Today we are looking at potential defensive ends Atlanta may target in the draft. Man, was this easier last year when Brian Van Gorder was here. Under Mike Nolan, the Falcons are expected to line up in the 3-4 defense much more frequently than last year. If I was Thomas Dimitroff, I would look at a number of tweener types, like the DE/OLB or DT/DE, allowing the rookies to play in both schemes. However, here we will look at the DE/OLB pass rushing players Atlanta may be looking at.
Looking for a few good pass rushers
Certainly the word “versatile” has been used so much by Dimitroff/Smitty that it has almost lost any meaning to me. In the same way Atlanta loves offensive lineman that can play at multiple spots on the line (or in the case of our recently drafted OL, nowhere on the line), I would expect to see guys who could play a few different roles on our defense. Check out some players Atlanta may target, and some others the Falcons have met with, after the jump.
How much attention should be devoted to the defensive end position? It has certainly remained on the back burner in Atlanta since Dimitroff arrived, with the biggest pass rusher acquisitions being a late 4th round pick on Lawrence Sidbury and snatching up the 2nd rated defensive end free agent last year in Ray Edwards. It may be time to really invest in the position, particularly in the 2nd or 3rd round.
Care of ProFootballTalk’s meeting tracker, Atlanta has looked at Clemson defensive end Andre Branch, Vanderbilt defensive end Tim Fugger, and South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram.
As far as standout pass rusher Melvin Ingram, I cannot see this meeting as much more than due diligence. There is likely a snowball’s chance in New Orleans that Ingram gets anywhere near Atlanta’s first selection, and the shortage of draft picks making a trade up nearly impossible.
Andre Branch has an outside shot at making his way to the 55th spot. Branch has prototypical tweener size at 6’4″, 260lbs. The athletic pass rusher played a lot at LDE against the bigger right tackles. That may be the spot for him in the NFL as his lack of an elite first step would hurt him against the more agile, non-Sam Baker left tackles. Still, he is a very well rounded player that is a perfect tweener type that could play DE in 4-3 and OLB in some 3-4 alignments. I would think there would be more value in a guy who could spell John Abraham and be his eventual replacement as opposed to taking reps at LDE.
Vandy DE Tim Fugger could be a late round flyer for Atlanta, who has dropped thanks to neck and foot injuries. Oh, and because no one knows who is. Fugger has recently received some NFL interest after a very good Pro Day. At 6’3″ and just under 250lbs, Fugger would likely have to put on some weight or play predominately the OLB spot in the 3-4. We love 40 times right? Well, Fugger put up an impressing 4.64 at his Pro Day (some had him in the 4.5’s) and showed off some nice athletic ability. He is a less popular player than most, but still managed 7 sacks and 13.5 TFL last year. Fugger would be slotted for a developmental role his first year.
A potential dark horse would be Shea McClellin of Boise State. At 6’3″ and almost 260lbs, McClellin has been productive in Boise at multiple positions on their defense. Highly athletic with a great first step, and a great 4.6 in the 40, McClellin is a solid pass rusher with high character and special teams ability. Scouts say he plays with a mean streak, high motor, versatile with great speed on the field. After putting up 33 TFL and 20.5 sacks in college, I am convinced he could be a dark horse for the 55th slot in the draft, fitting in to Mike Nolan’s multiple defensive fronts very well. This man is a Dimitroff-type player.
Another potential 2nd round selection is Vinny Curry from Marshall. He has nice size at 6’4″, 263lbs and is coming off two great years as a defensive end. An athletic speed rusher who has a full list of pass rush skills and can play at OLB int he 3-4. Curry posted double digit sacks the past two seasons, and showed an ability to cause fumbles last season, amassing a ridiculous 7 forced fumbles. More of a RDE in my opinion, with the option to rush standing up. Seems to have fewer question marks than many other players, suggesting he may be more of a “sure thing” than other project type defensive ends. For those reasons, there may be only an outside shot of him being available when the Falcons are drafting.
Where do you hope Atlanta goes early in the draft? Should we stay away from defensive ends until later rounds? Or have I missed any players that Atlanta should consider?