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A Potential Atlanta Falcon Draft Pick: Jabaal Sheard

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I know I keep drawing inspiration from SBN Atlanta for these posts, but they keep providing me with such sweet, sweet fodder. What am I to do?

Today, I wanted to take a closer look at one Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh defensive end. Our good friend Brian Galliford has the Falcons taking him in what qualifies as a dark horse pick, so I figured this was at least worth exploring.

After the jump, you'll be able to say you've heard about Sheard.

I'll start you off with some stats. In 2010, Sheard was kind of awesome, putting up 52 tackles, 14.5 tackles for losses, 9 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and a partridge in a pear tree fumble recovery. In 2009 he put up 5 sacks and in 2008 5.5, so the senior year was either a bit of an anomaly or Sheard growing as a player.

I watched a bit of tape on Sheard last night and came away mostly impressed but with one concern. We'll start with the positive, as is our wont. Sheard is absolutely relentless in pursuit, regularly spinning off blocks or powering through to get after the quarterback or ballcarrier. He's got stupendous field awareness, with his head snapping around to take in the play and adjust to what's unfolding in front of him. You rarely see a defensive end of any size who can cut as quickly as Sheard, which is a point in his favor. He's not tremendously strong, but he's tough enough and athletic enough to be a disruptive force at the NFL level. 

Now the concern. First, he's not a great tackler. That's something coaching can fix, but in my admittedly limited perusing of his game tape, I saw signs that he's much more of a hitter than a form tackler. Slight concern against your bruising backs at the NFL level. That's really the only thing I saw that stuck out as a flaw, and he's rising up draft boards.

To get a better idea of what I'm talking about, watch this video of his performance against Miami this past season. You'll notice that he's constantly involved in the play and in the backfield, but sometimes seems unable to fight off blockers well enough to close.

I think Sheard's character concerns are probably overblown, as Jason Kirk noted yesterday, so I don't think he's out of the question for the Falcons at 27 or in the second round. His football intelligence and quick feet are extremely promising, and I have come away impressed by his ability to react. I think the team will have to be very convinced that a little time in the weight room and a little coaching can get Sheard over the hump as an NFL pass rusher before they take him, though.

What's the word on Sheard?