As draft day approaches, we're hearing more and more about the types of players the Falcons have a legitimate shot at drafting. Yesterday, D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reported that those potential draftees include a couple of Clemson linemen: DE Andre Branch and DT Brandon Thompson.
Since both roughly project to the second round according to most draft experts, the Falcons would definitely be using their first pick (No. 55 overall) on either of these guys. But what exactly would the Falcons be getting in each?
For a team that has had some real problem pressuring the quarterback (John Abraham notwithstanding), you really can't argue that having one of these guys wouldn't make the team better.
Branch, a pure edge rusher, is interesting because he has the versatility to be either a 4-3 end or a 3-4 outside linebacker, and he would probably get his fair share of looks in Mike Nolan's defense. But questions regarding his ability to play the run along with durability concerns are what could cause him to slip to the second round.
However, that could work out perfectly for the Falcons. With Ray Edwards more than capable of playing the run effectively, Nolan could simply sub Branch into his defense on third downs. Branch also wouldn't have to be the full-time starter right away, giving him time to bulk up and adjust to the NFL strength-wise.
The real question about him, however, is if he's actually there when the Falcons pick. Most have him as a late-first / early-second selection. If they really want him, Dimitroff would probably have to pull another draft-day trade. I don't see that happening.
In typical Falcons fashion, Thompson is yet another hybridized player. With a rare combination of size and explosiveness, he has the capability of fitting in as a 4-3 DT or a 3-4 DE (much like Corey Peters). He even has the potential to be a nose tackle if he bulks up a bit.
There's also definitely a need at defensive tackle. Peria Jerry has yet to do anything meaningful in a Falcons uniform, and Jonathan Babineaux had a pretty rough 2011 season himself. While I think Babs is capable of bouncing back, I also think it's wise to bring in someone who could fit the new defense better.
With the Falcons having already scouted Alabama NT Josh Chapman, I also find myself really interested to see what Mike Nolan can do with this defense next season. We could see a scheme that looks and feels much more experimental than Brian Van Gorder's. Defensive formations, how exciting!!