The Falcons have several noticeable defensive needs that have to be fixed before the 2019 season begins. Linebacker isn’t one of them. As long as Deion Jones returns healthy, Atlanta’s defense will be able to get by with the trio of Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, and Foyesade Oluokon. According to Dan Quinn, the three most concerning areas are Edge, Strong Safety and Cornerback. One would assume those positions would be the focal point three weeks from now when the draft takes place, but remember what happened in last year’s draft.
Very few people (except for me of course) called the Falcons drafting Calvin Ridley. The reasoning for that was because Atlanta already had an outstanding receiving core, and much like this year, there were much more pertinent positional needs. However, the Falcons, like many teams will do in the first round, pushed away need and settled for the best player available. They made the correct decision, and if Devin White, the generational linebacker out of LSU suffers a similar draft day slide to Ridley, expect Atlanta to be right there to scoop him up with the 14th pick.
I’ll start with it is highly unlikely White slips to #14, but there is a scenario where he could get close enough, and the Falcons consider trading up. An absurd amount of defensive talent is in this draft. There are also a few quarterbacks that could make there way into the top ten. With the premium being placed on quarterbacks and players who can sack quarterbacks, a scenario exists where White falls out of the top ten.
So why would the Falcons want to draft Devin White?
The Falcons may not have an immediate need at linebacker in 2019 with De’Vondre Campbell on the books, but Campbell becomes a free agent at the end of the season. A former fourth-round pick out of Minnesota, he is deserving of a hefty pay raise. One the Falcons probably cannot afford to give him. Atlanta already has five players – Desmond Trufant, Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Grady Jarrett, and Jake Mathews taking up 25% of their cap space. They have to pay Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, and Austin Hooper next offseason. As productive as Campbell has been, the writing is on the wall, he is going to be the odd man out.
That makes bringing in another young linebacker in the next two drafts a necessity, and there is not going to be one better than Devin White.
For starters, White is among the fastest linebackers to ever come into the NFL. At the position, he finished with the top speed at the combine, running a 4.42 40-yard dash, which would have been good for the second-fastest running back time this year. What makes it even more notable is White is moving that quickly at 240 pounds. Imagine putting his speed next to another 4.4 guy, and former LSU Tiger himself, Deion Jones. The two would not only become the poster boys for Dan Quinn’s fast and physical defense, but they also compliment remarkably well.
Most teams are going to want to turn Devin White into their Mike linebacker and expect him to be the next Ray Lewis. He will thrive in whatever position he’s thrust into, but White appears best-fit to play the Will, where he can roam the field freely and put his unbelievable speed and tackling abilities to use.
In Atlanta, Deion Jones is and will remain the Mike linebacker. He’s a perfect fit for the role in Dan Quinn’s defense that likes to drop him back into coverage and allow him to work his way up with his outstanding speed. White doesn’t have a ton of experience in coverage from his college days, so there is going to be a learning curve, which is why playing next to Jones could prove to be extraordinarily beneficial.
Despite being one of the elite linebackers to come out of college in the last decade, there are a couple of concerns that aren’t typically apparent with the top linebacking prospects. His first issue is tackling technique, which is somewhat absurd considering White had 256 total tackles combined in his last two seasons at LSU. He has a nagging habit of tackling ball-carriers too high. For the most part in college, White was able to get away with it by being so much stronger than opposing running backs. That will not be the case in the pros.
White is going to have to become a better form tackler if he wants to blossom into his full potential. Although, I don’t see this as an issue that should cause him to fall on draft boards. There are few more hard-working players that Devin White, and form-tackling is something that can be enforced at any level. This technique was most likely formed by the fact that White was recruited as a running back and didn’t even start playing linebacker until he arrived at LSU. What could be a more problematic flaw is his lack of instincts at the position.
White can be caught out of place on simple power plays and even worse with misdirection. Again, this can be attributed to his lack of longevity with the position. It is another skill that can be honed at the next level, but it is more disconcerting than his questionable tackling form heading into his rookie season. Not that they should; however, these could be the two flaws that cause White to drop out of the top ten, which would be a blessing for a team like Atlanta.
Jones and White would become must-watch television every week. There wouldn’t be a team in the NFL that could successfully test the sidelines against that duo. Look what Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith did for the Cowboys defense last season. Jones would be the elite coverage linebacker, while White serves as a jack of all trades. White’s speed and athleticism will allow him to develop in pass coverage, he’s an underrated blitzer, and above all, he’s a bonafide playmaker. That is what the Falcons defense needs the most – playmakers – which is why I could see them take the gamble if White were to slide.