By Gordon Robinson
The Atlanta Falcons go into the 2016 NFL Draft needing help on both sides of the line of scrimmage. They need to protect Matt Ryan better on offense and they need to be able to stop the run and generate a pass rush on defense. Knowing that, I find it humorous that there are as many rumors about the Falcons taking a wide receiver in the first couple of rounds.
Strictly based on what I see and hear, here are five prospects that the Falcons should have an eye on through the Senior Bowl and the NFL Draft Combine:
1. Reggie Ragland – Alabama LB – 6’2” 250 lbs.
Ragland is a run stuffing linebacker. He is a good open field tackler and a ferocious hitter. He is versatile enough to play inside or outside, but with the buzz he has been generating at the Senior Bowl practices he may not be available at pick 17.
2. Shaq Lawson – Clemson DE – 6’3” 275 lbs.
Lawson would add some familiarity to the last season’s rookie Vic Beasley. Lawson is a high energy defensive end who is equally effective in the run as well as in the pass. Atlanta could use his playmaking ability and attitude on the line.
3. Andrew Billings – Baylor DT – 6’2” 310 lbs.
Billings would be an immediate force on the D-Line with great strength and quickness. No one has ever questioned his effort and his motor is always running. His ability to get into the offensive backfield could make the Atlanta D-Line a force.
4. Jonathon Bullard – Florida DE – 6’3” 285 lbs.
Bullard is a benefit to any team on run defense. He is versatile, long and tough. He uses his length to disrupt the passing lanes and block the quarterback’s vision. Bullard has good change of direction quickness and the ability to set the edge.
5. Jaylon Smith – Notre Dame LB – 6’3” 240 lbs.
Everyone agrees that Jaylon Smith is a top 10 talent with the ability to read plays quickly and stop it at the point of attack. The only issue is that Smith is coming off of a knee injury and the question will be if the Falcons will be patient enough to wait on him to rehab before he can hit the field.
Adding depth to the defense should be priority number one for the Falcons and it should not stop there. I think the majority of this draft will focus on D and the players that Coach Dan Quinn can implement into his system. Stay tuned for my thoughts on Round 2 of the NFL Draft as it relates to the Atlanta Falcons.