The 2015 season saw the Atlanta Falcons race to a promising start. The sky truly seemed to be the limit
for a squad on the heels of a fresh coaching change after two losing seasons. With defensive guru Dan
Quinn at the helm, not only was the defense swarming to the ball, but the offense was firing on all cylinders. Devonta Freeman was a small revelation, while the offense in general thrived, particularly in the red zone.
So what happened? The offense that was once running so smoothly sputtered to a stall, plagued by interceptions, fumbles, dropped balls, bad snaps, and general ineptitude. In turn, what was once a swarming defense was suddenly exposed on all levels. While the problem with the offense (apart from a few positions) seemed to be largely scheme and execution, the defense suffered from a general lack of talent. Quinn deserves credit for being able to turn lemons into lemonade during the games that bookended the season, but his scheme is ultimately only as effective as the players in it, and the meat of the Falcons 2015 schedule made this painfully obvious.
For the Falcons, the 2016 NFL Draft boils down to who Quinn wants to bring to the fold to put his stamp on this defense. The good news is that the Falcons' defensive needs match up well with the depth in this year's draft. The bad news? The Falcons only have 5 picks in this year's draft, the least of any team, thanks to the Andy Levitre trade and someone's bright idea of piping crowd noise through the speakers at the Georgia Dome. This means Thomas Dimitroff and Co. must be efficient in finding the right players for Quinn's particular style of defense. For a defense as bereft of talent as the Falcons', this means crucial injections at every level.
Arguably the biggest holes in this defense are at LB, DE, and SS. In a defensive-laden draft, this affords them the opportunity to get as close to BPA as possible. So which way should the Falcons go? The answer lies in comparing the available players with the crucial tenets of Quinn's scheme. We know that he likes to run a fast, physical version of the 4-3 Under, with players that can get pressure on the quarterback and swarm to the ball once it leaves his hands. In contrast, the Falcons are coming of a year in which they were dead last in sacks and started replacement-level talent across the board at linebacker. So the front seven seems like the logical place to start.
Shaq Lawson is available here, and on the surface, he seems like the no-brainer pick. He was among the nation's leaders in both sacks and TFL at Clemson, and he has the size, intelligence, and motor to stay on the field in a variety of situations. The problem is that he is primarily a run stopper whose numbers benefited from effort-sacks and attention to his teammate Kevin Dodd on the other side of the line. Lawson lacks the hip flexion and first step needed to translate his success as a pass rusher to the next level. Now don't get me wrong, Lawson is a fantastic player. It's just that the Quinn needs D's that can get after the quarterback, not simply run-stoppers. The Falcons were average against the run last year, not terrible, and the recent acquisitions of Upshaw and Shelby should make them even better in that regard. In fact, I would argue Lawson is a very similar player to Upshaw. Therefore, I actually prefer Dodd over Lawson, as he is taller, longer, and possesses the bend and burst to be an effective edge rusher in the NFL. But the problem with Dodd is that he is unproven, and after these two, the drop off at DE is substantial.
So now we turn our attention to linebacker, where the Falcons could use both a field general for a Mike as well as a rangy, instinctive Will. Reggie Ragland fits the mold at Mike, but is a two-down thumper whose lack of speed would make him a reach in the first round for today's NFL. So that narrows it down to Darron Lee and Leonard Floyd. They both are very intriguing prospects, with the kind of speed and versatility that makes defensive coordinators give denim clad salutes. Lee's versatility hinges on his man coverage ability and his instinctual flow to the ball, while Floyd is excellent in space as well and able to use his length to rush the passer. So which one do you take?
When it comes down to it, Floyd is just too light and lanky for me. Sure, Lee is light too, but he uses it to
his advantage better as he seems to be a step quicker and slightly better in space, all while having a lower center of gravity that will help prevent him from getting stacked and pushed back at the point of attack. Lee has also shown the physicality required to take on blockers, even if his size isn't there yet. Additionally, he possesses elite instincts that cannot be overlooked and make his ceiling that much higher. Factor in his legitimate man coverage abilities and effectiveness as a gap blitzer, and you have the perfect addition to a defense looking to be as dominant as the one Quinn left. While some may argue that a speedy LB for Quinn's scheme can be found in later rounds (i.e., Deion Jones), sorting through the trash is what separates the men from the boys at LB, and it's not really something you can teach.
Dan Quinn knows better than anybody that a quality defense isn't built overnight. You cannot simply plug in any rookie with double-digit sacks in college and expect to have a transformed defense. No, transformation comes from slowly building upon talented scheme fits with high ceilings. Quinn cannot be expected to replicate his defensive success from Seattle when the core of that defense is the absolute weakness of his current one. Lee will be his first attempt to put his own stamp on the team. While a tough schedule in 2016 means the Falcons probably won't be contending for a title, rest assured Dan Quinn has a plan to get them there.
With the 17th overall pick in the 2016 BRB NFL Mock Draft, the Atlanta Falcons take LB Darron Lee from Ohio State.
FreedomRide, you're on the clock for the Colts with your pick due to me by 7 p.m. CDT tonight.
1. Tennessee Titans--Laremy Tunsil (OT--Ole Miss)
2. Cleveland Browns--Joey Bosa (DE--Ohio State)
3. San Diego Chargers--Jalen Ramsey (CB/S--FSU)
4. Los Angeles Rams--Carson Wentz (QB--NDSU)
5. Jacksonville Jaguars--Myles Jack (LB--UCLA)
6. Baltimore Ravens--DeForest Buckner (DL--Oregon)
7. San Francisco 49ers--Jared Goff (QB--California)
8. Philadelphia Eagles--Vernon Hargreaves III (CB--Florida)
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers--Ronnie Stanley (OT--Notre Dame)
10. New York Giants--Ezekiel Elliott (HB--Ohowihateohio State)
11. Chicago Bears--A'Shawn Robinson (DE/DT--Alabama)
12. New Orleans Saints--Sheldon Rankins (DT--Louisville)
13. Miami Dolphins--Eli Apple (CB--Ohowihateohio State)
14. Oakland Raiders--Jack Conlin (OT--Michigan State)
15. Dallas Cowboys--Noah Spence (DE/OLB--Eastern Kentucky)
16. Detroit Lions--Laquon Treadwell (WR--Ole Miss)
17. Atlanta Falcons--Darron Lee (LB--Ohio State)
18. Indianapolis Colts--FreedomRide
19. Buffalo Bills--Texstros9495
20. New York Jets--Houstonkingo
21. Washington Redskins--whiteiron
22. Houston Texans--BRB Staff
23. Minnesota Vikings--King_of_the_Gridiron
24. Cincinnati Bengals--Summer of Watt
25. Pittsburgh Steelers--GannonNash
26. Seattle Seahawks--thepencilneck
27. Green Bay Packers--FeedEmToTheWolves1099
28. Kansas City Chiefs--Senor Stan
29. Arizona Cardinals--HovaFlow
30. Carolina Panthers--Vance87
31. Denver Broncos--viper17d