The Falcons shored up the middle of their defensive line when they signed Dontari Poe from the Kansas City Chiefs last week. Grady Jarrett, Ra'Shede Hageman, and Poe should solidify the interior (or at least eliminate it as an immediate draft need).
They're still missing a young defensive end to pair with Vic Beasley for the foreseeable future. This may sound crazy because of the school he went to, but Derek Rivers from Youngstown State should be in play at the 31st overall pick.
Small school players need to check three boxes before investing a high pick in them: perform well at the combine, dominate their collegiate competition, and have a strong All Star game performance. Rivers checks all three of these boxes.
Since Dan Quinn has been the coach of the Falcons, they've favored draft prospects that perform well in the three cone drill and the broad jump. Derek Rivers was among the top performers in those at the NFL Combine for all edge rushers.
The three cone drill measures the ability to turn the corner. For pass rushers, this measures how quickly you can make your way towards the quarterback once you reach the outside edge of the offensive tackle. Even though he was playing FCS football, it's still apparent that he's an elite athlete for the NFL level.
The right tackle's pass set is comically bad, but the ability to turn on a time like that is apparent. He ran the same three cone time as Kansas City Chiefs' star pass rusher Justin Houston. Watch how sharply Houston is able to turn the corner once he reaches the edge of the offensive tackle.
Rivers also had a 10 yard split of 1.61 seconds on his fastest 40 yard dash attempt. For edge rushers, that number helps demonstrate how fast a player is off the ball. Passes are usually being thrown in three seconds so an edge rusher who can win a pass rush off his first step is huge.
Rivers made FCS tackles pay on the regular with his first step.
It won't be that easy in the NFL, but plenty of players have been able to wreak havoc early in their career by simply blowing past offensive tackles.
That first step also helps him drive through offensive tackles with a bull rush. Players with high marks in the broad jump (hello, Keanu Neal) are able to generate an abundance of force on initial contact with the opposing player.
The only notable issue with Derek Rivers as a pass rusher is that tends to get caught rushing down the middle of offensive tackles rather than picking an edge to attack. The half man relationship is key, especially for a pass rusher that's going to hover around a playing weight of 245-250 pounds.
The "science" behind a half man relationship is inexact (to be kind), but it's a simple concept. Should a pass rusher take on the middle of a 300 pound offensive tackle, or rush the outside edge and take on 150 pounds of him? When a player is athletic as Rivers is, it's an easy choice.
Rivers gets lauded for his pass rush ability, but he's one of the more polished run defenders among the 2017 edge defenders. Gap integrity and run fits are key on the edge.
The average fan might look at this play and not understand why it's highlighted as a positive rep versus the run. Remember the triangle? That concept applies for players on the edge as well.
Since Rivers doesn't have a tight end on his outside shoulder, his primary focus is attacking his visual key which is the right tackle. As the right tackle steps down, Rivers gets onto his outside shoulder pat and rides him down the line of scrimmage while keeping his outside arm free.
This does two things. It allows him to break away easily if the ball were to declare in his direction and it puts him in the direct path of the pulling guard. With his slight obstruction of the guard's path, the linebacker has a clean shot on the running back (which he whiffs). This is sound gap discipline and smart defensive line play.
Another strong area of Rivers' game is his attention to detail in regards to spacing and leverage. He consistently has his hands above his eyes when attacking offensive tackles, rarely putting him in a position where his pad level is too high.
Justis Mosqueda went into greater detail on this subject as well.
Derek Rivers is the hands above eyes champion of this draft class. I think he's a lot better than just about everyone is saying. pic.twitter.com/CtDo8VInvG— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) February 1, 2017
And for the most part, if your hands are over your eyes and you're at full extension, you won the inside hand battle https://t.co/5cN9WrWUUM— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) February 2, 2017
Rivers blew up the combine, dominated FCS competition, played well against FBS competition, but how did he perform at the 2017 Senior Bowl? This isn't the end all be all, but Pro Football Focus had Rivers graded as their fifth highest defender on the South Squad.
Derek Rivers checks all of the pre-draft boxes for smaller school prospects, but where should he be valued for the draft? This is a comparable situation to Keanu Neal's stock before the draft last season. Neal was widely regarded as a second round talent, but Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff were enamored enough with him to take him at 17th overall. Everyone knows how at worked out.
If the Falcons want Rivers they're going to have to take him at the 31st overall pick, which isn't a reach. Young, athletic, productive pass rushers don't grow on trees. Adding Derek Rivers to the offseason haul of Dontari Poe and Jack Crawford would tremendously increase the athleticism on the defensive line.
Brooks Reed is the only "true" edge defender body they have besides Vic Beasley on the roster right now. Taking Rivers at the end of the first round makes a lot of sense and Dan Quinn showed last year he's not afraid to get players he values highly in the draft.