Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner (98) throws while being tackled by Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Prince Shembo (55) and safety Austin Collinsworth (28) in the fourth quarter at Michigan Stadium. Gardner was intercepted and Notre Dame scored a touchdown on the play. Michigan won 41-30. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NFL Draft: Atlanta Falcons address defense with three picks in fourth and fifth round

Following the selection of high-upside running back Devonta Freeman with their first pick on day three of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons shifted their focus back to the defensive side of the ball for the “meat” of their picks on Saturday. First, the Falcons tabbed Notre Dame linebacker Prince Shembo with the 139th overall (fourth round) pick.

Shembo is listed as a linebacker by all accounts, but various indications are that he will be utilized as a pass-rushing option, and that is probably his best fit. ESPN listed Shembo as the 172nd ranked prospect in this year’s class, making this a slight reach in their opinion, but he has solid collegiate production (46 tackles, five sacks) from last season, despite the fact that his speed and quickness are underwhelming for an edge rusher.

Following the Shembo pick (which was a compensatory selection for losing Brent Grimes last season), the Falcons turned to the defensive backfield in picking up Purdue defensive back Ricardo Allen. Allen is another player that was deemed a “reach” by most pundits, but he has a unique skill set that could translate. His ball skills are highly-regarded despite his slight frame at 5-foot-9, but all indications are that his lack of speed (4.61 in the 40) will keep from ever being a high-end option defensively. Special teams could be where he lands in the short term.

In a Thomas Dimitroff-like maneuver, the Atlanta Falcons traded up in order to get back into the fifth round of the draft.

With the new-found selection, the dirty birds went with Syracuse linebacker Marquis Spruill, and as you may expect, he’s a bit of a project. Spruill has great measurables, but his instincts and execution level are lacking, and he also could be a Special Teams player. On one hand, it is a bit worrisome that all three of these selections project as “reaches” according to draft evaluators, but on the other, Dimitroff clearly sees something he likes in each player.

Stay tuned.

Tags: Atlanta Falcons Notre Dame Fighting Irish Purdue Boilermakers Syracuse Orange

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