Friday, January 21, 2011

What is the Falcons Biggest Draft Need?

The Falcons are a team that was exposed in their game against Green Bay as having many needs to fill in the upcoming draft.

There are many fans and pundits who will tell you they need a true cornerstone left tackle, that Sam Baker is not the answer, and they would be right.

There are many fans and pundits who will tell you they need a speedy wide receiver to complement Roddy White, to use to stretch the field so other teams will stop dropping nine men into the box, and they would be right.

Unfortunately, as right as those people are for those specific needs, the Falcons cannot afford to waste a first round draft pick on the offensive side of the ball. No, the Falcons need to address their defensive deficiencies, and their biggest deficiency on defense that doesn't start with their overly-conservative scheme (a coaching issue) is a defensive end to complement the aging John Abraham. What the Green Bay game proved painfully obvious is that the team needs a much better pass rush, and not just a better pass rush, but a pass rush that can finish the drill when they get to the QB and actually sack him, not wave their arms at him as he slips their grasp.

Fortunately for the Falcons, the solution to these pass-rushing problems has been living 90 minutes northeast of Atlanta for the last few years in Athens, GA. He knows how to come off the edge and sack the QB. His 17 sacks the last two years lead the great and powerful SEC during that time. The solution's name? Georgia Bulldog Justin Houston, who declared for the draft on the very last day possible.

If you click on the link, you'll find Houston's stats, both as a DE (his first 2 years) and as a 3-4 OLB (his last year), and his measurables.

You'll see Justin Houston would be undersized as a 4-3 DE in the NFL, but that he is actually of similar measurables to one of the best DEs in the NFL during the last decade: Dwight Freeney.

In fact, Houston could easily put on another 10 pounds of muscle in the next two months leading up the combine and become the kind of speed-rushing tasmanian devil that Freeney is in the eyes of teams that run the 4-3. He plays with an edge on the field; an intensity that rivals Freeney. Houston grades out as a mid-to-bottom first round player at both DE and 3-4 OLB. He has the talent and desire to go far in the NFL. In fact, with all of the recent upheaval regarding the University of Georgia's strength and conditioning program and how poorly it's been run the last five years or so, it's extremely likely that the best of Justin Houston (like Asher Allen, the one-time Georgia player now Vikings' starting CB, before him) will be seen at the next level, and not in college.

Yes, there are better DE prospects in the draft, but they will all be gone by number 27, the slot the Falcons have fallen into. If they hold firm at that spot, there is a chance they could lose Houston to a 3-4 team in need of an OLB that drafts before them, but if Houston falls to them at 27, they must take him. How many teams the last decade have been kicking themselves for passing on Freeney because he was "too small?" The Falcons cannot afford to pass on Houston because of the fact that he may be undersized. The man doesn't play undersized, he plays strong and fast, even with a deficit in S&C thanks to an era lacking in accountability amongst Mark Richt's coaching staff at UGA.

Don't be shortsighted, GM Thomas Dimitroff. Take Houston at 27 if he's there. You'll be happy you did.

As always, please comment below. Feel free to let me know if I'm right, or the biggest moron to have ever lived. Either way, comments are appreciated and make the discussion more fun (and less one-sided).

You can follow me on twitter at @UGABugKiller.

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