Atlanta Falcons Courting Rookie Pass Rusher Justin Houston

The Falcons have spent a lot of time talking about addressing the pass rush in a very earnest sort of way, so the odds would favor them at least attempting to do so.

The strongest indication yet might be in the team's plans to work out Justin Houston, a local product from the University of Georgia who has been widely forecast as a first round pick. There's been some considerable debate about whether Houston would be better as a 3-4 linebacker or a 4-3 defensive end, but enough teams are looking at him for the 4-3 that I think he's a safe bet to stick there at the NFL level.

Defensive end remains a need. John Abraham may not be back with the Falcons beyond 2011, and while I think Kroy Biermann offers a lot of value for this team, he's nowhere near an elite pass rusher. Chauncey Davis and Lawrence Sidbury have yet to show they can be, either. The draft or free agency is going to have to be where the team finds an answer.

So what does Houston offer the Falcons? Let's jump.

Let's start with the clear downside in the eyes of some teams: Houston spent his senior season as a linebacker. It's not an insurmountable problem—plenty of guys have made the transition back and forth, and he did play some DE as recently as 2009—but it might be scary for some.

So what are the pluses? Houston wound up with 10 sacks in 2010, indicating his pass rushing acumen. He's considered one of the better pass rushers in the draft, as a matter of fact, and his days as a linebacker have made him better than decent in coverage. Not to point too general a point on it, but he's clearly a good player.

He doesn't entirely fit the Comrade mold, though. First off, he's only a junior, which as we know doesn't fit with the team's M.O. of drafting primarily seniors. Houston's also taken a little flak for not having his motor running at all times, and guys who take plays off really don't fit with today's Falcons. That concern would have to be addressed.

Assuming he passes what I can only assume is a rigorous vetting process, Houston does make sense as a pass rusher, and there's a chance he'll still be on the board at 27. That alone makes him worth checking out, and I'm glad the team is doing their due diligence on March 25.

What say you?

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