As the 2015 NFL draft is set to begin in a little more than a month, the Atlanta Falcons surely have ample amounts of work to be done. With a loaded draft class and an enviable pick, the Dirty Birds can go in any number of directions with their first pick. Here’s the top 7 best players to draft with the #8 spot come April 30.
1. Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year and All-American led the SEC in sacks and tackles for a loss. His explosive nature allows him to get to the Quarterback quickly and provide a disruption for offensive lines. Ray’s speed makes up for his size and his passion for inflicting pain to anyone who stands in his way makes him an ideal fit for a Falcons defensive line that lacks an intimidating pass rusher.
2. Leonard Williams, DE, USC
Williams, like Ray, can aid the Falcon’s pass rushing woes. He made first-team All-Pac-12 and was a finalist for the Hendricks Award. He played consistently and made 80 tackles and seven sacks. He’s proven versatile in that he can play virtually any position on the defensive line. Despite his overwhelming power to bull rush lineman, he also has the ability to finesse around the lines. The scary thing about him is that he played almost the entire year with a bad shoulder. Fully healthy, Williams could become a force to be reckoned with.
3. Landon Collins, SS, Alabama
The backbone of Bama’s secondary, Collins led the team with 103 tackles and three interceptions while earning first-team All-SEC and unanimous All-American selections. The number-one Safety in the nation can play at both safety positions and even spent time at Dimeback. Collins is an aggressive player who does not let anyone break a tackle and swarm to the ball. While he needs to work on his hands, as long as he knocks the ball away the interceptions won’t matter as much.
4. Dante Fowler Jr., OLB, Florida
Fowler made first-team All-SEC and made 8.5 sacks last season. He was voted team and defensive MVP for his impact with the Gators. He’s shown explosiveness and has a large frame. While raw, Fowler can develop into a more polished pass rusher. The Falcons need as much help on defense as possible, and Fowler can assist in reaching the Quarterback, helping their secondary as a result.
5. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Now that the Steven Jackson experiment is (thankfully) over, Atlanta needs a feature back. Enter Gordon, who shook college football viewers almost as much as he shook off defenders. Gordon was named a unanimous All-American and the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Gordon sets the FBS single game rushing record with 408 yards against Nebraska on only 25 carries. He finished the season with a whopping 2,587 rushing yards and 29 rushing touchdowns, thoroughly dominating any team he faced. Gordon would ease the load off Matty Ice and open up opportunities for the play-action, helping the ever-dangerous Julio Jones as well. However, in an extremely deep Running Back class, the Falcons may prove to pick one later on, even if he won’t have nearly as much upside as Gordon.
6. Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
Williams is the complete package from what can be seen. He can disrupt a secondary and make the big plays, but also proves an admirable blocker. With the Falcons still trying to find Tony Gonzalez’s replacement, Williams can come in and contribute immediately. He would be able to be Matt Ryan’s safety blanket when under pressure with his hands or even make sure Ryan doesn’t get to that point with his blocking. While not a flashy pick, it would prove a smart one, even at a reach.
7. Todd Gurley, RB, UGA
How can we not mention Gurley when discussing Georgia football? Yeah, yeah, yeah, he tore his ACL last year. I get it. But he’s still projected to be a first-round pick and he would become an instant fan favorite. His ferocious tendency while running the ball would excite fans and light a spark under the team. Plus, imagine he and Devin Hester next to each other returning kickoffs and punts. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Gurley’s relentless play and strength will surely allow him to return from injury at 110% and stay in the state that adores him. While he will most likely not be picked by the Falcons, it sure would be fun.