Falcons Draft Preview: Notable Mid-Round Prospects, Abridged

Kent Horner

They may not be first-round targets, but these players are likely still high up on Atlanta's big board.

We've already taken a pretty in-depth look at who the Falcons might be considering with that 30th overall pick come Thursday night. Cornerbacks, defensive linemen, linebackers and even tight ends have all shown up on the proverbial radar to the nodding approval of many Falcons faithful.

But Atlanta has 11 picks in this year's draft, including a compensatory pick at the end of the fourth round. And for the first time since 2009, the Falcons will have at least one pick in each of the first four rounds (though it's possible that could change). Thomas Dimitroff has even spoken to the deepness at coveted positions like D-end or cornerback.

As such, there are a number of talented players the Falcons should strongly consider taking in rounds 2-4, players that should provide quality depth if nothing else as rookies. Let's take a broad survey of the talent:

DE Corey Lemonier, Auburn (6'4, 255 lbs)

After an impressive sophomore season (9.5 sacks), Lemonier's production took a sizeable dip (5.5 sacks) as Auburn stumbled through an atrocious 2012 season. He's quick as lightning, has shown great athleticism and has that "high motor" scouts love talking about. If given the right coaching staff, he has the tools to potentially transform into a quality pass-rusher in the pros. But he's been inconsistent throughout his career, his technique is poor, and he's not great defending the run. And he's probably not the guy who'll develop into an absolutely dominate D-end.

DE Mallichiah Goodman, Clemson (6'3, 276 lbs)

One of the many players Atlanta has brought in for a private workout, Goodman fits the mold of Lemonier in that he has all the physical tools, but his technique needs work and his pass-rushing moves are very limited. He is stronger than his Auburn counterpart, probably a better run defender, but like Lemonier he too likely won't post double-digit sack totals in the pros. Development would be key.

DE Alex Okafor, Texas (6'5, 264 lbs)

Many viewed Okafor as a sure-fire first rounder last fall, but he's fallen because his strength lies in stopping the run (just like Ray Edwards). He lacks that quick initial burst you look for in some of the top, speedier guys, meaning he'd likely slot in as a weakside defensive end in the pros. He's very strong, but it's the lack of a high pass-rushing ceiling that has many worried.

DE Devin Taylor, South Carolina (6'7, 266 lbs)

Taylor is interesting because he has some intriguing physical tools, but his production has steadily slipped (3.0 sacks as a senior) since he was a sophomore (7.5 sacks). He is quite fast for his size (4.65 40-time), he's got some good versatility, he's got great on-field awareness and of course has multi-year starting experience in the SEC. The problem is whether Taylor's issues are correctable or not. He'll need to bulk up a bit and obviously won't be a major contributor right away. But the skill set is interesting.

DE Brandon Jenkins, Florida State (6'3, 251 lbs)

One of three very good Seminole pass-rushers, Jenkins is a fantastic athlete with the size and technique you look for in a speedy edge-rusher. He posted a forgettable 40-time (5.08 sec) but believe me when I say he looks quite fast on film. Like Carradine, he's great at closing in the pocket and tackling in the open field. But the only reason we really know about Carradine in the first place is because Jenkins missed almost the entire season with a foot injury. He also dealt with injury problems as a junior. His run defense is not optimal, either. But he could also be a fantastic find if his health checks out.

OLB Jamie Collins, Southern Mississippi (6'4, 250 lbs)

Collins is a great athlete and a great edge-rushing type of player. What's more, Collins is can hold his own in coverage and has the closing speed to make big plays in space. Very versatile player the Falcons could use in any number of ways. However, his awareness and stamina could probably stand to improve, and again there's some development that needs to happen here. Still probably a second-round pick.

OLB Sean Porter, Texas A&M (6'1, 229 lbs)

The Falcons brought Porter in for a workout in March, whom I discuss in this post.

OLB Jelani Jenkins, Florida (6'1, 243 lbs)

He's a bit undersized and dealt with some nagging injuries in college, but Jenkins has great agility in the open field and the sought-after skills in coverage at outside linebacker. He's a good tackler, can light guys up at times and is a fantastic athlete. But his strength is still lacking, and he has trouble shedding blocks making him a potential liability against the run. Probably doesn't come off the board until the fourth round.

OLB Zaviar Gooden, Missouri (6'2, 234 lbs)

Gooden is a workout warrior who really stood out at the Combine this year (4.46 40, 27 bench reps). He's a freak of an athlete who, like Jenkins, is smaller but has the speed and the potential to match up in coverage with some of the better tight ends he'll likely face in the pros. But his skills in space are still a bit unrefined and his tackling ability needs work. Still, his intangibles check out and he comes from a program that brought the Falcons Sean Weatherspoon and William Moore.

CB David Amerson, NC State (6'1, 205 lbs)

Amerson entered 2012 widely considered as the best cornerback in the nation following a fantastic sophomore season (13 INTs). But he had some rough matchups against some of the better QBs he faced as a junior (Tyler Bray, Tajh Boyd), and often times it was his aggression that got him into trouble. He's obviously a great ballhawk with great intangibles, and his 40-time (4.35 sec) is appealing, but his speed and agility don't look as impressive on film. But the potential is enormous. Sure-fire second-rounder.

CB Darius Slay, Mississippi State (6'0, 192 lbs)

Unlike his teammate Johnthan Banks, Slay's only time as a starter came during his junior year, but what he showed in that time was very impressive. His instincts in coverage are fantastic, great at reading the play and getting his hands on the ball, and his speed (4.31 40-time) can only be an asset. His tackling looks poor at times, and he could probably stand to play more physically. But it's his coverage potential that has teams excited.

CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (5'9, 186 lbs)

Nope. Drug addictions do not a good athlete make. And to be honest, the big plays and returning abilities kind of masked some legitimate holes in Mathieu's game (i.e. coverage). Too much baggage.

CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut (6'1, 195 lbs)

Not really a mid-round prospect as many have Wreh-Wilson slipping into the first round, but we'll list him here because hey I feel like it. He's a bigger corner suited for zone coverage, good instincts and nice physical play. Has the sort of skill set that could allow him to be burned by a faster receiver on deep routes, and he's not exactly an asset in the run game. But his anticipatory abilities and patience are what could get teams to bite.

CB DJ Hayden, Houston (5'11, 191 lbs)

Another guy that could go in the first, Hayden is a name that has recently become attached to the Falcons if they choose to stay at 30. He's interesting in that he survived a heart injury (arterial tear) that nearly killed him, and there's not a lot of data on recovery from that sort of issue. But he looked just fine running at the combine, and he really has the potential to be a lockdown corner. His positioning in coverage is really impressive, and his instincts are great. He doesn't look great in the running game, and his hands aren't great, but I think this is a pretty special player if his health checks out. Definite first-round potential, though he could slip to the late second.

TE Zach Ertz, Stanford (6'5, 249 lbs)

This is another guy that's been linked to the Falcons, as early as the first round in some cases, but I'm not sure that I see it. Ertz is a one-year wonder (sat behind Coby Fleener) with the height and quickness you want. His instincts allow him to find those holes in zone coverage, and he'll make some pretty tough catches. But his route running isn't great, he has a tendency to drop passes, and could probably stand to get a little stronger. More of a throwback, Jason Witten tight end, but Ertz will need to play more physically over the middle.

TE Gavin Escobar, San Diego State (6'6, 254 lbs)

Coming from the Aztecs, Escobar was never really heralded for what is a great skill set. Athletic with great hands to match, he's got the versatility to lineup up out wide or in the slot (as the Falcons occasionally do with Gonzalez). Can be dangerous in the open field, and his body control - especially when called upon to make those tough, leaping grabs over the middle - is excellent. As a blocker, he could stand to get better, and he wasn't always lined up as a traditional in-line tight end with the Aztecs, but suffice it to say I still like Escobar a lot.

TE Travis Kelce, Cincinnati (6'5, 255 lbs)

Kelce is a great athlete who is both a solid pass-catcher and an impressive blocker. Very intense player on the field. But he was also a one-year wonder with the Bearcats with very limited experience. Potential character issues after being suspended for the entire 2010 season. Could need some time to develop, and probably more of a balanced tight end in the pros (like a Heath Miller) than an elite receiver that can stretch the fielder. Much more traditional player than an Escobar.

Now we wait for Thursday when the Falcons draft exactly none of these players.

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