Atlanta Falcons 2014 Rookie Scouting Report: Prince Shembo

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Prince Shembo

A breakdown of the Atlanta Falcons 2014 fourth-round draft pick, former Notre Dame outside linebacker Prince Shembo.


Height: 6’1″
Weight: 253
College: Notre Dame
40 Time: 4.71 (Combine)
Three-Cone: 7.29 (Combine)

He was born on Christmas Eve, 1991 and attended Ardrey Kell High In Charlotte, North Carolina. His father is a Congolese national that emigrated to the U.S. in 1986.

A highly touted recruit out of high school, he played in 13 games as a reserve freshman at Notre Dame. He made 15 tackles, five tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and had a forced fumble that season. As a sophomore, he started eight games in 12 total appearances, recording 31 tackles, 3.5 for loss and two sacks. As a junior, he became a permanent starter, starting all 13 games. He had career-highs of 51 tackles, 10.5 for loss and 7.5 sacks. He also broke up a pass and had a fumble recovery, while leading the team with 12 hurries. As a senior, he once again started 13 games, finishing the year with 48 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He once again led the team with 17 quarterback hurries on his way to earn FBS All-Independent team honorable mention honors. He played both linebacker and defensive end for the Irish in their 3-4 scheme and would be more accurately dubbed an “edge-rusher” in their scheme.

As a freshman, had an encounter with an female undergrad student at St. Mary’s College, in which he was accused of sexual assault. The alleged victim would commit suicide 10 days later, and no charges were ever filed against Shembo. There have been accusations that Notre Dame was very negligent in their investigation. More information on the matter can be found at this link as well as it was discussed in a recent FalcFans podcast.

Tested relatively well at the Combine, with an impressive 38.5-inch vertical jump and 10-feet, 2-inch broad jump. Also has 33 1/8″ arms and 10.5″ hands, which is good for a player at his height.


DateOpponentTFLStopSackPressureHitMiss TklKey Blkd
Oct-05Arizona State0032000

The grading system is based on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.

Speed (5.0) – Displays average speed when put in space that is more than adequate for the collegiate level, but will struggle to make the same plays in pursuit at the next level. Not a guy you want matched up in coverage against a quick back or tight end and doesn’t have ideal range for a linebacker.

Strength (6.5) – Did 26 bench reps of 225 pounds at the Combine. Shows decent strength, able to fight off blocks from tight ends and flashes some ability to deliver blow to a blocker as a power rusher. Has some pop as a hitter.

Tackling (7.0) – A capable wrap-up tackler that does a nice job delivering a hit to the ballcarrier. Deficiencies as a tackler come more so because of his lacking fluidity in space. He’s stiff and can get juked out in space by a quicker ballcarrier because of his lack of ideal change of direction ability.

Coverage (3.0) – Has stiff hips and will struggle to move and turn in space. Can cover the flats relatively well and does a decent job when he can keep things in front of him in short zones. But if he has to turn and run, he’ll get exposed at NFL level. He’s also limited in zone because he doesn’t change direction very well.

Point of Attack (5.5) – Has the strength and ability to take on and shed blocks at the point of attack, but just needs to do a better job using his hands to get extension when doing so. Does a decent job setting the edge when in a position to do so, and can string out the ballcarrier.

Instincts/Recognition (4.5) – Can be a step slow to react to the ball, particularly when asked to play off the line of scrimmage and read and react rather than just getting upfield upon the snap of the ball. Not comfortable and lacks a natural feel when asked to play in space. Will play his assignments fairly well, but doesn’t show that natural feel for them if he’s given a bit more rope to freelance.

Pass Rush (4.5) – Effective pass-rusher due to his high motor and effort not because he’s blessed with any particular polished skills. Despite impressive vertical jump, rarely shows the sort of get-off and first-step quickness to beat middling college tackles, and thus will struggle to do so against NFL competition. Doesn’t really use any moves as his rip move is largely ineffective. Most of his positive pass-rush plays come when he’s able to use his motor to keep working or is unblocked.

Motor (9.0) – Has a non-stop motor and will play to the whistle on a consistent basis. Can create pressure and flush quarterbacks because he’ll keep working to the quarterback. Will chase ballcarriers downfield and make stops and tackles because of it.

Based off my own grading system on a 9-point scale.

Reserve Prospect (2.6) – Has enough ability that he can contribute as a reserve but his NFL future will be largely based on his ability to impact on special teams. Typically were productive in college but just are too limited in key areas such as size, speed, athleticism to project to be anything more than special teams at the next level. Ability and upside to be a starter is virtually non-existent and might only be able to impact as a limited situational player. Player is worth taking a flier on in the seventh round.


Shembo is a player that can potentially carve out a reserve role at the next level because he’s coachable and works hard.

His motor is his lone outstanding trait and that could endear him to his coaches, allowing him to stick in the NFL a little longer than his actual ability merits.

Because frankly, there is very little else to like about Shembo.

He’s a classic tweener that is most comfortable playing on the line of scrimmage, but lacks the size or athleticism to stick there in the pros. He’s at his best when he can attack upfield, but doesn’t possess the sort of length or burst to think he can consistently impact in that capacity against starting NFL tackles, since middling college tackles were able to effectively control him once they were able to get their hands on him.

He doesn’t possess any real pass-rush moves, although there is some potential that a bull-rush can develop if he’s able to hone his ability to convert speed-to-power and learn better hand placement. But again, that will be sporadic at best against most starting NFL tackles.

Shembo is just too stiff and slow when asked to play off the line of scrimmage and play in space. If he was to convert to a linebacker, he’s a player that probably needs to lose 10-15 pounds to try and add some more quickness and explosiveness to his game.

Despite those issues, I think he’d probably project best as a blitzing linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. But solely as a backup because there just isn’t enough upside to consider him a reliable starter.

He can get a sack or two because of effort where he can clean up plays that teammates start if/when they flush the quarterback his way, or he can get a mismatch against an underwhelming tight end or running back. But he’s not the type of player that is going to enhance anybody’s pass rush or be something that will be considered an asset on passing downs.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Prince Shembo


If I’m being honest, this pick is a bit of a head-scratcher for me. Because I’m just struggling to see why Shembo is/was a draftable prospect.

That’s not to say that he can’t play in the National Football League, because I believe he can. But I just don’t see why an NFL team would feel compelled to draft him.

The only answer I can see is because a team envisions him as a Brendon Ayanbadejo-like special teams ace that can get you 10-20 stops on special teams every year for nearly a decade and eventually grow into a solid depth guy.

But turning into that solid depth guy may take several years and it’s likely that he’ll bounce around the league in the meantime just like Ayanbadejo did.

Ayanbadejo first entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Falcons in 1999 and played with the Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens, as well as brief stints in the Canadian Football League and NFL Europe before finally sticking with the Miami Dolphins in 2003. And over the next decade, he played for the Bears and Ravens once again before ultimately hanging it up after 2012.

When the Ravens called upon him over the final five years to fill in for brief stints at linebacker, he was able to give them decent production. But again, it took roughly a decade before Ayanbadejo ever reached that point.

The player that Shembo also reminds me of is Stephen Nicholas, but unfortunately not the version of Nicholas that the Falcons drafted in 2007, rather than worn-down version that lost his starting job in 2013. Like Ayanbadejo, that Nicholas was able to give the Falcons decent production off the bench when called upon late in the year due to Sean Weatherspoon being out with injury. But that Nicholas had built up seven years worth of experience that he could draw upon now that the athleticism of his youth was long gone.

Nicholas was a high-energy player that was an effective blitzer that was smart and usually a trustworthy player that could play his assignments, but by the end of his career was very limited athletically because he lacked ideal speed, range, and coverage ability to garner extensive reps.

That is the same description for Shembo if I envision him reaching his full potential. But again, he more closely resembles the version of Nicholas at the end of his career than the one at the beginning.

This pick seems to have all the earmarks of another Kerry Meier-like pick, where the Falcons are taking a niche player way too early in the draft. Meier was a player that was envisioned to be a replacement for Brian Finneran at wide receiver. But rather than resembling a young, prominent Finneran that became a fan favorite in Atlanta, Meier looked like the Finneran that had taken a dozen years of wear and tear including suffering three major knee injuries in the second half of his career. The older Finneran was incapable of beating man coverage on any sort of consistent basis, and would have been no better than the fifth receiver on any team with a moderate amount of depth at the position.

I believed at the time, and nothing that has occurred in the ensuing years has changed my opinion, that the selection of Meier was the worst pick of the Thomas Dimitroff Era as Falcons general manager, because it was using a middle-round pick on a player that had a very low ceiling.

I have similar opinion about this Shembo pick and it’s arguably made worse since Shembo was picked a round earlier than Meier was.

I sincerely hope I’m wrong, because the Falcons clearly see something in Shembo that I clearly do not.

I fully expect Shembo to help out on special teams and might very well be our ace in that arena in the future. But as far as his potential on defense, I see a career backup.

Maybe after several seasons he might be comfortable enough in the scheme that he can be a decent stopgap option at strong-side linebacker for a limited period in the event of injuries.

But in Shembo, I see a player with very limited starting potential. And if he is a starter, it’s likely an indicator that something has gone horribly wrong for the Falcons defense.

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Aaron Freeman
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