Potential Pass Rush Targets - Part One

Could Justin Houston return to the state of Georgia?

Using Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com’s rankings, here are the top pass rushers on the free agent market this offseason that the Falcons might consider.

1. Justin Houston – OLB-DE – Kansas City Chiefs
6-3, 258- 26 years old – 22 sacks in 2014 – 48.5 sacks in four NFL seasons
He’s perfect. Houston is from Statesboro, GA, and he went to the University of Georgia. But Kansas City general manager John Dorsey has said he envisions Houston staying in Kansas City, at least through 2015. The Chiefs can designated Houston as a franchise player and keep him for at least one more year. Atlanta executive Scott Pioli drafted Houston when he was the Chiefs’ general manager, so you can imagine Pioli is salivating at the possibility of getting Houston. But it’s unlikely, at least this year.

2. Jason Pierre-Paul – DE – New York Giants
6-5, 278 – 26 years old – 12.5 sacks in 2014 – 42 sacks in five NFL seasons
Pierre-Paul has the lean frame head coach Dan Quinn is likely looking for in a pass rusher. The Giants could use the non-exclusive franchise tag on Pierre-Paul. He could get $14.6 million dollars for the 2015 season. But even with that designation, Pierre-Paul could still get an offer from other teams. They would, however, have to give up two first round picks if they signed him, something the Falcons are unlikely to do. But if Pierre-Paul hit the open market, the Falcons would have significant interest.

3. Pernell McPhee – DE – OLB – Baltimore Ravens<-3, 280br> 6-3, 280 – 26 years old – 7.5 sacks in 2014 – 17 sacks in four NFL seasons
McPhee has started only six of 60 games played in his career, but he has had good production, especially last season. The belief is McPhee will be heavily sought after and is ready to become a premiere player. McPhee is an unrestricted free agent, so he’s going to cash in. Along with Atlanta, Oakland, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Dallas and Indianapolis are expected to have interest. McPhee worked behind outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil (17 sacks) and Terrell Suggs (12 sacks), playing roughly half the defensive snaps for Baltimore. He had 64 quarterback pressures and 24 quarterback hits last season, so McPhee fits what Atlanta needs.

4. Greg Hardy – DE – Carolina Panthers
6-4, 275 – 26 years old – 1 sack in 2014 – 34 sacks in five NFL seasons
Hardy was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend last summer and then after one game placed on the NFL’s exempt list for the rest of the season. The charges against Hardy were dropped a few weeks ago when the accused failed to appear in court. The NFL could still suspend Hardy for six games if they find he violated the personal conduct code. The Panthers are expected to let Hardy leave as an unrestricted free agent, but what will the market be if he could still be suspended?

5. Brian Orakpo – OLB-DE – Washington Redskins
6-4, 257 – Will be 29 years old this July 31 – 0.5 sack in 2014 – 40 sacks in six seasons
The Falcons have had interest in Orakpo before, and he is unrestricted now. Health has been an issue, as Orakpo missed nine games last season (with a torn pectoral muscle) and 14 games in 2012. He’s a bit older, as Orakpo will be 29 when the season starts. The Redskins don’t seem convinced he should be brought back, which should make him available.

6. Brandon Graham – OLB-DE – Philadelphia Eagles
6-2, 265 – Will be 27 years old this season – 5.5 sacks in 2014 – 17 sacks in five NFL seasons
Another backup who has been productive, Graham has started only 13 games out of 64 games played. Reports have Graham wanting to cash in, seeking a four-year contract worth around $30 million with $20 million guaranteed. Graham is a pass rusher. He had a team-leading 39 quarterback hurries last season for the Eagles.

Tomorrow: Six more potential pass rush targets


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