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Examining the Pros, Cons, and Fit of Early Draft Pass Rushers

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Today, we take a dive into the realm of what will almost assuredly be the Falcons first pick: Quarterback Muncher

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

A pass rush can come from many places. The Falcons spent most of last year searching for any of those places, but now that a new defensive philosophy is in place, the team will look to fix a pass rush that has been...lacking.

The Falcons are now in a prime position to draft not only a pass rusher, but one that should be able to contribute immediately. On top of that, the Falcons should be able to have their pick of at least two of them, perhaps more. An 8-8 team with the 8th overall pick? Can't complain there.

Let's dive right into it. Today we'll be examining all of the major pass rushers the Falcons might pick, including Dante Fowler, Shane Ray, Bud Dupree, Randy Gregory, and Vic Beasley.

These opinions will be based on my own film study. The quality of work done here at The Falcoholic has increased immensely since I started writing here in 2010, as has my desire to provide quality work to you. That said, I'm obviously no professional, but I think I can give you enough insight to get you on the right track. Let's get to it!

Dante Fowler Jr.

Junior, University of Florida - 6'4" 261 - 4.60 40 Yd - 19 Reps

Fowler is an interesting prospect for me because he is the one of the Big Five who I have only watched in passing. While watching an East Carolina WR at the request of a friend, I noticed Fowler was wrecked on several different occasions, which didn't leave a very good impression. Let's see what a dedicated view of the tape says.

Tape: UF vs. 2 Alabama, UF vs. LSU, UF vs. 3 FSU

As The DW has said many-a-time, the tape doesn't lie. To me, the tape says that he has the potential to be a good player, but he has a long way to go.

I saw two different Dante Fowlers on tape. One Fowler seemed to me like he was not anything special and certainly not worthy of the 8th overall pick. However when I flipped over to the FSU game, I saw a lot of why some scouts are so high on his potential.

Unfortunately, I watched two games (LSU, Bama) where Fowler did almost nothing. Dare I say he reminded me of Kroy Biermann. On one play in particular in the FSU game, Fowler went completely unblocked through the A-gap. Now if I told you he reminded me of Biermann, you shouldn't need me to tell you how that play ended. (Hint: no defensive stats were accrued). Yikes.

Pros
  • Obviously versatile player. Capable of lining up anywhere on the line. Comfortable in both 2, 3, and, when necessary, 4-point stance.
  • Athleticism is evident at times
  • Wouldn't call him an edge setter, but can hold his spot laterally
  • Appears to be football smart. Good at reacting to zone read, takes good (perhaps a little too good) angles. Ability to line up all over suggests this as well
  • Ability to shed blockers at last possible moment on runs in his gap
  • Has decent number of pass rushing moves, though he could do them better
  • Has good 4-3 DE size

Cons

  • Was blocked out by both tackles and blocking TEs way too easily at times on inside runs. Suggests leverage issues
  • His lack of strength was somewhat evident on tape. Struggled to overpower even TEs.
  • Has almost-tackle syndrome (Misses a lot of open field tackles)
  • At times slow off the ball
  • Has a good motor, but gives up too soon sometimes. One play in particular had a rollout away from him. Rather than chase the quarterback, he engaged and then kinda gave up.
  • Sometimes his angles made him look like he wasn't the most willing guy when it came to contact. He did deliver a couple solid hits though.

Fit

How would Fowler fit with the Falcons? Well, probably like every other player in this post: as the weak side defense end/outside linebacker, also known as the LEO (aka Lion-Eating Octopus).

Fowler does provide some nice versatility. He is a guy who could theoretically drop into coverage and not be terrible at it. It's not ideal, given what we need, but he could do it. I think a more traditional 4-3 would fit our personnel, but Fowler could be a guy that would turn is to Quinn's 4-3 Under defense.

Shane Ray

Junior, Missouri - 6'3" 245 - ~4.58 40 Yd - 21 Reps

Shane Ray is a guy whose stock has fallen a bit in recent months. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year has met with steadily increasing criticism as people have evaluated his tape and pondered the red flag of Michael Sam-like production, that being a relatively quiet career until his final season.

There are a few things about Shane Ray that I think separate him from Michael Sam. First, I went and looked back at Sam's last year of college and came away surprised. Check this out:

Michael Sam had 11.5 sacks his last year at Missouri. 9 of them came against Arkansas State (Barely bowl-eligible team from the Sun Belt), Vanderbilt, and Florida. Not exactly three teams that have fallen on good times. Of Sam's 19 tackles for loss, he had the aforementioned 9, plus added 4 against Toledo and Murray State. He had 3 against South Carolina, the one team that was competitive...and yet it was his only true impact game against what I'd call a good team.

Fast forward to Shane Ray. I've mentioned this before, but Ray had 13 (or 14.5, depending on where you look) sacks his final year at Missouri. The difference between Ray and Sam is that Ray never had more than 2 sacks in a game, which means he brought about some consistency to his game. However, like Sam he had a tendency to disappear against big name opponents. The two ranked teams Ray faced his final year, he had a whopping .5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss (UGA, Bama).

Couple that with an uninspiring pro day and suddenly you have to ask yourself, "Is this a guy I want my team to pick at 8?" Mike Mayock has repeatedly said that when the numbers don't add up, you go back to the tape. And that, friends, is where we go next.

Tape: UM vs. Kentucky, UM vs. Florida, UM vs. South Carolina

The pickings of Ray's collegiate tape are slim, so we'll have to make do with these three conference games. I've watched some of Ray's tape already so I know what to expect, but I'll be pouring over anything and everything I can find this go-round.

Some of Ray's Cons almost strike me as if he's a setup guy. He'll go inside inside inside and then floor it around the outside when he wants to make a play.

Pros

  • Possesses a lightning bolt first step around the edge
  • Hand usage, at times, is good
  • Has the right idea with regards to hand fighting, but...(see related Cons)
  • Has the ability/speed to beat guards inside
  • Lined up inside like a 5-tech at times
  • Has the ability to win immediately off the snap
  • Decent disengage ability
  • Takes safe, but good angles to ball carriers
  • Held ground against TE in SCar game
  • Wins more often when he mixes up his speed rush direction (Could be schemed)
  • Note: SCar doubled him nearly every play after they took the lead late

Cons

  • Lacks elite power. Bull rush consists of throwing self at lineman, rather than a controlled sled push
  • If hand fighting doesn't result in immediate victory, he tends to get caught up in it, leading to uselessness on play
  • Ran self out of running lane multiple times. Could be by design, but it happened rather often.
  • Hand usage seems to be an on-again, off-again thing. He tries, but I don't know that he was ever taught proper hand technique, because it doesn't work that often.
  • Success came almost exclusively due to outstanding speed
  • Size a concern for a 4-3 DE spot
  • Not the greatest mover for an OLB prospect
  • Probably won't be an edge setter

Fit

Word on the streets is that the Falcons seem to like Ray. His SCar tape was much better than his Florida tape. His first step is incredibly fast when he tries to rush outside. If the tackle is a bit slow, he will win. You'd have to imagine he, too, would be the LEO for the Falcons. I worry about his coverage ability. He's athletic, though his pro day numbers were atrocious. His 3-cone (aka Dimitroff Oracle) time was so slow, it would've been the slowest at the combine among defensive ends, inside and outside linebackers, AND slower than half the defensive tackles!

His tape suggests he wins by speed and speed alone, and I'm afraid that may not be enough to make Ray successful at the next level.

Alvin "Bud" Dupree

Senior, Kentucky - 6'4" 269 - 4.56 40 Yd - Did Not Bench

Let me get this out there right now: I believe in Dupree. If not Beasley, I want Dupree at 8. Screw projections, this guy can make it happen. I've seen a bit of his tape already but I will evaluate everything with a partially-missing tooth comb.

SB Nation's Stephen White has already reviewed Dupree's tape and his conclusions are concerning. I'm in no way suggesting I can review Dupree's tape better, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

Dupree has literally everything you could ask for in a defensive end. Freakish athleticism, great size, and good technique. The problem? Consistency. There are some small flags with Dupree but I believe they can be coached. Let's hit the tape.

Tape: UK vs. Mizzou, UK vs. 22 Louisville, UK vs. 3 Miss St.

More slim pickings for tape. I chose the three best teams I could find. Mizzou "won" the SEC East, Louisville was a strong out-of-conference opponent, and Mississippi State was just good. Rankings are, of course, from the time they played. Not their final rank.

Pros

  • Possesses the strength and technique to set the edge
  • Exhibited ability to stand ground against opposing TE
  • Strong first step when Kentucky allowed him to rush
  • Possesses enough strength to throw OL aside
  • Comfortable in open space
  • Comfortable in 2 or 3 point stance
  • Outside rush consists of more than just speed; uses arms and bend against tackles
  • When he's on, he's tough to stop, both in run and pass defense

Cons

  • Good motor, but isn't always relentless in pursuit
  • Freakish athleticism not always evident on tape
  • I wouldn't say he disappears, but like the other rushers I've seen so far, seems to have an on/off switch
  • After watching all three games, the switch is a little more evident. I see what Stephen White means when he says someone of Dupree's athleticism should be dominating, but isn't. There are flashes of domination, then there are flashes of meh. I'm not saying he takes plays off (It doesn't appear that way) but something about how he plays isn't making him go 100% all the time. Maybe that can be summed up as simply he lacks consistency, whatever that could mean.
  • Comfortable in space, but sometimes looks bored and/or lazy out there (Maybe it's that simple/easy to drop into the flat or a specific area, I don't know)
  • When he's off, he's not very impactful

Fit

Dupree is the one prospect on this list that I could feasibly see playing defensive end in a traditional 4-3 set. While he isn't much bigger than Fowler, the strength difference is noticeable. Dupree didn't bench at the combine or at his pro day (which is somewhat concerning), however he showed the ability to throw OLs off of him and hold his ground on the edge, both laterally and without much movement. He at least shows he has strength on tape, and that's really what is important.

He shows some semblance of a bull rush. He gets push by extending his hands, pushing the OL's pad level up, and driving forward. I thought he disengaged well at times, but let people blow right past him at other times. I go back to the word consistency. Stephen White pointed out that he must frustrate the hell out of his DL coaches because there are times when you're like "YEEEEAH!" and other times when you're like "NOOOOOO!"

The crazy thing is Dupree could even play outside linebacker at his size, fitting the LEO description. Look at it this way, the Falcons roster has Kroy Biermann (who WAS good at setting the edge for us), at 6'3" 255. Two hundred and fifty five pounds. Dupree was nearly 270 at the combine with his athleticism. That kind of athleticism and experience would give Dupree the options of lining up at any number of spots, and that makes him a truly terrifying prospect. Can Bryan Cox maximize his potential? He and Hageman could turn a so-so line into a monster quickly.

Randy Gregory

Junior, Nebraska - 6'4" 240 - 4.64 40 Yd - 24 Reps

Gregory is an interesting prospect. I watched a little bit of his tape and wasn't very impressed. There were things he did well and things that left me scratching my head. At the combine, Gregory ran through drills almost effortlessly. He certainly looked the smoothest out of all the players I watched, but he was also far and away the lightest. Could he retain that playing smoothness at 250 pounds, where he'll most likely be playing? Hard to say.

I've spent a good amount of time watching Gregory's tape prior to this article and came away impressed. Teams definitely had plays meant to double team him or avoid him completely, but oftentimes I watched him lose one-on-one battles without the need for help. Once again, I'll be taking a deeper look at the tape to see what made Gregory so attractive in the first place.

Tape: Nebraska v 10 Mich. St., Nebraska vs. 25 Minnesota, Nebraska vs.  20 Wisconsin

Pros

  • Explosive athlete in open field. Incredibly smooth looking in that regard
  • Good first step, though not the best in this class
  • Edge setter sometimes, but...
  • Made an awesome play against Michigan State with a nice swim move inside the tackle, disrupting the pocket, and then making a nice play on the tipped pass for the interception. Have heard he has plus hands.
  • Has a nice array of moves that need some refining
  • Hand usage good at times
  • Has a little bit of power
  • High effort player. Didn't see him take any plays off

Cons

  • The failed drug test didn't help his stock any. That accompanies some minor character concerns scouts have murmured about over the past few months. I had thought his character was good...but perhaps it isn't.
  • Slight injury concerns
  • Had virtually no impact against Minnesota in crunch time (They drove to take lead late, iced game on next possession)
  • Had some issues shedding blocks. Technique was right but I don't know if he was powerful enough
  • Originally had his run defense here as a Con, but the Wisconsin game made him look good in the run game. He set the edge nicely (even though this was Melvin Gordon's 400 yard game) and didn't go backwards. That said, he could be better at it.

Fit

Nobody denies Gregory's potential, but the problem with Gregory is...where do you put him? His Pro Day was pretty soon after the combine and he didn't gain a ton of weight immediately following the combine, though he did gain some. You might remember he weighed in at 235 at the combine, which scared the heck out of me. He weighed in at 238 at his pro day, and rumors are that he was well over 240 prior to becoming ill. Still, with his height, 240 is a bit concerning. J.J. Watt, he of a 6'5" frame...is 290.

One would think Gregory would just be too darn lanky to play outside linebacker unless he was purely a pass rusher a la DeMarcus Ware, but when I watched him run through drills at the combine, you couldn't tell he was lanky. He had such a nice movement ability in spite of his height, it was almost enough to alleviate mobility concerns. The problem you encounter with someone like Gregory is...what weight does he need to be to play NFL football? 250? 260? At what point does his sterling mobility deteriorate due to the added weight? Therein lies the problem. You have guys like Fowler and Dupree who are moving almost as well...but weigh 20-30 pounds more and don't need to gain weight.

If the Falcons pick Gregory with the 8th pick, he will have to be a defensive end. The mantra "It doesn't matter where a pass rush comes from," is a bit misleading. If we don't improve on our lines, the defense won't get much better. Even if Gregory is the LEO hybrid, he's still going to be up on the line a lot, and that's where we need the improvement. His edge setting ability in the Wisconsin game gave me hope that he can do the same in the NFL, though it won't be quite as easy. Can Gregory put on some weight and maximize his potential? That may come down to just what DL coach he gets.

Vic "Please God Let Him Fall To 8" Beasley

Redshirt Senior, Clemson - 6'3" 246 - 4.53 40 Yd - 35 Reps

I saved Beasley for last knowing that Stephen White compared him to the one, the only John Abraham. I'll link all of Stephen White's analyses at the end of this post. I also did this to be a little less biased since the first tape of anyone I watched this year was Beasley's.

His combine performance has become somewhat legendary at this point. He weighed in far heavier than people thought, and he out-athletic'd literally everyone. And when the numbers don't match up (in this case, they were better than normal), you go back to the tape.

My lawd, the tape.

Tape: Clemson vs. 12 UGA, Clemson vs. 1 FSU, Clemson vs. South Carolina

His UGA game tape wasn't overly impressive to me. UGA bludgeoned him with bodies and tried desperately to keep him out of the game. They neutralized him, but being neutralized because the opposing team plans for you is still a win. His FSU tape was awesome, as he went against Cam Erving and Nick O'Leary for most of the game. I originally had Oklahoma as the third tape...but that game was a blowout so I didn't use it. I chose him vs. USC's Corey Robinson instead.

Pros

  • Took FSU's Cam Erving to town multiple times, with both power and speed
  • Wouldn't call him powerful, but does a good job of converting speed to power
  • When Clemson allowed him to rush the passer, he was relentless
  • ...and I mean relentless
  • His instincts appear to be very good; if he couldn't make it to passer, he had a hand up many times
  • Very nice rip n' dip move
  • Instincts allow for occasional impromptu spin move late in pass rush
  • Doubled often, and on a rare occasion still found success
  • Smaller TEs cannot block him 1v1
  • Looks completely at home in open space; dropped into coverage nicely with good change of direction speed
  • Cam Erving held the hell out of this guy multiple times and didn't draw a flag

Cons

  • Whether by design or not, sometimes ran self out of play
  • Missed some open field tackles, though a couple of those were on Gurley aka Mr. Un-tackle-able.
  • Sometimes is so possessed on rushing for power, he'll lose technique
  • Bigger than we hoped at combine, but 246 isn't exactly run defender weight
  • Gets lost in the run defense muck at times
  • Instincts good, but not perfect. Impromptu spin move was bad idea at times
  • Struggles to separate even when power rush is good

Fit

Beasley reminds me a lot of Von Miller in that he's an athletic freakazoid with great mobility in open space. You can feel the explosiveness in his tape. He moves around extremely well and matches up well with running backs and tight ends, when necessary. He is, essentially, what the LEO position is. His run defense could be better but from his tape he looks comfortable enough to where he won't be a liability. The 4-3 Under defense will help cover for him to a degree but he will need to hold up his end.

He could feasibly be a LEO, a 4-3 DE, or even a 3-4 OLB. In essence, he can do whatever he wants. He will probably need to bulk up some at the next level, though he's so ripped as it is, I worry that him going up any more will start the "Suddenly my body can't do this anymore and I'm injured for days" syndrome that can come around when you push yourself too far.

Conclusion

Wow, what a fantastic group of players to watch. All the players I profiled in this post have something about them that stands out. Ray's speed, Gregory's length, Dupree's size/athleticism combination, Fowler's all-around game, and Beasley's tenacity.

I continue to wonder why Fowler is rated above Beasley. Is it his all-around game and potential? His college production wasn't all that amazing. He does, however, have 4-3 DE size already, and perhaps that plus his level of technique turns teams on to him. They can have him.

Based on my personal evaluation of these players, here's how I'd rank them:

1) Beasley

2) Gregory

3) Dupree

4) Fowler

5) Ray

Beasley and Gregory exhibited the most all-around game that I noticed in terms of speed, power, and open space ability. Beasley's technique is superior to Gregory's, and Gregory has some room to grow weight-wise. They both do, but Gregory needs it more. Gregory's potential is sky high though he could flame out as badly as any of the five. I think Beasley is the safest pick, too.

Dupree has some minor red flags, one of which is that he's slow to diagnose plays. His athleticism is undeniable, but it will need to be tutored. His size and athleticism combo makes him a fine prospect, though his Pro Day drill numbers are a bit concerning. He might pan out as more of a 4-3 DE than a LEO, and there's nothing wrong with that. He has the size for it and the rest will come with good coaching.

Fowler just didn't stand out to me on tape. To me, his ceiling is above average, but his floor is extremely low. He's more of a risk, reward type of pick. Can the Falcons take that? I don't know. His numbers aside from his 40 weren't all that inspiring.

Ray's speed is awesome. I'm not dogging him by putting him 5th, but his alarmingly slow Pro Day numbers have me extremely concerned. He is not big enough to be a 4-3 DE and may need to drop into coverage. Is he stiff with his body in space? Thinking back, Beasley and Gregory looked far more at home and fluid in space than Ray, and Dupree and Fowler have the size to play DE. Plus, Ray won with speed and speed alone. Can he add power to his game? His speed is great, but his game needs some refining. He's probably more deserving of a mid-1st round pick with a team that doesn't desperately need a rusher.

I'd like to reiterate that I'm no scouting expert. I've been around football a while, but even I don't have the most trained of eyes. Who's your favorite prospect out of these five, and what do you think they could bring to the table for us? Would you trade up for any of them?

Here's SB Nation's Stephen White's analyses of Dante Fowler, Shane Ray, Bud Dupree, Randy Gregory, and Vic Beasley.

If you'd like for me to elaborate on any of my pros/cons, I'll be around. Just ask!