Cover 9@9: Norfolk State pass rusher De’Shaan Dixon has an NFL future

1. The No-Spin Zone: After finishing last in the NFL and releasing their leading sacker, the Falcons must address their edge-rushing situation this offseason in free agency and the draft.

We’ve found one player who should be on their radar screen.

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Norfolk State edge rusher De’Shaan Dixon created the biggest buzz of the players at the first HBCU Legacy Bowl, which was played Saturday at Tulane.

We’ve been informed that he can play outside linebacker for 3-4 teams (such as the Falcons) and defensive end for 4-3 teams. The Spartans listed Dixon as 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds last season.

Dixon has been working here with former Falcon Chuck Smith, a pass-rush specialist.

“De’Shaan is underrated and has a higher upside than guys I’m training that were given Day 2 grades, which I don’t care about,” Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday. “I know what the good ones look like, and it’s DD …”

NFL teams did not draft any players from HBCUs over the past two drafts. Dixon is a solid prospect.

“He is strong with heavy hands, stout versus (the) run and is a twitchy athlete that gives 100% every day in training,” Smith said. “He’s long and the perfect fit for any NFL team, meaning he can play as a 3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE, and (can) get down at DT in nickel situations if need be.”

Dixon still is being polished.

“We are continuing to add multiple pass-rush tools to his toolbox,” Smith said. “Love the kid.”

Other players who helped themselves at the HBCU Legacy Bowl:

– Alabama A&M quarterback Aqeel Glass was named the National Black College player of the year for the second year in a row.

He was plagued by dropped passes and fumbles during the game.

He’s considered a Day 3 pick. Glass, who passed for more than 12,000 yards over his career, is training with Donovan McNabb in Atlanta.

– Virginia State defensive back Will Adams (6-3, 195). He did not play in the game but practiced. He had a great week of practice. He has a shoulder injury that has to be checked out. He had a strong showing at the HBCU Combine in Mobile, Alabama.

– Delaware State wide receiver Trey Gross (6-4, 210) will be in a camp. Has nice hands and dominated in practice. Didn’t get many opportunities in the game.

– Southern wide receiver Marquis McClain. A transfer from Auburn. Had a good week of practice and huge game.

– Alabama State running back Ezra Gray had a huge practice week and will get into a camp.

– North Carolina Central tight end Isiah Macklin is a former San Diego State wide receiver who transferred and changed positions.

He didn’t post many stats in 2021 but had scouts talking big about him after practices. He suffered an ankle injury and didn’t play in the game. He’s projected to end up in a camp.

Credit: Adrian Kraus

Credit: Adrian Kraus

2. Worthless pre-combine mock drafts: I’ve concluded that these pre-combine mock drafts are pretty much worthless before the teams get their measurables and 40-yard dash times. To have a mock draft before most teams have set their draft boards is utterly ridiculous.

In 2017, the masses wanted Western Kentucky offensive tackle Forrest Lamp pre-combine. He went to the Chargers in the second round (38th overall).

In 2018, Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan received a lot of pre-draft hype as the savior for the Falcons. He was drafted by the Jaguars late in the first round.

In 2020, Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa was the rage until he ran a 5.04 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. He went 54th to Buffalo in the second round.

Lamp started 18 of 25 games with the Chargers at left guard from 2018 to ‘20. He played one game with the Saints last season.

Bryan has been a rotational player for the Jaguars. He started 17 of 63 games and has 5.5 sacks. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent after the Jags declined to pick up his fifth-year option.

Epenesa has played in 28 games and made one start and has 2.5 sacks for the Bills.

3. Free agency: The Falcons’ first step was to evaluate their own roster, and they elected to move on from outside linebacker Dante Fowler and guard Matt Gono.

The top players to extend are running back Cordarrelle Patterson, kicker Younghoe Koo, linebacker Foye Oluokun and wide receiver Russell Gage.

4. Combine coming up soon: The scouting combine averted a boycott that involved proposed bubble restrictions for the players. The event will begin Tuesday and runs through March 7 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The player workouts will be next Thursday through Sunday and broadcast on NFL Network.

The quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends work out at 4 p.m. Thursday. Running backs, offensive linemen and special teams are at 4 p.m. Friday. Linebackers and defensive linemen are at 2 p.m. Saturday and defensive backs at 2 p.m. Sunday.

5. Hurst golf tournament: The third annual Hayden Hurst Family Foundation Golf Tournament is set for Monday at Deercreek Country Club in Jacksonville, Florida. Proceeds will benefit the Youth Crisis Center.

You can start bidding on the silent auction items and get registration info at HHFFGOLF.ggo.bid.

6. Reserve/future players: The Falcons have signed 22 players to reserve/futures contracts.

The players are tight end Ryan Becker, guard Rashaad Coward, tight end Daniel Helm, outside linebacker Duke Ejiofor, cornerback Corey Ballentine, defensive back Dee Alford, defensive back Cornell Armstrong, offensive lineman Willie Beavers, outside linebacker Quinton Bell, outside linebacker Jordan Brailford, inside linebacker Dorian Etheridge, wide receiver Chad Hansen, running back Caleb Huntley, cornerback Luther Kirk, tight end Brayden Lenius, punter Dom Maggio, offensive lineman Ryan Neuzil, cornerback Lafayette Pitts, tight end John Raine, outside linebacker Rashad Smith, defensive end Nick Thurman and wide receiver Austin Trammell.

7. 2022 opponents: The Falcons know their opponents for the 2022 season. The Falcons (7-10) finished in third place in the NFC South. Dates and times will be announced later.

The Falcons will play home and away games against the rest of the NFC South (Saints, Buccaneers and Panthers).

The home games will include the Cardinals, 49ers, Browns, Steelers, Bears and Chargers.

The away games will include the Ravens, Bengals, Rams, Seahawks and Commanders.

8. Draft order: Here’s the official 2022 NFL draft first-round order. The first round will start on Thursday, April 28, in Las Vegas, with the second and third rounds on Friday, April 29, followed by rounds four through seven on Saturday, April 30:

1. Jacksonville Jaguars; 2. Detroit Lions; 3. Houston Texans; 4. New York Jets; 5. New York Giants; 6. Carolina Panthers; 7. Chicago Bears (traded to N.Y. Giants); 8. Falcons; 9. Denver Broncos; 10. Seattle Seahawks (traded to N.Y. Jets); 11. Washington Commanders; 12. Minnesota Vikings; 13. Cleveland Browns; 14. Baltimore Ravens; 15. Miami Dolphins (traded to Philadelphia); 16. Indianapolis Colts (traded to Philadelphia); 17. Los Angeles Chargers; 18. New Orleans Saints; 19. Philadelphia Eagles; 20. Pittsburgh Steelers; 21. New England Patriots 22. Las Vegas Raiders; 23. Arizona Cardinals; 24. Dallas Cowboys; 25. Buffalo Bills; 26. Tennessee Titans; 27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 28. Green Bay Packers; 29. San Francisco 49ers (traded to Miami); 30. Kansas City Chiefs; 31. Cincinnati Bengals; 32. Los Angeles Rams (traded to Detroit).

9. Falcons’ 2021 season review series: We have used a heavy dose of analytics to help us break down the Falcons’ 2021 season in our eight-part series. Here are the links to the stories.

Falcons’ position-by-position analysis:

Part 1: Running backs

Part 2: Quarterbacks

Part 3: Wide receivers/tight ends

Part 4: Offensive line

Part 5: Defensive line

Part 6: Linebackers

Part 7: Defensive backs

Part 8: Special teams

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