A couple days ago I went over the possibilities in Free Agency for the Falcons along the offensive line. I think that the best solution for fixing our offensive line is through free agency. Not having a first and fourth round draft pick this year is going to make it very difficult to find an elite talent along the offensive line, especially at left tackle. A little later in the month I will tackle possible o-line solutions through the draft.
But for now, the Falcons have several other positions that they have desperate needs at, and can realistically get good value and talent with the picks they DO have in the draft. Tight End and Defensive End are the two positions most in most critical need for this draft. Today, we will deal with potential second and third round defensive ends.
After keeping my ears opened on the Mock Draft boards, and communicating with the folks at NFL Playbook on NFL Network, many people believe that there is reasonable talent to be had at defensive end in the second and third rounds. I’m sure that we will not use all five of our 2012 picks on defensive ends as that would be severe overkill, but here are a few good picks that would be great value and still potentially on the board when the Falcons spot comes up.
1. Vinny Curry, Marshall. In nine games at defensive end in 2011, Curry was a presence for the Thundering Herd with 53 tackles, 18 for loss, 10.5 sacks, and 6 forced fumbles. The big knock on him is that he played in Conference USA against less than elite competition. The others are that he is not great in pass coverage, and can be suspect against the run. Honestly, and I could be in the minority, but I could care less about those two things. We have very good young defensive tackles, and Ray Edwards has been great against the run at defensive end. When he gets completely healthy, the pass rush will come along. Having Curry who we can turn loose on obvious passing downs, with enough size and strength to bull rush and quickness to beat opponents tackles, he would be a great compliment, and possibly a good player to replace Abraham. He has also been bottled up to an extent with a lot of double teams throughout the season, and still produced at a high level. Look at their size, and he could be the next John Abraham: both are 6’4″, and 263 pounds. If the Falcons with Mike Nolan decided to use a little more 3-4, he could play outside linebacker easily. Curry is projected to be drafted in the first or second round, and I wouldn’t be surprised for him to fall to Atlanta.
2. Cam Johnson, Virginia. He is perhaps more intriguing to me than Curry is. Many project Curry to be a better 3-4 outside linebacker, but Johnson is the prototypical 4-3 defensive end with long arms, he explodes out of a three point stance on the line, has a high motor, and uses his hands to get off blocks very well. A drawback is that Johnson does not play particularly disciplined, and doesn’t play contain or react particularly well to counters and reverses. While he seems to only get after the passer, scouts believe that with an NFL coach to work with him and get him in the film room for considerable periods of time, he can work on those attributes. Also, augmenting his pass rushing repertoire is a must, but he has lots of God given talent, and could turn into a tremendous asset if the Falcons were to pick him. He is also projected to be drafted in the second round.
3. Shea McClellin, Boise State. McClellin is a great leader, a solid player against worthy opponents, and has been productive at numerous positions for this Broncos squad. He has the size and strength to play defensive end, outside linebacker in the 3-4, and has played inside linebacker in college. Many believe that he will be best fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. A downside for McClellin: he is not overly athletic, doesn’t play the run particularly well, and it is doubtful he will be able to bulk up much more once he reaches the NFL. If the Falcons are unable to get Curry or Johnson in the second round, I would absolutely take McClellen in the third round, but despite him being projected as a second or third round pick, I would be surprised if he went in the second round. If the Falcons took him in round two, I would consider it a huge reach.
The Atlanta Falcons desperately need help at the defensive end position, and there is only a limited amount of money the Falcons can spend in free agency. I think it would be beneficial to build this position through the draft, beginning this year. I would not be surprised to see the Falcons go after someone in free agency, but that might cost a large sum or cash. A more likely scenario? The Falcons re-sign John Abraham at a discount (he isn’t quite worth the money he has earned the last couple years, but is nearly 100% of the Falcon pass-rush), and allow their draft picks to rotate in at defensive end. It is much cheaper than signing someone like Cliff Avril or Mario Williams (assuming Houston actually allowed him to hit the free agency market), and prepares the Falcons for the future. Expect the Falcons to use a second or third round pick on a defensive end, one who can make an immediate impact helping out the Falcon pass rush.