NFL Combine 2011: 10 Defensive Prospects The Atlanta Falcons Must Watch

Ryan ComstockCorrespondent IFebruary 23, 2011

NFL Combine 2011: 10 Defensive Prospects The Atlanta Falcons Must Watch

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    WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - SEPTEMBER 20:  Quarterback Dan LeFevour #13 of the Central Michigan Chippewas is tackled by Ryan Kerrigan #94 of the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium on September 20, 2008 in West Lafayette, Indiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    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)

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    FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - SEPTEMBER 17:  Defensive lineman Allen Bailey #57 and linebacker Colin McCarthy #44 of the Miami Hurricanes celebrate after scoring a safety against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Land Shark Stadium on September 17, 2009 in Fort
    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

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    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

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    AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 07:  Cornerback Curtis Brown #3 of the Texas Longhorns practices before a game against the UCF Knights on November 7, 2009 at Darrell K Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas.  Texas won 35-3.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Ima
    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)

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    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

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    COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 13:  Cameron Heyward #97 of the Ohio State Buckeyes chases after quarterback Matt McGloin #11 of the Penn State Nittany Lions at Ohio Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
    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

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    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

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    MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 29: Quarterback Greg McElroy #12 of the South Team is tackled by Ryan Kerrigan #91 and Joe Lefeged #26 of the North Team during the second quarter of the Under Armour Senior Bowl January 29, 2011 at Ladd Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala
    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

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    CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 04:  Jabaal Sheard #97 of the Pittsburgh Panthers tackles Zach Collaros #12 of the Cincinnati Bearcats during the Big East Conference game against at Nippert Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Pittsburgh won 28-10.
    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

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    AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 10:  Cornerback Jimmy Smith #3 of the Colorado Buffaloes picks up the loose ball which was knocked out of the hand of quarterback Colt McCoy of the Texas Longhorns in the second quarter  on October 10, 2009 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Me
    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

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    DALLAS - OCTOBER 02:  Cornerback Aaron Williams #4 of the Texas Longhorns drops a pass intended for Ryan Broyles #85 of the Oklahoma Sooners in the second quarter at the Cotton Bowl on October 2, 2010 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Ima
    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.