Matt Cashore- USA Today Sports
Atlanta Falcons Writer
The Atlanta Falcons entered the draft with a major need for an edge rusher. It caught most everyone off guard when Thomas Dimitroff waited until the bottom of the fourth round to finally turn his attention to the Falcons ailing pass rush and select Prince Shembo with the No. 139 pick. At this point in most Falcons fans (myself included) were screaming for Jackson Jeffcoat (who was only halfway through his catastrophic draft day plunge) and Shembo was, at best, an afterthought. Considering the allegations of sexual misconduct that had dogged Shembo in the past it was pretty hard to imagine that Dimitroff, with his long history avoiding players with character red flags, would even have Shembo on his draft board in the first place. In years past it would have been a surprise to see the Falcons scheduling a visit with a player with a checkered history but this year was different. With the added pressure of rebounding from a 4-12 season in 2013 Dimitroff looks as if he is relaxing his standards a bit. Drafting the reportedly hot and cold Ra’Shede Hageman was a clear sign of this change and drafting Prince Shembo sealed it.
This year the Falcons were willing to take a few calculated risks. These were no major gambles. Hageman faced questions about his work ethic but after working closely with him for a week in Mobile at the Senior Bowl the Falcons coaching staff had plenty of time to assess his character. Dimitroff explained after the draft they had thoroughly vetted Shembo and were “very comfortable” making the decision to draft him. A fourth round compensatory pick doesn’t represent a large investment either, which surely played into the decision to take a risk on the Notre Dame linebacker.
Shembo’s production was not stellar in his four years at Notre Dame. He only managed 19.5 sacks in his time with the Fighting Irish but he was an effective outside threat all the same. He doesn’t leap off the film athletically but his motor never stops. His first priority for the Irish was to attack the ball. In the games I’ve seen he wasn’t asked to play in coverage often but he didn’t allow any big plays when he was asked to drop back. The Notre Dame coaches were creative in deploying him in their formations. He rotated between rushing from a 2-point and 3-point stance as well as switching between both sides of the line. He won’t win any foot races but he has a deceptively quick first step and shows excellent pop with his hand at the point of attack.
Shembo is lined up in a 3-point stance on the left side. He takes two steps towards the outside shoulder of the right tackle before springing across his face inside. He manages to get into the gap before either the guard or tackle can recover and he powers through both of them for the sack.
This sack is as much scheme as player. The last minute shift by the Notre Dame line allows Shembo to gain a free release from his outside linebacker spot. The right tackle ends up blocking the left end and the tight end releases into a pass pattern giving Shembo a clean release. The running back is late coming over to help and is rendered completely ineffective.
I almost didn’t include this clip but it was Shembo’s third sack in what was probably his most productive game at Notre Dame. In this clip the entire defensive line shifts left off the snap and though the offensive line tries to compensate no one picks up Shembo blitzing from his outside linebacker position. Shembo does an excellent job of not biting on the play action and racks up an easy sack.
The strength I’m referring to is his inside rip move. This isn’t a perfect example of that technique but it is effective here and he flashes good power afterwards. Shembo loves to set up tackles with an initial speed edge rush only to counter inside with a rip or spin. He has a quick first step so he doesn’t struggle to get the right tackle to commit his momentum outside. At that exact moment Shembo rips inside and drags the tackle and guard towards the quarterback. He may not have gotten the sack but he contributed to making the quarterback antsy which lead to an interception.
Here we can see Shembo lining up with his hand in the dirt on the left side. He initially tries to push up field but quickly spies the back leaking out into a screen, works his way across the formation and brings the back down for a loss. That sort of awareness and motor are exactly what the Falcons need from their linebackers, especially with the screen-happy Saints in the division.
In this example Shembo is lined up as a right defensive end. Of the snap he tries to beat the left tackle to the corner but does not succeed. Undaunted by this he tries to continue to work back inside but again finds limited success. Shembo does not stop working though and when the quarterback is forced to break contain Shembo spins off the block and forces an incomplete pass. If he had of allowed the tackle to run him completely out of the play when his outside rush didn’t work he would have never been in position to make this play. Instead he kept himself involved in the play and was eventually able to have an impact.
Once again Shembo is lined up at right defensive end only this time he rushes inside off the snap. The left tackle does a good job of keeping him at bay off snap but Shembo never stops pushing. As he slowly gains ground an inch at a time the outside rush from Notre Dame flushes the quarterback up in the pocket and into Shembo.
Shembo’s strengths as a powerful, non-stop rusher are evident on film but so are his weaknesses. While he shows good burst off of the line he doesn’t have the elite speed needed to consistently beat tackles to the edge. His impressive strength and his handful of well developed pass rush techniques (his inside rip is his bread and butter but he pulls out a good spin from time to time) allow him to be an effective pass rusher but he will have to perfect his hand usage to be in impact player in the NFL.
The tackle effortlessly stays in front of Shembo and keeps him out of the play entirely. There are far too many instances of this scattered throughout the games I reviewed. In fact of the six games I was Shembo rarely won when rushing outside. This fact underscores the concerns about his speed and is likely a large part of the reason he almost fell into the fifth round.
He is a little slow off the snap and he loses before he ever got really gets started. I could link to at least a dozen more examples that look exactly like that last two. It is not nearly as much fun to review bad tape though so I’ll spare you all the trouble. I’ll just sum it up by saying that for all of Shembo’s power and tenacity sometimes it’s just not enough to win. Were he a step or two faster he could have easily been a first round pick but he isn’t and wasn’t. He still has plenty of value as a rotational rusher and run stopper though. Mike Nolan has a history of finding creative ways to create free releases for his pass rushers and Shembo could thrive in that system thanks to his discipline and tenacity.