand was on the ground.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think these 280-290lb DEs coming out these days are a burger & fry meal away from losing their quickness and having to play DT anyway?

I think I’ll take the 260-270lb guys…

Mark Bradley

April 20th, 2011
2:46 pm

It would interesting to know how much, if any, the perception of Justin Houston changed after he moved from DE to OLB.

BYRDDAWG

April 20th, 2011
2:55 pm

The Iowa kid looked like a beast in the Orange Bowl against tech!!

csg

April 20th, 2011
2:59 pm

No to Clayborn. TOO SLOW. Watch film on Brooks Reed. He’s the next Cay Matthews. (He even looks like Clay). If not him Akeem Ayers. Place up or down , has a major motor and his nose is always on the ball.

csg

April 20th, 2011
3:01 pm

Fingers too fat to type on a phone. Excuse the spelling.

Mark Bradley

April 20th, 2011
3:01 pm

According to PennLive.com, Kennesaw State is about to hire Lewis Preston, a Nittany Lions’ assistant, as head coach.

csg

April 20th, 2011
3:02 pm

Congrats KSU!