Falcons rookie could outperform teammate who was drafted higher

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 01 Reese s Senior Bowl

The Falcons brought in Kirk Cousins this offseason to elevate a talented, yet underachieving offense, but it is the defense that more people should be worried about.

Atlanta is essentially running it back with the same defense as last year, aside from a few changes. A Falcons defense that was league average but is being led by Jimmy Lake instead of Ryan Nielsen.

The hope is that Lake and Raheem Morris will be able to take over for Nielsen and build off the improvements he made last season, but the talent may have regressed. The Falcons are going from veterans to young draft picks, and they’re at the most important positions on that side of the ball.

In the trenches, the Falcons are going to be very reliant on Arnold Ebiketie, Zach Harrison, and a trio of rookies, headlined by Ruke Orhorhoro, who Atlanta traded up for in the second round a couple of weeks ago.

The Clemson product didn’t have a ton of college production, but he’s dripping with potential. The freak athlete isn’t a finished product by any means, though. That’s why Bleacher Report believes a Falcons Day 3 pick could outperform the second-round pickĀ — Brandon Dorlus over Ruke Orhorhoro.

Orhorhoro presents significant upside, as someone who came into the game late and needed time to become a starter at Clemson.

The No. 35 pick presents significant raw athletic traits, though. In fact, the 6’4″, 294-pound prospect posted the 15th-best relative athletic score among defensive tackles over the last 37 years, according to Pro Football Network’s Kent Lee Platte.

As of now, Orhorhoro’s is at his best when defending the run. Dorlus is different.

First, Dorlus is no slouch regarding raw traits, either. According to The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman the 6’3″, 283-pound lineman posted a 685-pound back squat, a 685-pound sumo deadlift and a 345-pound power clean, while hitting 20.75 mph on the GPS at one point.

The No. 109 pick is a more natural pass-rusher capable of playing up and down the line of scrimmage. He can even stand up and play off the edge if necessary. That versatility, coupled with the explosiveness, can help elevate the entire Atlanta defensive front.

A fourth-round pick outperforming your second-round pick is never what a team wants. The Falcons haven’t necessarily “hit” on a second-rounder in Terry Fontenot’s tenure in Atlanta.

Richie Grant is entering a prove-it year. The 2021 second-round pick is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and he was just supplanted as a starter last season by a rookie seventh-round pick. That’s not ideal.

Arnold Ebiketie put up 6.0 sacks last year and is expected to grow into a larger role this year, so the jury is still out, and the same could be said for Troy Andersen. Both have pivotal seasons coming up.

Matthew Bergeron has been the brightest draft pick that’s come in the second round. He started every game as a rookie last year and improved throughout the season.

Hopefully, Ruke Orhorhoro takes after Bergeron instead of Grant, but the idea of a fourth-rounder in Brandon Dorlus immediately outperforming a second-round pick shouldn’t excite Falcons fans.

Photographer: Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire

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