As the Atlanta Falcons coaching and personnel staffs prepare to watch more than 300 pro prospects work out at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine this week, many believe a pass rusher is atop their wish list to target toward the NFL Draft in late April. Holding the No. 8-overall pick, the Falcons brass knows it will add a high-profile player, regardless of position. If the club targets a pass rusher early, the debate continues over which player is the best at the position in this year's draft class.
NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock watched countless hours of college film all year and recently revealed his latest evaluations of some of the best pass rushers who are planning to play on Sundays next season. Among those making Mayock's prime cut, Florida outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., Nebraska outside linebacker Randy Gregory, Missouri defensive end Shane Ray and Clemson outside linebacker Vic Beasley.
"I seem to be in the minority with the media people, having Dante Fowler at No. 1," Mayock said via conference call this week. "He reminds me a little bit of a (Chiefs OLB) Justin Houston. I think he's going to be 255 to 260 (lbs.). I'm interested where Gregory and Shane Ray and Beasley are. They've all been kind of quoted anywhere between 225 and 240 (lbs.), so Fowler is going to be 15 or 20 pounds heavier than any of them, and I think just as explosive."
Whether or not the Falcons target a pass rusher remains to be seen, but according to Mayock, if Fowler goes off the board before the No. 8 selection, Ray and Gregory each offer plenty of excitement, with a little bit of uncertainty.
"I think Shane Ray has the best first step I've seen, and I think Randy Gregory is totally intriguing," Mayock said.
"I'm not sure if he's (former Miami Dolphins DE/OLB) Jason Taylor on the plus side or is he going to be the kid Miami took a couple years ago at No. 3 on the negative side, Dion Jordan?
He's a long, lean guy, and I think Gregory, Ray, Beasley, (Virginia OLB) Eli Harold, that whole group, has to show they can put some weight on and get stronger."