Maybe the Atlanta Falcons aren’t looking ahead to the NFL draft just yet, but we are.
The Falcons, at 2-9, could be in position to secure the first overall pick if their five-game losing skid continues. In the eyes of fans, that would be the best-case scenario.
I asked ESPN draft expert Todd McShay which prospects he believes the Falcons should target if they do end up with a top-5 pick. McShay came up with three and also mentioned a few others in case the Falcons started winning and, thus, moved down the first-round draft board ... or had intentions of trading down.
Here are McShay’s three primary targets, to no surprise:
Jadeveon Clowney (6-6, 274), DE, South Carolina: "Clowney, listed as my No. 1 overall player, hasn’t had the ideal year and hasn’t lived up to the hype that was imposed upon him. But that doesn’t take away from him being physically, the most dominating player in the draft. It all depends on positioning in terms of drafting him, and certainly a team like Atlanta would be in better position with the No. 1 overall pick. I actually think it’s unfair to him; all the high expectations. I think he’s the most schemed against defensive end I’ve ever studied on tape in terms of double and triple teams, running away from him with the screen game. Coaches consistently game plan against him because he can make that big play at any time. He can cause so much disruption, although there are some things he can work on such as his hand use, better leverage."
Jake Matthews (6-5, 305) OT, Texas A&M: "He's one of those coveted offensive linemen. First off, you look at his frame at 6-foot-5, 300-pounds. He’s got experience. He has 33 consecutive starts and he’s got that versatility, having started 26 straight games at right tackle then moving the left tackle. Moving from left to right is not an easy thing to do. He’s got no baggage. He eats, drinks and sleeps football. He’s proven himself. Going against [former LSU standout] Barkevious Mingo a year ago, it was the worst tape Mingo produced. Matthews has that quickness while remaining balanced and powerful. He has good athletic ability and mobility. Plus he’s scheme versatile. If you’re asking me whether he could fit with the Falcons -- and I’m not sure about their cap situation and all that -- but he definitely would be upgrade over Sam Baker."
Anthony Barr (6-4, 248) OLB/DE, UCLA: "That wouldn't be a shock [for Falcons to consider Barr in the top 5]. I could see him being moved to right defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. He’s got the speed and the explosive first step. He’s gotten stronger against the run. He was a former fullback. He had a string of like 21 consecutive games with a tackle for a loss. That’s amazing. His work ethic and football character are through the roof. If someone had concerns about Clowney – not to say there are – then Barr wouldn’t be a bad option because he works hard all the time, even though he might not be elite. When I say elite, I mean that rare, premier talent [like Clowney]. And I know Atlanta could definitely use an edge rusher. If Clowney is gone and Matthews is gone, I think Barr would be the next guy. He reminds me of a younger Jason Taylor but more athletic, thicker and stronger."