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Friday, 27 February 2015

Atlanta Falcons: Defensive Ends Have Connection to Team

You can almost bet the bank that when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stands at the podium to announce the Atlanta Falcons first pick in the Draft, it will be a pass rushing defensive end.

Who the pick is, however, is anyone’s guess right now.

As new head coach Dan Quinn gets acclimated to his new role in Georgia, there are many players to evaluate and consider. The NFL Combine this week end will give Quinn, along with team general manager Thomas Dimitroff and assistant general manager Scott Pioli plenty of chances to see the best talent available.

As wrote before in the team’s final assessment of 2014 for Football Nation, when I look at this defensive unit, all I can say is “Oy Vey!” The headaches this unit caused for Smith and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan are too many to speak of, but there were some bright spots with this franchise.

Paul Worrilow came out of nowhere to lead the team with 143 tackles and received a Pro Bowl invite. He was a monster on the defense from the linebacker position. The fact he had 45 more tackles than anyone else on the team speaks volumes about how important he was to this unit.

Kroy Biermann was a nice surprise after he came back from injury last season. It looks like, should he stay because he is a free agent, Biermann could be a solid pass rusher and outside linebacker for this team.

The Falcons are still lacking a solid pass rush and need someone to lead by example. Biermann had 4.5 sacks which led the team. Look for the team to address this in free agency or look for a pass rusher like Dante Fowler or Shane Ray in the Draft.

The secondary is still an issue as they Falcons face some of the best receivers in the league within the NFC South on six occasions during the season.

The team had 16 interceptions on the year. No one had more than four this past year. Dwight Lowery lost a step. Kemal Ishmael had his best season. William Moore was solid when he was not injured. Desmond Trufant continues to be a player who gets better and had vowed that 2015 will be a better season for himself and the Falcons defense.

Another defensive back in the Draft or free agency may be warranted.

Two players who figure to be in the hunt for that eighth overall selection will be Dante Fowler, Jr., a rush end for Florida and Vic Beasley, a rush end who could also play some outside linebacker. As Jay Adams of explains, both already have ties to the organization.

Florida's Dante Fowler was recruited by and played one season under Dan Quinn with the Gators and Clemson's Vic Beasley, who calls Atlanta home, grew up following the Falcons. Both could be targets for the Falcons as the team looks to boost the pass rush this offseason.

Coming off an eight-sack season with 15 tackles for loss, Fowler spent most of his time at Florida under Bill Muschamp's guidance, but the impact Quinn left on him is still with him.

"Just being able to be with Dan Quinn for that one year, he taught me so much. I had enough information for four years," Fowler said. "He was just a great coach, a players' coach type of guy. He was just smart. He was a man and he taught me how to become a man. I was hurt when he left, but I knew he was going to do great things. He's just accomplishing his goals and his dreams just like I am, too, and I'm proud of him."

Fowler was loose in front of the media, coming off as comfortable and engaging. It's no doubt that Quinn played a part in developing that quality in him as Quinn boasts his ability to connect with people and being positive as one of his biggest strengths.

Beasley’s story is a bit different, but his value to this team could still be great, if he is chosen to do what he does best – rush the passer. Beasley may have the best first step off the snap in this Draft.

Beasley shocked scouts at Combine weigh-ins as he registered at 246 pounds after concerns that he had been playing too light — around 225-230 pounds with the Tigers. Beasley said proper training and diet after leaving Clemson has been the reason for the significant weight gain that could put to rest any doubt of whether he can effectively play defensive end in the NFL.

Teams will be looking at Beasley at the outside linebacker spot, as well, and that's what he's looking to show teams at the Combine. He spent much of his career with his hand in the dirt, but wants to prove to teams that he can cover.

Beasley compared himself to Denver's Von Miller and Seattle's Bruce Irvin — the latter being an interesting comparison because of Quinn's use of Irvin as the Seahawks' weakside backer, called a LEO, who can rush with his hand in the dirt or standing up.

Atlanta could also look to find help on the interior. Danny Shelton of Washington or someone like Malcolm Brown could be a choice, should the team trade down.


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