Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr

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Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesUCLA's Anthony Barr had a decent combine, but Buffalo's Khalil Mack might be passing him on some teams' boards at OLB.
Despite all the clever moves made in free agency, the Atlanta Falcons are still in need of a pass-rusher. Specifically, their move to a 3-4-based defensive scheme means the desire for outside linebackers capable of getting to the quarterback.

Draft prospect Anthony Barr appears to be one of those guys, and that's why the Falcons plan to take a long look at him.

Barr has a private workout scheduled with the Falcons before the end of the month, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation. The UCLA outside linebacker had been projected as a top-10 pick immediately after the college football season, although most draft experts have now dropped him behind the other touted outside linebacker, Buffalo's Khalil Mack.

The 6-foot-5-inch, 255-pound Barr has a great combination of size and athleticism. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.66 seconds at the NFL combine, but UCLA coach Jim Mora said Barr improved his time to 4.45 at UCLA's pro day. Mora also said Barr increased his bench press reps from 15 at the combine to 19.

"I think definitely in the top 10, from what I got from the (NFL personnel) today," Mora said of Barr after the pro day. "And they understand that the ceiling is so high. He's only played the position for two years. And they see the talent."

ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. projected Barr to be drafted anywhere between 10-20 in the first round. The Falcons currently hold the sixth-overall pick.

In terms of the Falcons' needs, adding an offensive tackle such as Auburn's Greg Robinson, Michigan's Taylor Lewan, or Texas A&M's Jake Matthews would appear to take priority over a pass-rusher. Then again, all that could change depending on how things unfold at the top of the draft.

It would be hard to pass on Mack, considering how his stock continues to soar. He doesn't have a workout scheduled with the Falcons as of Friday.

If the Falcons see something in Barr during the private workout, maybe he'll rise up their draft board. Whatever happens, they are doing their due diligence in checking out capable impact pass-rushers.

Arizona State outside linebacker Carl Bradford (6-1, 250) said during an interview he had a workout upcoming with the Falcons, and that workout actually took place Thursday. Bradford is projected as a second-rounder, and the Falcons might have to go that route if they elect to target a tackle in the first round.

As things stand for the Falcons right now, Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Massaquoi, and Osi Umenyiora would be the top outside linebackers in the 3-4 setup. Umenyiora reportedly has been asked to take a paycut, so his status for 2014 remains unclear.
Mock drafts are basically meaningless this far before the NFL draft. Teams haven't even had a chance to address their needs via free agency.

Still, such mock drafts give die-hard football fans plenty to talk about after the Super Bowl. And it gives us reporters something to write about.

The latest mock drafts released by ESPN draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. Insider and Todd McShay Insider both have the Atlanta Falcons targeting a lineman with their first-round draft pick. Kiper and McShay just happen to differ on which side of the ball the Falcons will address with the sixth-overall selection.

Kiper has the Falcons taking pass-rusher Anthony Barr from UCLA, while McShay has them selecting offensive tackle Jake Matthews from Texas A&M.

Most consider Barr a better fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme. I talked about it with Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and he agreed Barr could fit in a 4-3 or 3-4, as long as he gets to the quarterback. As Kiper noted, Barr has exceptional quickness. The one game I watched Barr play this season, he seemed relentless in terms of getting after the quarterback.

Some will question Barr's size at 248 pounds, but the 6-foot-4-inch Barr can put on some pounds before the season starts -- as long as he doesn't lose his quickness.

All that being said, I tend to side with McShay in terms of the Falcons needing an offensive tackle first. Matthews has the bloodlines, being the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews. He is probably the most NFL-ready tackle in the draft, although Auburn's Greg Robinson might have a bigger upside, from what a couple scouts tell me. But if the Falcons want someone to come in immediately and helped protect Matt Ryan, Matthews would be the guy.

We'll see how things change after the NFL Scouting Combine in a few weeks. Maybe another player will emerge as the must-have guy for the Falcons.

For now, Barr and Matthews are two safe choices.

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