Falcons Draft Needs: Linebacker

From here until the draft, I'll occasionally be taking a look at each position and giving a quick rundown on how badly we need to upgrade at that position and give a handful of prospects that we might be able to obtain that could help us at that position. This time, we're taking a look at the versatile quarterbacks of the defense, the linebackers.

Linebacker is a position I haven't really seen thrown around here much. With the potential departure of Stephen Nicholas, I think it's certainly a position we have to address at some point in the draft, because the linebackers behind Nicks are largely unproven, save for Coy Wire, who is mostly a special teams guy. Doesn't mean he's lame. Wire is one of my favorite players.

In any case, I've only heard a couple names around here so I'll highlight the two I know of and a couple others that we might consider in the first round or two.

Join me after the jump and let's talk linebackers!

Admittedly, linebacker is not a position I have paid much attention to this year, if only because I felt like we would enter next season with the same Big 4 LB core we had last year. In free agency, Chad Greenway from the Vikings is a potential grab. One potentially interesting FA is Thomas Davis from Carolina. Yes, his knees have exploded the past two years, if only because he's abnormally fast with as much weight as he carries around. When healthy, he's pretty much a strong safety that is the size of a linebacker. Injuries probably make him not worth the risk, but if the price is right, why not at least give him a look.

Here's a few potential people we might draft.

Akeem Ayers, UCLA: This guy can motor, for sure. At UCLA, he rushed the passer from a 3-point stance as well as from the LB position, much like Justin Houston for UGA. He'll probably get swooped up by a team in need of a 3-4 rush end, since he looks the part of that. Ayers is pretty athletic, and that's obvious from his highlights. He's listed at 6'3" 254, which isn't far from Abe's size (6'4" 266) and Ayers appears to have the energy output of a linebacker or someone who is constantly out for the head of a quarterback. I don't know if he'll be able to evade NFL offensive linemen the way he did in college, but this guy looks good. We might could draft him to play DE. Highlight vid here.

Casey Matthews, Oregon: This was the other name I saw tossed around here (Ayers was the other) so I thought I'd take a look at Casey to see if he could provide anything. I couldn't find a recent highlight video of his entire season, so I decided to look at his effort on the biggest stage of them all, the BCS Nat'l Champ Game against Auburn. The video has both highlights and lowlights, something I think all videos should have, but we can't win them all. He looks a tad slow, but he appears to always know where the play is going, which would suggest he's smart and has good vision. He met Cam Newton (who is bigger/faster than him) head on several times. He wasn't afraid to deliver the hit at all. Naturally, because it shows both good and bad, he missed some tackles. He doesn't look like the physical beast Clay looks like, but a year of strength training in the NFL will get him primed up. He has good instincts. I don't know if we'll take an LB by the time he's primed to be drafted, but he might be worth a look. Highlight vid here.

Martez Wilson, Illinois: This guy is a missile. He ran a 4.44 at the combine, which is pretty much Thomas Davis speed. He played on the inside at Illinois, but with that speed he could easily play OLB and do just fine. He has good size at 6'4" 250, but again, that kind of speed can do terror to the knees carrying that much weight around. He looks the part of an athletic linebacker in his highlights, and he is everywhere. He also delivers a punishing hit. Most of his highlights were him stopping the run or drilling a QB, so I can't really say how well he would do in pass coverage. It's too bad our LBs don't do enough blitzing. Highlight vid here.

Bruce Carter, UNC: Yeah, this guy is coming off an ACL, but with technology the way it is today, soon ACLs will just be things people deal with and nothing more. Carter is somewhat of a workout warrior. He has great workout numbers, but doesn't always play to them. He seems to play with a little too much instinct, as in he tries to be too good at what he does. In the video I watched, he didn't seem to really deliver any hits, but instead waited for the hit to come to him. Passiveness is never a good thing in football. The pros and cons in the description of the video pretty much describe Carter accurately. He struggles to disengage, but when he does deliver a hit, it's bone crushing. It's just that he doesn't seem to want to deliver those hits from what I can tell. Highlight vid here.

I can't say I recall many LBs being thrown around here, but as always, you're welcome to suggest any you think might be worth a look at any point in the draft! The draft is only one day away!

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