With the Super Bowl in the books, the offseason has officially arrived. The Senior Bowl has wrapped up, the combine is a few weeks away and mock drafts are starting to pop up all over the place. Draft season is upon us.
We’ll have our first mock draft next week, but let’s roll out our first Falcons related column of draft season.READ MORE: Atlanta Public Schools launches HOPE Child Savings Accounts Program for Kindergarteners
If this was Family Feud and we surveyed 100 people (the top five answers are on the board) and asked them, “Name the most pressing need for the Atlanta Falcons in the draft,” pass rush would be far and away the #1 answer most fans give you.
In 2014, the Falcons tied for second to last in the league with 22 sacks. Recent draft picks Stansly Maponga, Ra’Shede Hageman and Malliciah Goodman combined for two sacks a year ago, Kroy Biermann (who was left for dead by many fans after the 2013 season) led the team with four and a half and Osi Umenyiora is on the wrong side of 30 and a part time player at this stage of his career. With a head coach who just came from building one of the more impressive defensive units we’ve seen in the league this century, pass rush is going to be a major focus heading into April’s draft.
Scott Pioli was specifically brought in to overhaul the offensive and defensive lines, as he did in Kansas City finding players such as Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. A year in, things still are not where they need to be. Maybe that changes in 2015.
I was going to list solely candidates for the Falcons first round selection, but since almost every mock draft on earth has projected either Shane Ray, Vic Beasley, Randy Gregory or Dante Fowler to Atlanta at eight, I have found five pass rushers that they may find outside the first round.
5. Lynden Trail, DE, Norfolk State
Originally a Florida recruit, he transferred to Norfolk State after Urban Meyer left the Gators and starred the past two seasons when given the opportunity. As a starter his junior and senior seasons, the long, lanky defensive end racked up 38 tackles for loss, eight forced fumbles, five recoveries, two interceptions and most importantly, 18 and half sacks. It may be a small school but that kind of production cannot be overlooked. He had a solid showing at the Senior Bowl, projecting best as a base 4-3 DE at the next level. Early on day three, the Falcons could do a lot worse than Trail.READ MORE: K-9 Locates Missing Woman In Thonotosassa
4. Nate Orchard, DE/OLB, Utah
While Dupree failed to participate in Senior Bowl week, this guy was there and he certainly made an impression on me. Orchard, who went from three sacks two years ago to 18 and a half in 2014, was probably the quickest guy off the edge in Mobile. Considering there was some potential first and second round offensive linemen there, Orchard showed he belonged. He flashed with his hand in the ground as well as in stand up situations, showing the athleticism that teams look for off the edge. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his name called on Friday night before the end of round three.
3. Paul Dawson, OLB, TCU
In what was billed as one of the more competitive bowl games of the season, the Peach Bowl turned out to be a laugher with TCU beating Ole Miss 42-3. One of the stars of that game for the Horned Frogs defense was Dawson, who finished the year as an all Big 12 LB. He led the team in tackles that day and showed great athleticism against an SEC team flying around the field all game long. Some may think he’s too small to get off blocks in the NFL but in today’s day and age you need athleticism at his position and he oozes it. 128 tackles, 18 and a half tackles for loss and five sacks his senior year makes him a definite candidate for the Falcons on day two of the draft.
2. Danielle Hunter, DE, LSU
A budding star on John Chavis’ Tiger defense, Hunter played much better than his sack number of three for the season would indicate. He finished third on a very talented LSU defense in tackles and led the team in tackles for loss with 13. He’s 6 foot 6, uses his big frame to clog rushing lanes when opposing teams try and run off tackle and gets after the quarterback on a consistent basis. He will probably stay at defensive end in base, but he could be the type of hybrid player that switches to OLB under new coach Dan Quinn as he looks for pieces to plug in his new look defense.
1. Alvin “Bud” Dupree, DE, KentuckyMORE NEWS: Biden to travel Tuesday to Buffalo following mass shooting
I mentioned him in my column leading up to the Senior Bowl, and it was a shame he backed out a few days beforehand. Still, his possesses rare traits and could be there when the Falcons pick in round number two, bur more likely is an option if they trade down on night number one. He racked up 24 sacks over his career at Kentucky, more than any other SEC player over that time. He can play in a 4-3 or a 3-4 and was a converted tight end after high school. As athletic as they come, his size/speed combo will be appetizing to teams as he shows his stuff at the combine later this month.