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What a LB at 14 would mean for the Falcons

It’s out there, but it could happen.

NFL Combine - Day 4 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Okay, let’s get wild.

Who might the Falcons take?

One of the Devins. Devin White is an LSU linebacker, making him such a Dan Quinn pick that it almost cannot happen, and that’s before we even get to his athletic profile. White is fast, fluid, and has the makeup of a playmaker at the NFL level, even if his instincts and tackling lag behind. He could be—even should be—an impact player at the next level.

Bush is a more refined player, and his ability in coverage and agility would make him a deeply intriguing fit for the Falcons. He’s also flashed as a pass rusher in college at times, and the Falcons can always use more help there.

Beyond that, I’d be hard-pressed to see the Falcons going with a linebacker at 14, and we’re already way out in unlikely territory to begin with.

What does it mean for the roster in 2019?

You would expect to see the Falcons trotting out three linebackers more often, I’d wager, as there’s no real reason to believe they’re eager to get De’Vondre Campbell’s physicality off the field. Campbell, Deion Jones and either White or Bush would be a formidable, athletic group, and Foye Oluokun is a great insurance policy in any case. The Falcons would be a more capable run defense with that much speed on the field, for certain, but Bush and Jones in particular would be potent enough in coverage that the Falcons might be willing to test out true 4-3 fronts more often, even if it got Damontae Kazee off the field more often.

What does it mean long-term?

Interesting things. The Falcons are coming up on an extension for Campbell, who has been a quality starter the team will certainly try to extend. The addition of a linebacker at 14 would crowd the depth chart, obviously, and it might make the Falcons more willing to explore life without Campbell.

The bigger question might be how they feel about Foye Oluokun, who just turned in an impressive rookie campaign. This team plays nickel often enough that having four starting-caliber linebackers is a nice luxury but still a luxury, meaning Oluokun would have to be considered a true backup going forward—and Campbell comfortable with reduced playing time—to make this thing work. If the team did move on from Campbell, it’d be Jones, the rookie, and Oluokun going forward.

Considering linebacker is in good shape and Campbell shouldn’t break the bank, though, linebacker still would be a surprising pick.

What are the opportunity costs?

Everything I wrote about defensive tackle and cornerback, basically. The Falcons have bigger fish to fry than linebacker, and while adding a potentially elite player to the corps would certainly improve this defense, it would leave them looking for immediate and long-term help at defensive end, right tackle, defensive tackle, cornerback, and safety with subsequent picks that have lower success rates. It also creates a logjam at the position this year, where the Falcons are loaded with talent and depth options, though I’m wagering that they’d clear out plenty of playing time at the expense of Oluokun and perhaps Campbell if they made this kind of investment.

Unless they’re worried about losing Campbell next year, though, the costs would appear to outweigh the immediate benefits. Defensive end is going to be hollowed out again to start next offseason, defensive tackle will be shedding a couple of useful players if the Falcons don’t re-sign them, cornerback is still a position of priority given that the team won’t stop talking about it, and tackle remains the one position the Falcons could probably slam dunk upgrade in the draft.

Should the Falcons do it?

I’d lean toward no. Bush in particular and White to a lesser degree could be great, and obviously adding an elite linebacker next to Deion Jones would make this defense a gigantic pain in the butt to deal with. From that perspective, it’s a justifiable pick, and nobody should be shocked if Dan Quinn’s deep and enduring love of linebackers wins the day if one of those guys is available at 14.

But the Falcons can’t abandon needs-based drafting entirely just because they signed some useful depth options for a year or two, as they well know. That first round draft pick could be a five-plus year solution at a position, and the Falcons could certainly use more talent at linebacker but not to the extent they need it at, say, right tackle or defensive end. I still expect them to sink a pick into the trenches when all is said and done, but DQ’s lust for athleticism and speed at linebacker and the team’s post-draft ties to top players in 2018 suggest we shouldn’t rule this one out entirely.