We know the Falcons need a pass rusher. We also know they've worked out a handful of them already, with several more likely to follow.
And we're feeling fairly certain that if the team doesn't pick up an edge guy with its first-round pick, then it probably will draft one with the second or third. Here's one such player who could be a possibility for Atlanta - a reported workout participant who had a wildly productive senior season in the AAC.
Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville
Weight: 251 lbs.
40-yd dash: 4.68
Bench reps: 23
Vertical: 35 in.
Broad jump: 121.0 in.
2013: 42 tackles, 18.5 TFLs, 14.5 sacks, 12 QB hurries, 4 FFs, 3 PDs
2012: 29 tackles, 7.0 TFLs, 4.0 sacks, 2 QB hurries, 2 FFs, 2 PDs
Games watched: Houston, Rutgers, Miami. He dominated against the 'Canes but also made his share of plays in the other two games, and I came away very impressed.
(+) First thing that immediately jumps out: quickness; he is explosive off the line of scrimmage, around the edge and in space.
(+) Measurables are pretty impressive, but his on-field athleticism looks even better than the numbers suggest
(+) Solid build for what you'd look for in a 3-4 outside linebacker
(+) Good change-of-direction ability
(-) He can hold his own strength-wise at the college level, but he may need to get stronger in the NFL
(+) Versatility to line up at several different spots across the front seven, though he was mostly used as a stand up rusher
(+) Great timing as a blitzer in special packages
(+) Great finisher i.e. will almost always get the QB to the ground when making it inside the pocket
(+) Puts a lot of pressure on the opposing offensive tackle with his speed around the edge; very aggressive attacker
(+) Can also cut it back inside across the face of the tackle to disrupt the pocket
(+) Good anticipation, knowing when to get his hands up to deflect the pass
(-) Doesn't have a variety of rushing techniques; not an especially strong bull-rusher and needs to use his hands more
(-) Can get stood up by linemen with better technique and at times looks stiff
(-) He'll blow by guys, but has a tough time shedding them when he doesn't zip into the backfield
(-) Bit of a "one-year wonder" from a production standpoint, and a few of those sacks involved Smith getting into the backfield unblocked
(+) Great pursuit of the ball-carrier
(+) Very difficult to beat Smith around the edge - his speed is almost too much
(+) Excellent penetration at the line (18.5 TFLs in 2013)
(-) Aggressiveness could lead to some over-pursuit in the NFL
(-) Not great at sensing where the run play is often going
(-) Needs to do a better job of setting the edge
(+) Surprisingly sound ability to drop back in zone coverage and "feel" out the route
(+) Also saw a few instances in which he held his own in man coverage
(+) Good use of hands at the line of scrimmage on opposing receiver
(+) Great agility in space
(-) However, covering was not something Smith was asked to do often and his inexperience showed at times i.e. occasionally losing his man
(+) Columbus, Ga. native that could potentially return to his home state
(+) Was recruited as a 210-pound "athlete" who played high school quarterback but later gained almost 50 pounds when he was moved to edge rusher full-time. Clearly a committed player willing to make sacrifices for the team.
(+) Senior leader on a stifling Louisville defense with no known disciplinary issues
(-) Weaker competition in the AAC could be a factor in his numbers
(-) Not the best instincts you'll find in this draft class
Smith was wildly productive in 2013, but as you can see he is not without his flaws.
He shows great potential as a stand-up rusher and has a solid skill set in coverage, which makes it pretty clear to me that he'll be a 3-4 OLB in the NFL. He's an extraordinary athlete, but his one standout year of production combined with a sort of one-trick pony aspect to his pass rushing leaves me feeling like he has the potential to bust.
Some of his issues are coach-able. But developing him into a more well-rounded pass rusher - his biggest asset - may be easier said than done.
That said, I wouldn't mind it at all if the Falcons drafted him. It's hard to gauge where Bryan Cox believes he can be developed through simply my viewing some of Smith's film. But I will say this: he clearly has not reached his ceiling, and you don't notch 14.5 sacks by accident, which is a scary thought.
Most are projecting Smith as a Day Two pick, and I could see him still being on the board when the Falcons pick in the third round. He may go a little earlier than that simply based on the need for pass-rushers, but I think he'd be a good value in the third.
What's your opinion of Smith?