I considered tossing this into the roundup of Dan Quinn's comments yesterday, but it felt like there might be a larger discussion to be had about the team's current options at the LEO, that explosive linebacker/defensive end hybrid position that lines up out wide in the Falcons' likely 4-3 scheme. That position can figure heavily into a team's pass rushing plans, so when Quinn talks about in-house candidates, it's worth listening.
Dan Quinn told me current candidates 4 LEO pass-rusher position include O'Brien Schofield, Kroy Biermann, Stansly Maponga and Jacques Smith.— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) March 25, 2015
Let's unpack this a little bit. Kroy Biermann would fit as a LEO because he's a bit of a tweener, but he's nearly 30 and we have ample evidence that he's not the kind of impactful pass rusher that you'd ideally have at the position. Ditto Schofield, who is a capable enough pass rusher but not a fearsome one. The two of them could very easily rotate there and likely achieve modest production, but the Falcons aren't really going to want that to be the way things shake out at LEO, if they can help it.
That would leave Maponga and Smith. Maponga is a player I'm bullish on, and if he's healthy and given a legitimate opportunity, I think he can win significant snaps there. He has as much untapped potential as anyone currently on the roster and has the speed, athleticism and strength to bend the edge, even if he lacks ideal length. The question is whether he'll get the shot and run with it, and if there's truly four or more guys competing
Then there's Smith. He's young and fiery, which Quinn likes, but aside from a decent sense of his speed and strength from watching him in training camp and throughout the preseason, he's a bit of an unknown quantity. The good news for Smith is that Quinn's likely to throw the doors open in terms of competition and he's not exactly competing against a murderer's row of proven, gifted pass rushers here.
You'll note that Quinn did not mention Prince Shembo, but that could be something as simple as an oversight on his part. The larger takeaway is that this key position is currently wide open, and if the Falcons don't add a potentially stud pass rusher early in the draft, it may remain that way through the summer.
Note that a pass rusher at #8 could blow this up entirely—and my money's still on that outcome—but at least one of these guys is likely to seize a significant role as a part-time player at LEO. My money's currently on Biermann and Schofield duking it out for that role, but I'm not-so-secretly hoping Maponga's the guy before all is said and done.