Falcons: Five versatile draft prospects for Dean Pees’ defense

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If you don’t know by now, new defensive coordinator Dean Pees loves to run multiple front schemes out of a base 3-4. Calling his scheme a 3-4 doesn’t really define what Pees’ defense is because, during the 2018 season, the Titans dialed up a nickel personnel package on 73% of defensive snaps — ninth-most in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders

Playing nickel and other sub-packages requires more defensive backs, but simply using more defensive backs isn’t the answer to the riddle of the modern NFL offense, at least not entirely. If you truly want to succeed, you have to have the right personnel to plug into those packages. All three levels of the defense require hybrid positions.

The defensive linemen need to be able to play all the way down the line, but most importantly, it is about the linebackers and safeties, who must be versatile. Whether they’re called “money backers”, “rovers”, “monsters”, “stars”, or “spurs”, these players are hybrids who straddle the line between linebacker and safety, and they’re absolutely critical to defending modern offenses. These are guys that can cover athletic tight ends or wide receivers and also stop the run. The more traditional linebackers — ‘thumpers’ — are used to stuff the run but are also asked to rush the passer and create pressure. Below are five defensive prospects who can play multiple positions in Dean Pees’ defense.

Kwity Paye

Paye is widely regarded as the most athletic player in this draft. At 6’4″, 270 pounds, he has the highest ceiling of any defender in this class because of that athleticism. I like Paye in a 3-4, playing the 5-technique. This is similar to how the Packers use Rashan Gary, though, they move him all along the line of scrimmage. In a traditional 3-4, Paye could play outside linebacker and thrive setting the edge against tight ends and full backs, but then Pees can kick him inside to rush the passer with Grady Jarrett on nickel and dime sub-packages. Pees would love to have someone like Paye who he could move from a 6-technique to a 5-technique, all the way to a 0-technique if needed — which he did as a Wolverine.

Aaron Robinson

Robinson was a Swiss Army Knife for the Knights’ defense. He played mostly in the slot, where his game translates best at the next level. However, his ability to play multiple positions is what’s so intriguing. Aligning Robinson in the slot to have him blitz, help in run-support, or drop deep are all things he can do.

Hamsah Nasirildeen

If Keanu Neal is not given a second contract, look no further than Nasirildeen. He is a carbon copy of Neal and Kam Chancellor. Watch for what he can do against running backs and tight ends in man coverage, as the 6’4″, 220-pound safety has tight end eraser traits. Florida State has produced Jalen Ramsey and Derwin James, who are both large-bodied defensive backs that sacrifice no agility or speed for their sizes at corner and safety. He would be that “money backer” that is so valuable in Pees’ system.


Ifeatu Melifonwu

The best thing about Melifonwu is Dean Pees can use him in whichever capacity he sees fit — corner or safety. For a guy who is 6’3”, he has shockingly great fluidity in his hips. He combines a brand of physicality and sure tackling with impressive decision making. The universal scheme he offers might result in the Falcons missing out on him, though. I assume he will be a surprisingly higher pick than expected.


Osa Odighizuwa

Odighizuwa possesses the natural leverage, length, explosive power, and short-area quickness to play multiple roles along an NFL defensive front. He can line up as a 7 or 9-technique defensive end in a four-man front all the way to a 1-technique nose tackle in a three-man front. But on most downs, he primarily played a shade inside the tackle, as a 5-technique defensive end or a 3-technique defensive tackle depending on down, distance, and defensive package.

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