Falcons might have to leap for Kerrigan

The guy who might be the perfect draft pick for three NFC South teams, might be getting as close to the division as he’s going to come Monday and Tuesday.

That’s when Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan will visit the Atlanta Falcons. It’s easy to picture Kerrigan, who had 33.5 career sacks in college, stepping right into Atlanta’s defensive line rotation. It’s just as easy to picture him someday taking over for veteran John Abraham as the team’s top pass rusher.

But here’s the catch on why Kerrigan probably isn’t going to make it to the NFC South. The Falcons have the No. 27 overall pick. The Saints are No. 24 and the Buccaneers No. 20.

Even if you go on the assumption that Kerrigan ranks slightly behind North Carolina’s Robert Quinn, Missouri’s Aldon Smith and Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers, who seems to be falling in most mock drafts due to concerns about a knee injury, it’s difficult to imagine Kerrigan still being available when the NFC South really gets on the clock in this draft.

Jacksonville, New England and San Diego pick at Nos. 16, 17 and 18 respectively and all have strong needs for a pass rusher. The other three defensive ends are likely to be gone by then and I saw it almost as an impossibility for Kerrigan to last past the Jaguars, Patriots and Chargers.

I think the defensive ends available when the NFC South (aside from No. 1 Carolina) begins picking will be guys like Georgia’s Justin Houston, Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn and Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward. I can see Heyward perhaps fitting well in New Orleans, but he’s not the real edge rusher that Tampa Bay and Atlanta are probably looking for. Houston and Clayborn could be possibilities for the Bucs and Falcons.

Kerrigan’s visit to Flowery Branch might be the final look the Falcons get at this defensive end. Probably the only way the Falcons can land Kerrigan is to trade up 10 or 12 spots in the draft.