NFL Combine 2011: 10 Defensive Prospects The Atlanta Falcons Must Watch
With the 2011 NFL Combine set to begin on Feb. 24, it's time to look into which players the Atlanta Falcons should have on their radar.
While there are certainly some spots on the offense that could use some work, the Falcons primarily need to improve their defense this offseason, particularly the defensive end and cornerback positions.
Over 300 players will be participating in the Combine this year, and there are a number of top-notch defensive prospects the Falcons should be taking a look at.
The athletes you'll find listed here are not necesarilly the absolute best at their respective positions, rather they are player who could be available to Atlanta, based on a few mock drafts I've looked at.
Player's stocks rise and fall based on how they perform during this event, so it's not completely clear as to where they will be taken, but based on the information that is available now, the Falcons should be able to get one of these players in the first round, and possibly more in later rounds.
Allen Bailey, DE, Miami (FL)
Doug Benc/Getty Images
Although he is considered to be a bit raw, Bailey is one of the most imposing physical specimens in this year's draft.
His performance at Miami was somewhat inconsistent but scouts love his work ethic, his versatility (he played both end and tackle) and that he was willing to switch positions for the betterment of the team.
In his senior year, Bailey recorded seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss. He received second-team All-ACC honors as well.
For what it's worth, D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the Falcons selecting Bailey in the first round.
Christian Ballard, DE, Iowa
Like Allen Bailey, Ballard has shown the willingness to line up wherever the coaching staff asks him to in an effort to help his team win.
Given Atlanta's emphasis on bringing in players of this nature, his is a name to remember.
Ballard (three sacks in his senior year) doesn't have the statistics that will get anyone too excited, but he has the size, speed and strength to be an effective pass-rusher.
One of the biggest knocks on him is that he misses too many tackles. He is said to have a great work ethic, however, so this is something that can be fixed.
Curtis Brown, CB, Texas
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Brown played receiver in high school, giving him an edge in recognizing routes and what opposing wide-outs are trying to do.
He has tremendous closing speed and while he's not a great tackler, he's shown the ability to deliver big hits. He is also adept at breaking up passes.
Brown generally played man coverage at Texas, although he has shown he is capable of playing zone as well.
The lone interception he totaled in his senior year does not do justice to his ball-skills, either. He is said to have "receiver-like" hands in making plays on the ball, something that should serve him well in the pros.
Brandon Harris, CB, Miami (FL)
Teams were hesitant to throw in Harris' direction during the 2010 season, bringing down his interception numbers from where they could have been.
Still, he was able to grab one pick, and the fact that teams shied away from forcing the ball to the man he was covering is a very good sign for his potential.
Harris also has very good speed and is not afraid to get his nose dirty in run support.
Depending on how he performs at the Combine he may not be available to the Falcons in the first round, but if he's there it would not be surprising to see them take him.
Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Another versatile defensive lineman who can play inside or out, Heyward has ties to the Falcons as his father, Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, played for the team in the mid-'90s.
Heyward has been a contributor to Ohio State since his freshman year, making experience a non-issue. He is not seen as an elite pass-rushing prospect, although he could still be a good value if he slips on draft day.
In his senior year, Heyward totaled four sacks and 48 tackles. In his four years combined, he accumulated 15 sacks.
Davon House, CB, New Mexico State
House has not only shown the ability to be a great cover man, he also has good ball-skills and returned interceptions for touchdowns three times in his college career.
He possesses terrific speed and is good in run support. If his measurables during the Combine match up to where scouts would like them to be, House is regarded as a player capable of shutting down NFL receivers.
He is projected to go in the second round, where he could be a real steal.
Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Kerrigan is not an explosive athlete, which he more than makes up for with nonstop hustle and a fabulous work ethic.
In four years at Purdue, Kerrigan totaled 33 sacks, with 13 of them coming in his senior year. He is also very good at stripping the ball and forcing fumbles upon reaching the quarterback.
What's even better about Kerrigan is that he's equally skilled at defending the run, meaning he won't have to be taken off the field on the early downs.
He is not the physical specimen that someone like Allen Bailey is, but if he is available at No. 27 in the first round, the Falcons should take him.
Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
As is the case with Ryan Kerrigan, Sheard gets by more on strength and hustle than sheer athleticism.
Being that he is more of a power pass-rusher, he could be a good complement to John Abraham on the defensive line.
Sheard totaled nine sacks in his senior year at Pitt, had 19 over his four years there and is also good in run support.
He was a leader and team captain in college—traits the Falcons place an emphasis on.
Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
It is believed Smith has the size, speed and overall skill to match up large NFL receivers and neutralize them.
He has shown great ability to play bump-and-run coverage and is not liable to get burned on deep routes.
One area he will need to improve on, however, is his susceptibility to play-action fakes, something NFL quarterbacks are very good at.
On the positive side, Smith became a leader for his team, holding teammates accountable and pointing out directions for them. He also took up film-study while in college.
Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Williams has shown a great deal of talent while displaying some weaknesses throughout his college career.
He has good hands, is able to locate the ball while it is in the air and has top-end speed for a corner. He is also a sound tackler who does not give up yards after the catch.
Where he needs to improve is being more consistent in his coverage and physical at the line. The good news is that he is very good in run support, so re-routing receivers as they come off the line is certainly something he is capable of.
It's possible he will be available in the second round.