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2020 NFL Draft: Why LSU's Patrick Queen could be the Falcons' first-round pick

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Editor's note: This is the fourth of 10 prospect profiles on players who could be on the Falcons' radar in the first round.

The Atlanta Falcons had a number of key departures in free agency this offseason, among them was linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, the team's leading tackler in each of the past two seasons. The Falcons could go in several different directions in the first round of this year's NFL Draft, and it's possible they choose to find a replacement for Campbell and continue to bolster their linebacking corps. LSU's Patrick Queen – the No. 19 player on Dave Archer's Big Board – fits the exact mold the Falcons have looked for in a linebacker.

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Queen was a star on both offense and defense while playing at Livonia High School in Louisiana, and he was rated a four-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite Rankings. It took some time for Queen to see the field, but he ended up starting four of LSU's final five games during his sophomore season.

Queen continued to improve throughout his career at LSU, and he became a full-time starter during the 2019 season. His improvement was notable throughout his junior season, and he was named defensive MVP after LSU's victory against Clemson in the national title game, during which he recorded eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and a half-sack.

It was Queen's ability in coverage that stood out, and his Pro Football Focus coverage grade of 82.0 ranked 12th among all off-ball linebackers. During his three seasons at LSU, Queen recorded 131 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks and an interception.

How Queen fits in with the Falcons

As has been the case with LSU linebackers in recent years, Queen is a bit undersized but makes up for it with incredible athleticism. Like Deion Jones and Dez White, Queen excels in coverage and has natural instincts to make plays as a run defender. During LSU's goal-line stand against Texas in 2019, Queen made several key stops.

Just 20 years old, Queen's best football is all ahead of him. Having a mentor like Jones, whose game is very similar, would only benefit Queen. The combination of Jones, Queen and Foye Oluokun would give the Falcons one of the most athletic linebacker trios in the NFL, which should help them compete against the dynamic passing offenses in the NFC South.

One aspect of Queen's game that could be intriguing to the Falcons is his ability to rush the passer. Although he isn't an edge rusher by any means, Queen was sent on a number of blitzes in 2019 and showed an aptitude for deploying an inside spin move to free himself from blockers. Queen did have a tough time disengaging from blockers in the open field, but his athleticism did allow him to beat blockers to the point of attack on many occasions.

Queen's speed – he ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine – allowed him to make many plays in coverage. He has very good closing speed, which the Falcons prize in their zone coverage schemes as a way to limit yards after the catch, and Queen would be right at home doing that.

Modern NFL linebackers have become closer to hybrid safeties and must have coverage skills to match their abilities in run defense. Queen fits that mold perfectly, and although he had only one season as a starter at the college level, the upside is clear and he could become one of the top off-ball linebackers in the league.  

Expert's analysis

"While other Tigers received more attention, Queen has some of the most eye-opening tape of the bunch. He plays fast, physical and with impressive field confidence for a one-year starter. His ability to diagnose and flow are both very rapid, and he operates with excellent body control and balance to gobble up runners as an open-field tackler. His inexperience will show itself in taking on blocks and finding optimal pursuit angles, but that will get cleaned up in time. Queen is next up from LSU's linebacker factory, possessing the same three-down ability to hunt, cover and tackle as those before him. He's an early starter with a sky-high ceiling." – Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

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