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A Falcons-centric look at the 2018 NFL Draft, defensive tackle edition

Atlanta’s got to add pieces on the interior of the defensive line, and this is the class to do it in.

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NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

In December, I wrote an article about the possibility of replacing Adrian Clayborn, and/or Brooks Reed. Though two of the prospects have elected to stay in school that I mentioned in said article, defensive tackle should definitely be a point of emphasis in the upcoming draft. First, let’s take a look at what we have in place.

On the Roster

Grady Jarrett

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Well, not much needs to be said here. Grady should most definitely be a staple of the franchise for years to come, and the Falcons certainly have to extend him the moment the opportunity presents itself before he becomes a free agent in 2019. He has cemented himself as one of the better young defensive tackles in the league and a dominant force on the line.

Rotational players

Atlanta has a few players who play a bit of defensive tackle and defensive end. Among those players are Derrick Shelby, Courtney Upshaw, and Ahyta Rubin, who primarily plays defensive tackle. That is pretty thin depth at defensive tackle, considering Rubin and Upshaw are set to become free agents.

A BIG Question

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Do the Falcons bring back Dontari Poe? Poe who saw his free agency come to a slow, took a one year prove it deal this past off season with the Falcons in the tune of 8 million dollars. He has actually played well next to Grady Jarrett.

Poe had 36 total pressures (consisting of hurries, hits, and sacks combined) which was good enough for 17th in the league at defensive tackle. He is also a massive presence, in more ways than one, and I’d imagine teams know fear when lining up against him. I think REGARDLESS of what the Falcons decide regarding Poe, they need to still address the defensive tackle position in the draft.

Draft Prospects to Watch

Maurice Hurst - 6’2 280

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Michigan Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Hurst is a part of a very impressive Michigan front. He’s been a consensus first rounder since even before last year, so nothing dropped from that standpoint. He finished his career with 33 tackles for loss and 14 sacks, both impressive totals that speak to his ability to impact a quarterback and ground game.

I’ve seen him compared to Grady Jarrett, and I like to imagine another Grady Jarrett on the line. Yikes. If the Falcons keep Poe, in obvious passing situations you’d assume Hurst and Jarrett would find a way onto the line, and Hurst would give the Falcons a great rotation they haven’t had in recent years. It would cost the Falcons a first rounder to grab Hurst, which may very well happen if he’s on the board.

Vita Vea - 6’5, 340

NCAA Football: Washington at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I’m sure you’ve all seen him being compared to Haloti Ngata by the guys over at PFF by now.

Not much needs to be said. The guy is massive. He’s an immovable object. Think about this: If Atlanta keeps Poe, they can field a goal line defense that features Jarrett, Poe, Vea, and whatever big body you want to throw in there with them. With Deion Jones / Campbell / Neal patrolling, freely, I don’t think anyone would like the idea of running against that front.

If we’re dreaming, it’d be ideal to have Poe and Vea to rotate, as these are big men who could use some breaks. Having basically two of them would be ideal, and Vea would arguably be a better run defender than Poe out of the box. Vea is a first rounder, so that’s what it would take for the Birds to get him come April.

Da’Ron Payne - 6’2, 310

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Alabama vs Clemson Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Payne had a great college playoffs run, but he’s been a key piece to Alabama for a bit. He isn’t a stat sheet stuffer, so this is more of a potential type pick and a guy who will give you above average play in all fronts right away. The guy is also only 20 years old.

He’s incredibly strong and he comes from great coaching at Alabama. Also, the guy has caught touchdowns before, so we can replace Julio finally! He’d likely cost a first rounder for these Falcon, as well.

Okay, so all of these are first round guys. What happens if the Falcons take a player to rotate with Takk/Beasley or Reed/Clayborn’s replacement in the first? Don’t fret; feast your eyes on my newest draft crush.

Tim Settle - 6’3 340

North Carolina v Virginia Tech Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

Like Vea, this guy is massive. He came across my eye while I was watching tape of a Virginia Tech linebacker. He jumped off of the screen. He’s 6’3 but at times I saw him get INCREDIBLY low to stop a quarterback sneak, or a running back on a short gain - getting under the guard or center. It was almost too unreal.

He doesn’t get pushed back, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him rise to the first round. But as of now, he’s projected in the second or third. If Atlanta takes a position outside of defensive tackle (perhaps guard?), Settle should very well be on their list of second rounders.

Keep an eye out for my next articles, where I’ll go back and reassess pass rushers due to the fact that some top options stayed in school. We’ll also take a look at draft-eligible guards.