May 14, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Craig Chval, the official 2013 football beat writer for the Strong & True blog, is currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Over the course of the year Craig will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and previews of each game. You can follow Craig (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.
Another Notre Dame player chosen a little sooner than expected, Prince Shembo went to the Falcons with the 139th pick (39th in fourth round) in the draft. Shembo was the highest drafted outside linebacker out of Notre Dame since Rocky Boiman in 2002.
Once you get to the fourth round, it’s less likely draft picks will find immediate playing time, but let’s look at how Shembo will be able to make an impact in Atlanta.
2013 outside linebacker starters: Joplo Bartu, Sean Weatherspoon
The Falcons added 3-4 looks to their defense in 2013, so some of their players are fluid with positioning between the ends and linebackers. One such player is Kroy Biermann, who is typically a defensive end, but practiced at outside backer before being injured for the 2013 season.
If Biermann spends most of his time at end, Shembo’s biggest competition will be with Joplo Bartu, who was the beneficiary of some of the Falcons’ injuries. As an undrafted rookie in 2013, Bartu was third on the team in tackles with 85.
Shembo will probably compete with Bartu for playing time, rather than the other outside starter, Sean Weatherspoon. Although Weatherspoon was injured for most of 2013, he had 210 tackles over the previous two seasons.
Between Weatherspoon, Bartu, Biermann, and Osi Umenyiora (another hybrid player), Shembo has an uphill battle for a starting position in 2014. Scouts have said he has the problem of being too small to be an elite pass rusher (6’1, 253 pounds) and too slow to be great in coverage (4.71 40).
However, the Falcons picked Shembo for his versatility. Even if he never becomes an elite pass rusher or coverage linebacker, he can do either job competently, making it harder for defenses to exploit. This is why Shembo fits well in Atlanta – their 3-4/4-3 mix contains hybrid looks and hybrid players. If head coach Mike Smith thinks he can both rush the passer and cover tight ends, he can be a real asset.
But if Shembo doesn’t crack the starting lineup, he can also contribute on special teams and may be used to try to boost the Falcons’ pass rush, which has been pretty dreadful. Atlanta only had 32 sacks in 2013, better than only the Bears and Jaguars. Shembo had 13 sacks in his last two years at Notre Dame, and 19.5 in his career is tied for sixth all time at Notre Dame.
He was praised by scouts for his toughness, which may allow him to overcome his height. From playing inside to setting up in a three-point stance to covering receivers, Shembo might be able to make his mark in the NFL with his versatility.
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