Mock drafts have been tabbing either a defensive end or a linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons, and the most recent Mocking the Draft mock draft is no different. Dan Kadar has Atlanta passing over a few other top defensive talents such as Robert Nkemdiche, Leonard Floyd, Shaq Lawson, and Darron Lee for Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith.
Atlanta needs a playmaker at linebacker, and that's what Smith can provide. There's a unique level of urgency to Smith's play. He's quick to diagnose, react and close on a play. The first step by a linebacker is critical, and Smith probably has the best one in this year's draft.
Smith had been considered as a top talent, but tore his ACL and MCL just a few months ago. While some reports suggest he will be ready for the start of the season, he will more likely be limited to less than 16 games in his rookie season. Smith would need to be a great study to have much of an impact in his rookie year, but would provide more of an impact down the line. A former AFC defensive defensive coach reportedly compared Smith to Derrick Johnson. NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein had the following to say about Smith's potential.
In this day and age of "tweeners" being labeled "hybrid" players, Smith is the rare commodity who is truly hybrid in the sense that he has the athleticism, speed and physical makeup to play any linebacker spot in either the 3-4 or the 4-3. Smith was productive but slightly miscast in the middle of the Notre Dame defense and is better suited to play in space as a 4-3 outside linebacker. However, his length and upfield burst could draw the attention of a 3-4 team looking to transition him into a rush linebacker while utilizing his rare cover skills.
The fit in Atlanta makes a lot of sense. The Falcons linebackers are slow, and the lack of athleticism hurt the defense throughout 2015. Smith would be a great addition, but at the same time, Atlanta could use a more immediate impact from their top pick. And if they were looking for a player with injury concerns, Sean Weatherspoon is still a free agent.