The early departure of Justin Houston, the cornerstone of Georgia's 2011 pass rush, to the NFL was a bummer for Georgia fans, if a fairly predictable one. The good news, though, is that you may not have to go far to watch him play on Sundays.
The buzz is growing around Houston's upcoming meeting with Atlanta Falcons brass, with more than a few Dirty Bird-watchers -- SB Nation's own Falcoholic included -- speculating that the Falcons are seriously considering grabbing Houston with the No. 27 pick in next month's draft. The Falcons only managed 31 sacks last season, tied for No. 12 in the NFC, and a player with Houston's pass-rushing chops is said to be high on their priorities list. According to the Falcoholic:
Defensive end remains a need. John Abraham may not be back with the Falcons beyond 2011, and while I think Kroy Biermann offers a lot of value for this team, he's nowhere near an elite pass rusher. Chauncey Davis and Lawrence Sidbury have yet to show they can be, either. The draft or free agency is going to have to be where the team finds an answer.
So with that in mind, the question becomes: Can a player who spent all of last season as a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme transition to defensive end in the 4-3 front that the Falcons run? It's a question worth asking, though it's also worth pointing out that Houston started out as a DE and only moved to outside linebacker when Todd Grantham came to Athens to shake up a stagnating Bulldog defense. And Houston has the size to hold his own in the front four -- at 270 pounds, he's bigger than all of the ends on Atlanta's current roster save for Jamaal Anderson.
The knocks on Houston, from the Falcons' perspective, are that he's not the most consistent player out there, and the conventional wisdom is that the Falcons don't like to draft juniors if they can avoid it. His versatility, though, is something few defensive players in this year's draft will be able to match. And, of course, we know he looks just fine in red and black.
The most recent projections at Mocking the Draft have Justin going to New England with the No. 28 pick in the first round, but that's just one pick after Atlanta's. If the Falcons decide the pass rush is their most pressing area of concern heading into 2011, Houston could be staying fairly close to home.