A need for rushers no matter size, scheme

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
8:00
AM ET
Auburn pass-rusher Dee Ford opened a lot of eyes with his MVP performance during this past weekend's Senior Bowl.

Maybe even the Atlanta Falcons are taking a closer look now.

Some debate whether the Falcons should even spend their time evaluating defensive players most assume are better suited for 3-4 schemes, such as the 6-foot-2, 243-pound Ford, although Ford played defensive end for the Tigers.

In general manager Thomas Dimitroff's eyes, size and scheme don't matter when you can consistently get to the quarterback.

"When you a run a system that is a so-called system-specific scouting system, you're going to be scouting players for your specific scheme, for the most part,'' Dimitroff explained. "But that being said, when you have players that are top-notched athletes that can run, catch, jump, tackle or make big plays in the pass and run game, you find a way to use them.''

The Falcons need better pass-rushers, period, which is why folks continue to link them to UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, a projected top-10 pick. Dimitroff said both the 6-4, 245-pound Barr and 6-3, 248-pound Khalil Mack from Buffalo are 3-4 outside linebackers more than capable of becoming impact edge-rushers in a 4-3 scheme.

Mack also has been projected as a top-10 pick.

As for Ford, he apparently said he "made a little money'' with two sacks and a pass deflection at the Senior Bowl. Unfortunately for the Falcons coaches and defensive line coach Bryan Cox, they weren't able to work with Ford all week since he was on the South squad and they coached the North team.

The ESPN Scouts Inc. crew of Todd McShay, Steve Muench, and Kevin Weidl were left with this impression after watching Ford perform:

"Ford was by far the most explosive edge-rusher here. On top of that, we were highly impressed with his flexibility to bend the edge.”

It's no secret the Falcons' main mission this offseason is to improve both the offensive and defensive lines. Adding an offensive tackle such as Ford's teammate Greg Robinson or Texas A&M's Jake Matthews would appear to address the team's most pressing need. However, the Falcons could be bold and trade up to grab a dominant pass-rusher such as South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, who is not expected to last until the sixth pick.

Players such as Barr, Mack and even Ford all are options to at least explore if adding a pass-rusher takes precedent. Ford came into the Senior Bowl projected as a second-round pick.

Which way the Falcons lean in the draft will all depend on what needs they address in free agency (March 11). It's unlikely they'll go after a high-priced pass-rusher, although a name mentioned during the Senior Bowl was the Cincinnati Bengals' Michael Johnson, who apparently wouldn't mind coming home after playing his college ball at Georgia Tech.

The next time the Falcons will get a closer look at a variety of college defensive linemen/outside linebackers will be Feb. 24 at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Vaughn McClure

ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter

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