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A Falcons-centric look at the 2018 NFL Draft, pass rusher edition

The Falcons never stop looking for pass rushers.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Earlier this week, I wrote an article about defensive tackle possibilities and what to make of the Dontari Poe situation. While defensive tackle and what to do with Poe will most definitely be a topic of interest in the draft, and free agency, they aren’t the only linemen Atlanta should/will probably look at. Poe also isn’t the only player with a questionable future with this football team.

Let’s dive in.

Replacing a Starter

Adrian Clayborn

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

We all know about the six sacks against Dallas, we know the stats. Clayborn is a base 4-3 DE who slides inside to defensive tackle in nickel situations when needed. He is an extremely versatile player.

However, he is set to become a free agent this year and the questions that remain are how much money will he go after and how much money are the Falcons willing to pay him? Now I have a hunch that given age, and the success of Dan Quinn and company’s drafting, that the Falcons will look to replace Adrian Clayborn.

A pure pass rusher wouldn’t be the ideal replacement for Clayborn, which is why Vic Beasley simply won’t take over his spot. Clayborn is 280 pounds and is a run supporting defensive end, as well, and the Falcons need another one of those players. Below, we’ll take a look at guys who fit that bill.

Draft Options

Marcus Davenport: 6’5, 260. UTSA

NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at Texas-San Antonio Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Davenport is garnering rave reviews at the Senior Bowl, and it’s well deserved. It kind of reminds me of how much love Haason Reddick got last offseason after being an under the radar guy. Davenport is tall, and he’s actively trying to gain weight.

A Senior Bowl quote I’d like to throw onto from interviews with Davenport was how he said he’d “like to have the power of Calais Campbell, motor of JJ Watt, and speed of Von Miller.” Imagine that, for a moment.

What’s coincidental is, he actually is built very similar to Calais Campbell. Coming out of college, Campbell had around 20 more pounds on him, but seeing Davenport’s frame and height, there’s no reason to believe that Davenport couldn’t add weight over the next couple of years. That’s why I believe he’d be a very similar player to Campbell, schematically and play all along the line, depending on the situation and front. That would make him ideal to replace Adrian Clayborn. And for the stat guys, he only had 35 tackles for loss, and around 20 sacks in his last 3 years of college.

I’ve been on the Davenport train for a while, before he was considered a first rounder. He could be my favorite player in the entire draft. If he hasn’t played and/or Senior Bowled his way out of the Falcons’ range, that would be ideal.

Duke Ejiofor: 6’4, 275, Wake Forest

Louisville v Wake Forest Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

Duke is one of those players that you can’t peg in the draft. Regardless, he’d fit here in Atlanta.

He doesn’t have elite athleticism the way that Vic Beasley has, but he has a great motor and amazing instincts. He’s just one of those guys who can PLAY. Ejiofor has 18 sacks and over 30 tackles for loss the last two seasons, and you can’t argue with that kind of production. He has a good technique along with physicality. He could even fall to Atlanta’s second round pick, but would not be “a reach” if drafted in the first. The guy can play, I repeat.

As for guys who I feel could take Clayborns role, in the draft - these are the two guys who stand out to me. Takk McKinley, of course, can take on a major role in Clayborn’s absence. Because a lot of times, the Falcons run twists, and Takk has the speed and strength necessary to do so. That said, the Falcons are still going to want another valuable piece to add to their potent rotation.

Considering Brooks Reed

Atlanta Falcons v Pittsburgh Steelers

Some love him, some don’t care for him. However, the Falcons are a team who seem to try to continue to build a younger defense. Which is one reason I wouldn’t be surprised if Reed is let go. If he is let go, in addition to Clayborn, the Falcons will almost certainly be in the market for an EDGE. Here’s a couple pure pass rushing types worth considering.

Harold Landry: 6’3, 250, Boston College

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 09 Wake Forest at Boston College Photo by Andrew Snook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last year, I liked Landry a lot. I even wanted him to declare a year early, though he didn’t bite. The guy is a stat sheet stuffer and a menace on the edge, with a very quick first step. He’d be a very good edge guy to add to the repertoire of young weapons on defense that the Falcons have, and would form a lethal part of the team’s rotation with Vic Beasley, Takk McKinley, and Derrick Shelby.

Arden Key: 6’5, 260, LSU

Mississippi v LSU Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Key is a guy who has long arms and an array of pass rush moves. LSU churns out defensive studs pretty consistently and Key shouldn’t be any different. Now I know he’s big, so why didn’t I mention him in the part of the article about possibly replacing Adrian Clayborn? Well, because I think he’s maxed out weight wise just about. He’s more of a lankier guy who looks a lot like Aldon Smith.

But unfortunately, there are questions off the field just the same. This time last year, he was projected to be a top 10 pick in this upcoming draft. Now that’s uncertain. He has all the physical tools, but the questions surrounding Key would be his desire and his decision making off the field. However, if there is a coach who could get a player to buy in, It’s Dan Quinn.

Dorance Armstrong JR.: 6’4 246, Kansas

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 18 Oklahoma at Kansas Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

His production took a dip this year and the talent surrounding him had a lot to do with that. Watching tape, Armstrong saw as much, if not more double teams than any other player I’ve looked at in this draft. However, he has a wide variety of pass rush moves, an explosive first step, and plenty of strength and athleticism, so he’d be a well-rounded fit.

The drop from 20 tackles for loss, to under 10, will scare some teams away but like mentioned before - he saw a lot of attention on that line. Some team is going to be blessed to have Armstrong fall into their laps. If it’s the Falcons, be excited.

Now of course, there are many more pass rushers in the draft. Guys will fall, guys will rise up boards based on what we see this week in the Senior Bowl and next month in the NFL Scouting Combine. Regardless of whether the Falcons bring back Adrian Clayborn and/or cut ties with Brooks Reed, Dan Quinn lives by the mantra that you cannot possibly have enough pass rushers, and thus the team could add one.

Keep a look on my next articles leading up to the draft where I’ll take a look at tight ends and guards.