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Expert view on Falcons' draft options at pass-rusher

Anything can happen from now until the NFL draft actually begins Thursday night.

For the Atlanta Falcons, the focus appears to be on improving the pass rush by any means necessary, although late talk has surfaced about the possibility of trading for Seattle's Bruce Irvin, a pass-rusher Falcons coach Dan Quinn had while the Seahawks' defensive coordinator.

There is a possibility the Falcons will trade up from the eighth-overall selection to land the guy many consider the most dominant defensive player in the draft, USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Such a transaction would all depend on how hefty the cost would be.

There also might be a need to trade up a few spots if the Falcons desire coveted edge rusher Vic Beasley. The Clemson outside linebacker might not fall to No. 8.

Barring a Williams or Irvin trade, securing one of the top edge-rushers would likely be the Falcons' focus, with Florida's Dante Fowler Jr., Nebraska's Randy Gregory, Missouri's Shane Ray, Kentucky's Bud Dupree and Beasley comprising the group. But with the Falcons losing a fifth-round pick next year plus being fined $350,000 after the embarrassment of piping crowd noise into the Georgia Dome, one would think team owner Arthur Blank would discourage drafting a guy such as Gregory, who admitted testing positive for marijuana at the combine, or perhaps even Ray, who was recently cited for marijuana possession. Quinn insisted Ray remains on the Falcons' draft board despite the misstep.

We talked to one AFC executive who gave a honest assessment of each of the five aforementioned pass-rushers:

  • Vic Beasley (6-3, 246), Clemson: "Vic is probably the best in terms of speed off the edge with initial speed and quickness off the edge. He's going to win it with speed in this group because he gets off the ball so quickly. He and Ray are about the same size, but Vic just has the most speed. What will be his flaw? Just his size and how he adjust to playing the run in the NFL. That will be it. But he's been really productive."

  • Bud Dupree (6-4, 269), Kentucky: "Of all those guys, he's the biggest. And he can play with his hand down as a defensive end for a 4-3 or he can play standing up as he has. He did it as a junior and they stood him up this past year. So his sack production wasn't as good as it was before because they asked him to do more in terms of coverage standing up. To me, his best ball is ahead of him once he gets locked into one spot. He's 265 pounds so he's got versatility in terms of being an every-down guy. The knock is he doesn't have much production in terms of sack numbers and sack production overall."

  • Shane Ray (6-3, 245), Missouri: "Highest motor of the group. Plays the hardest in terms of pursuit to the football. He's probably the least athletic of the group, but the toughness comes out in his play. When the ball is snapped, this dude goes. I don't know enough about his [toe injury], just from what I'm hearing. He was at workouts and it didn't seem like it was an issue, but now we're hearing that there might be issues. We have to find out what happened with the follow-up from Indy. You've heard all speculation about it but we'll find out more. It's a concern, obviously. And yes, it's hard to trust him in the first round after making that poor decision (marijuana possession) so close to the draft."

  • Randy Gregory (6-5, 235), Nebraska: "Oh man, he has the best length and ability to bend and turn the edge. He's the tallest and all that, but his body in terms of filling out, he has room to grow. His weight has been up and down throughout his career. But to me, he's got the most upside of the group, still. Anytime you know the history of [the marijuana use], and then you go to the combine which is technically their biggest interview of their life and you test positive ... I think it will hurt him. He will go later than he should. He has a test or two at Nebraska that were positive then the combine test. So, yes, that's a concern."

  • Dante Fowler Jr. (6-3, 261), Florida: "He's like a more complete version of Dupree because he's played so many positions. Throwing Fowler in the group, he's the most versatile of the group because he's played so many spots. He's played standing up. He's played defensive end. He played like an outside linebacker. Early in his career, they had him playing some inside, with some packages as the [middle] linebacker. He's probably the best pure football player of the group. He and Bud Dupree both are equal in terms of sack production, but once Fowler gets put in one spot, you'll see who he is."