Atlanta Falcons: Dee Ford

The buzz around the Atlanta Falcons the last few days has been about their apparent interest in South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. But don't discount their feelings about another SEC pass-rusher.

Auburn's Dee Ford visited the Falcons this week, and the sharply dressed draft prospect made quite an impression. But that's no surprise to Auburn coach Gus Malhzahn, who fully expects Ford to make an impact in the NFL.

"Dee Ford is a difference-maker," Malzahn said in a phone interview Friday. "The pass-rushing ability and the playmaking ability he provided us was really unbelievable. He rushes the passer. He's a tough guy. He's a hard worker -- just all of the above."

Ford had 10.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss at Auburn last season. He is second in SEC in sacks per game (0.9) .

While fans are lobbying for the Falcons to trade up for Clowney, the possibility of Ford falling to the Falcons in the second round would not be such a bad consolation prize. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s last mock draft had the Falcons selecting Ford with the 37th overall pick in the second round after selecting Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan with the sixth pick in the first round.

The Falcons saw Ford at the Senior Bowl so they know what type of havoc he's capable of creating. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and Ford seemed to hit it off as they chatted during Ford's visit. And remember, Ford was bold enough to declare himself a better pass-rusher than Clowney.

ESPN took a closer look at Ford in this video here.

The 6-2, 240-pound Ford played defensive end at Auburn but seems capable of rushing the passer in an alignment, whether it be 3-4 or 4-3. Falcons coach Mike Smith said he wants his defense to have multiplicity.

Malzahn was asked whether Ford could fit it any scheme.

"I think so," the coach said. "He's a football player. He's a football player who is a great competitor and has a nose for the football."
Atlanta Falcons veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora already stated his desire to remain with the team. At the same time, Umenyiora realizes the Falcons could add a rookie pass-rusher to the mix.

Umenyiora already has an appreciation for two edge-rushers who are set to display their ability at this year’s NFL combine in Indianapolis.

Naturally, one of them is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

"This is a tremendous athlete; a tremendous football player,’’ Umenyiora said of Clowney. "And there’s a guy out of Auburn, Dee Ford, who I think is a hell of a defensive end. He’s a phenomenal pass-rusher. So I definitely think there are a couple of guys who could really upgrade our team.’’

But Umenyiora, a former second-round pick of the New York Giants out of Troy, has been around the league enough to know that some touted pass-rushers don’t always live up to expectations – not to say that will be the case with Clowney and Ford.

"I’ve seen a lot of rookies who were supposed to be good players come in and not do nothing,’’ Umenyiora said. "Or you have a bunch rookies that come in and are supposed to do this and that, and they find out the NFL is a different game.

"You can’t always put all your hopes in someone coming in out of college, especially a team like Atlanta that is built to win now. Then again, I’m just employee No. 50 and I do what I’m told. And I definitely understand all the talk about these young pass-rushers.’’

Umenyiora, who has one more year left on his contract and is set to count $4.75 million against the cap, would be the ideal mentor for any young pass-rusher. The Falcons likely would have to trade up to get Clowney. Ford, who impressed at the Senior Bowl, isn’t likely to be picked in the top 10, and the Falcons currently hold the sixth overall pick.

Two other pass-rushers linked to the Falcons in terms of draft projections are UCLA’s Anthony Barr and Buffalo’s Khalil Mack. Although most see them as better fits as outside linebackers in 3-4 schemes, even Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said both Barr and Mack are capable of being successful pass-rushers in 4-3 defenses.

Combine workouts for defensive linemen and linebackers are on Monday.