By now, there's a bunch of household names among Falcons fans heading into next week's 2011 NFL Draft.
If you've been following our coverage, or that of another outlet, these names should sound awfully familiar to you by now: Adrian Clayborn, Ryan Kerrigan, Kyle Rudolph, Torrey Smith, Gabe Carimi, Justin Houston.
This is a small group of players who most media members, experts and fans think are the top considerations for the Falcons at the No. 27 spot. But, let's say the first round comes along and the Falcons select a kid named Jabaal Sheard. Or Ras-I Dowling. Or Brooks Reed.
I can almost hear the collective, "WHO?!" already.
So, let's take a closer look at some of these guys who may have flown under the radar but offer just as much, if not more, than the popular names.
Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh
A lot of folks have been talking about the need for a pass rush, yet for some reason, Sheard has largely been left out of the conversation. Sheard is one of those "tweener" prospects that could also fit as a 3-4 linebacker, but he's just as prolific as any of the other bigger names out there, so it's a wonder he's been so ignored. I'm guessing it might be because he played in the Big East, but who knows? Anyway, Sheard has a rare combination of speed and nasty bull-rush ability. So, not only does he have the power to get to the quarterback, he also has the speed to get there before he throws. That ability helped him reach nine sacks last season while being named the Big East's Defensive Player of the Year. Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com writes that Sheard could be more productive earlier than some of the other "big names" in this year's Draft class. Click here to see Sheard in action.
Brooks Reed, OLB/DE, Arizona
Reed's name is another that has cropped up every so often, but fails to have any staying power. This is likely due to his tweener status, like Sheard, as a 4-3 DE/3-4 LB prospect. At this point, it's looking like Reed is going to be making the position switch to linebacker in the NFL, but he's worth a look as a defensive end in Atlanta's 4-3 system. Reed had a slow senior year at Arizona, but really turned it on and impressed scouts during the Senior Bowl and the Combine. This has raised his stock to the latter part of the first round as opposed to a being considered a definite second-rounder. Reed piled up 17 sacks during his college career and displayed the kind of mental freakishness you like to see in your defensive personnel. Personally, I think Reed's size puts him out of the running at No. 27, but you never know until the pick is announced. Click here to see Reed in action.
Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
Cornerback, for one reason or another, seems to be such a strong need for the Falcons in the eyes of the national media that they're willing to take one in the first round. OK, I'll bite on this, although I think a CB in a middle round is more likely. Harris is just one of a couple of names at the cornerback position mentioned in the same breath with the Falcons in the first round, and there's good reason. Harris may lack some size at 5-foot-10, but he more than makes up for it with his instinct on the field and football smarts in the film room. He's extremely athletic and is considered to be the total package type of corner. He's aggressive and not afraid to lay down a hit. He broke up 10 passes last season, which was good enough for a team-high, and finished second in the country in the category in 2009 with 15, but he only recorded one interception in 2010 and earned only four for his college career. So, if you're hoping for a CB that can create turnovers, Harris might not be your guy. Click here to see Harris in action.
Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia
It was interesting to see Dowling's name in our Mock Monitor last week considering he's long been seen as a second-round prospect. Dowling has great size for a cornerback, standing 6-foot-1, and he has a real nose for the ball. The big knock on Dowling is that he's gained a reputation for injuries. He spent most of 2010 battling various injuries and then came up lame after running the 40 just once at the Combine. His speed there was clocked at 4.4, so that's an encouraging number considering the injuries he's come back from (ankle, knee, hamstring). Dowling was thought to be a slam dunk for the first round as he entered his final season at Virginia, but obviously the injuries have caused his stock to drop dramatically. If the Falcons really wanted to add him, he could likely be had in the second or third rounds — and considering he really does have first-round talent, that's great value. Click here to see Dowling in action.
Danny Watkins, G, Baylor
Watkins (pictured above) is another curious name to me, for a couple of reasons: 1. He's currently 26 years old and will turn 27 during his rookie season; 2. He plays guard — not necessarily a position of extreme need as things stand right now. Watkins spent four years as a firefighter in British Columbia, Canada before enrolling in college. His junior year, he transferred to Baylor, so he's only got two years of Division I experience under his belt. That being said, there's a huge upside to drafting a player with Watkins' age. He's going to be more mature — mentally and emotionally — than any other rookie a team will bring in, and physically, he's going to have a much better idea of how to use his body on the line in the NFL. The downside to that is that you'll likely only have him for a few years. By the time he gets to his second contract, he may already be starting to think about retirement. Still, you probably get some great years out of him during his first contract. He led Baylor with 134 knockdowns in 2010 and graded out at 90 percent. Those numbers are more than impressive. Growing up in Canada, he spent a lot of time on ice skates, so his footwork is remarkable, and scouts seem to be impressed with his technique. Click here to see Watkins in action.
What do you think of these prospects?