Enough with the noise about the Falcons going offensive line in the first round. Unless all of the linebackers and edge rushers were gone, then maybe. You could certainly make the argument for trading down and/or taking a tackle who could start as a guard to protect Matt Ryan. But we need a stud linebacker and barring some really wacky selections defensive playmakers will be there when the Falcons make their selection.

Almost every mock draft out there says Reggie Ragland or Darron Lee will be there when the Falcons pick at 17.

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Like last year’s selection of Vic Beasley. Where the glaring need to beef up a non-existent pass rush was addressed, (the first time the Dimitroff regime had gone higher than the 4th round to draft a DE by the way) this team needs to remedy another glaring weakness. Zero playmakers at linebacker.

We need a linebacker that plays with speed from sideline to sideline, we need a linebacker that can cover tight ends and drop into pass coverage against all the weapons NFC South teams throw at us. And get after the QB too.

Ohio State’s Darron Lee is 6’1″ 230lbs… Bama’s Reggie Ragland is 6’1″ and a biscuit shy of 270 at the combine (although reports say he has shed a lot of that weight).

Darron Lee is fast and has the ability to play a hybrid safety position for Dan Quinn. That’s the kind of versatility the second year coach preaches. He could be cross-trained to play safety in the mold of the Seahawks Kam Chancellor. Or he could develop into what everyone wants but only the Panthers have. No, I’m not comparing him to Luke Kuechly… but when’s the last time the Falcons had a linebacker making plays all over the field? And I don’t mean a Keith Brooking getting dragged 7 yards down the field tackle.

Reggie Ragland is a run stopping beast. He did some work at OLB at The Senior Bowl in Mobile and supposedly impressed the Atlanta coaching staff. But with the Falcons like everyone else in the nickel package more than the base defense, don’t you get more bang for your buck out of Lee?

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It’s been a mixed bag for Nick Saban era Tide linebackers in the pros (see Courtney Upshaw who by age 26 was an unrestricted free agent that the Falcons signed to a one-year deal). Throw in Ragland’s propensity for fried food and the perception he’ll struggle to maintain his weight and I think there’s much less risk with Lee.

I know there’s a million opinions on all the projected first round picks. But when in doubt I defer to NFL.com and their breakdown of the talent which includes an anonymous no b.s. assessment from a current or former personnel man.

Take a look at what NFL.com had to say about arguably the two best fits for the Falcons…

Ragland Strengths: Old-school, take on middle linebacker who plays the game the way Nick Saban likes. Steps into hole and will swap paint with lead blockers in order to constrict his gap. Instinctive linebacker who trusts his eyes and goes. Showed greater understanding of angles and leverage this year. Won’t over¬commit when flowing to ball carrier and almost always finds his run fits. Missed tackles fell from ten in 2014 to just three this season. Played with hand in ground as an edge rusher in some sub¬packages. Showed greater willingness to take chances downhill. Nasty hitter with above average play strength.

Ragland Weaknesses: Some scouts question his play speed. Can be inconsistent with his angles when playing downhill. Could get himself in trouble miscalculating NFL speed to the perimeter. Will get locked up more often by pro linemen if he tries to take on all blocks rather than punch and shed. Alabama’s outstanding defensive front allowed him to roam unblocked for much of the year. Can handle himself in zone coverage but man cover skills are limited.

Ragland: Overview: Thumping inside linebacker with throwback size and tone¬ setting mentality. Ragland is a confident and capable early starter in the league who has the temperament to become one of the premier run¬-stopping inside linebackers in the pro game. Ragland has some coverage and speed limitations, but his instincts and overall awareness should be able to mask those issues.

What NFL Front Office guy thinks: “He’s a throwback linebacker, but he’s going to get drafted in the first (round) because he has rushing ability, too.” — Former NFC scouting director


Lee Strengths: Quick to diagnose and flow to the ball. Has unusual ability to find the most efficient routes to the ball. Has athleticism and flexibility to contort his body and succeed through difficult tackle angles. Plays with loose hips, quick feet and desired agility of an NFL weak-side linebacker. Former high school quarterback with the change of direction and speed to be a rangy playmaker. Comfortable in space and excels there. Has plus man cover talent. Willing to stand in and take on blockers with a leveraged strike if his gap is being threatened. Capable gap blitzer with ability to get skinny through the holes.

Lee Weaknesses: Smallish linebacker. Play strength doesn’t come close to matching puffed up listed weight. Balance issues at point of attack could plague him over his NFL career. Has the body type of a big safety. Tape shows few authoritative tackles. Involved in too many arm and shoestring tackles. Comes flying in and fails to come to balance at times. Charged with 21 missed and five broken tackles over the last two seasons. Always at size disadvantage and will have to learn to slip more blocks. Can get better at finding targets in zone coverage.

Lee Overview: Lee’s level of NFL success might very well be tied to scheme fit and his ability to add more muscle to his frame. His athletic traits and ability to make plays should make him a starter, but he won’t unlock his full potential unless he gets strong enough to handle the rigors of an NFL linebacker.

What NFL Front Office guy thinks: “Don’t get overly excited about Ragland making a lot of plays behind those tackles at Alabama. It won’t be that way in the pros. Lee had talent on his defense too, but he’s a natural three-down player who can cover and blitz. He’s a much better playmaker than Ragland.” — AFC executive


For my money, Darron Lee gives you more flexibility and the ability to be on the field for every down right out of the gate. He’s a better fit for what Dan Quinn is doing with this defense.

The Falcons have struggled in stopping the run, but a linebacker who can cover tight ends, running backs and even the occasional wide receiver is what this team needs most.

Lee brings a speed element and playmaking ability this team just hasn’t had at linebacker in over a decade.

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Falcons, go get Darron Lee!