Though questions linger at free safety and tight end, the Atlanta Falcons entered this year's draft with two major (and obvious) needs: offensive tackle and pass rusher.
As many have been predicting for months now, Thomas Dimitroff and his front office staff elected to address the former in the first round, landing a rock-solid blocker in former TAMU tackle Jake Matthews. It might not be the most exciting pick, but at least now Matt Ryan can pay a little less for his life insurance.
Now, I suspect the Falcons turn their attention to bolstering their pass rush. There were a handful of rumors yesterday that had the team attempting to trade back into the first round in order to land Ryan Shazier or Dee Ford. But with Shazier off the board at 15 and Ford at 23, both earlier than most expected, those plans fell through.
Atlanta still has a handful of intriguing options in the early second, with Kony Ealy, Scott Crichton and even RaShede Hageman coming to mind. Still, the best potential fit for this defense has to be Boise State defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
Why This Makes Sense
Though listed as a defensive end, the 6'3, 251-pound Lawrence possesses the versatility to line up in any number of spots along the line. The Boise State defensive staff did a great job of moving him around in the formation and pitting him against, say, an outmatched right tackle.
With his size and ability to excel in space and while attacking from the edge, Lawrence could also be better-suited as a 3-4 / stand-up rusher in the NFL.
He showed uncommonly developed pass-rushing technique in the cut-ups I looked over - swim move, spin move, a couple of others. He has a great motor and really holds his own consistently at the point of attack. He is a smooth, feisty defender with an impressive record of production at his back (19 sacks, 34 TFLs in two seasons at Boise State). Even better, he is a sure, physical tackler that brings the toughness Atlanta's defense could use.
Why This Doesn't Make Sense
The most obvious concerns most have deal with his focus. He was dealt three separate one-game suspensions at Boise State, all for "violating team rules." At least one of them had to do with breaking curfew during bowl week.
But let's not blow this out of proportion. It's a little concerning and doesn't quite fit this front office's M.O. with regards to player evaluation, but we should also remember that this is perhaps the most important and pressure-filled draft this regime has faced since 2008. They'll decide whether Lawrence's issues are legitimately worrisome or if they were simply a product of college immaturity, and it wouldn't surprise me if they feel he sharpens up his approach in a veteran NFL locker room.
The other negative about Lawrence: I'm not so sure I see him developing into a dominant pass rusher. He doesn't handle double-teams well and his measurables and explosiveness are not great, so he'll need to be used creatively and paired with another solid pass rusher.
But In The Second?
Yes, I think when you compare Lawrence to the other top pass rushers still on the board (Ealy, Crichton, Stephon Tuitt), he seems like the best option. Tuitt is more of a 3-4 end, which is a position the Falcons already addressed in Tyson Jackson. Ealy might fit better as a 4-3 end, but he's a definite "tweener" player that has technique-related concerns. Crichton is too much of a project player in my opinion, and Hageman, while an excellent player, does not fill a need.
I know you all love Attaochu. He's a great prospect. But it seems like he has reached mythical status for some. He is not without flaws, namely functional strength and his ability to read and react at the line of scrimmage. He is young (21 years-old) and still developing.
The Falcons need someone who can contribute right away, and Lawrence seems to be the most refined option.
He could easily fall to the team's current pick at 37th overall. Atlanta may also consider swapping picks with one of the four clubs ahead it in the second round to land him. The Redskins, for instance, did not have a first-round pick and may be looking to acquire more. Houston may also be in that market. And moving up three or four spots would only cost the Falcons a fourth-round or fifth-round pick in all likelihood.
What say you? Should the Falcons look at Lawrence or target someone else?