#1: How Draft’s Pass Rush Depth May Change Atlanta Falcons’ Plan

Atlanta Falcons head coach Raheem Morris and general manager Terry Fontenot know they need help rushing the passer. Still, they may put off adding an edge until the draft’s second day.

How Draft’s Pass Rush Depth May Change Atlanta Falcons’ Plan
How Draft’s Pass Rush Depth May Change Atlanta Falcons’ Plan

The Atlanta Falcons’ track record with pass rushers leaves much to be desired. Falcons fans would probably like to forget Vic Beasley (No. 8 overall in 2015) and Takk McKinley (No. 26 overall in 2017).

The chance to right past wrongs with the No. 8 overall pick in next week’s draft inspires hope.

After ranking No. 21 league-wide with 42 sacks this past season and watching its top two sack producers – Calais Campbell and Bud Dupree – sit unsigned in free agency, Atlanta finds itself in a similar position: looking for help up front.

But the Falcons, despite being linked to several of the draft’s top pass rushers throughout the process, havent quite written in ink an edge at No. 8.

Ultimately, they may not need to – especially considering new head coach Raheem Morris’s background, which includes watching 2023 third-round picks Kobie Turner and Byron Young combine for 17 sacks on the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive line last season.

Morris believes the 2024 draft class is deep up front, inspiring internal optimism the Falcons will be able to capitalize at various points in the three-day event.

Better yet, it gives Atlanta flexibility to perhaps look elsewhere with its first-round choice.

“The depth in the draft really provides you some real good opportunities to add people and pieces,” Morris said. “Who knew Byron Young would turn into what he did for the Rams? Who knew Kobie Turner would turn into what he did last year for us?”

Alabama edge rusher Dallas Turner, Florida State defensive end Jared Verse and UCLA defensive end Laiatu Latu are considered the draft’s premiere pass rushers, and each has been tabbed to Atlanta during the pre-draft process.

But again, the Falcons – be it Morris or general manager Terry Fontenot – are firm believers in examining the draft’s entire picture and won’t be pigeon holed into selecting a pass rusher at No. 8 simply for need.

“It can come at the top of the draft, it can come at the middle, it can come at the end of the draft,” Fontenot said. “Raheem showed that with the players they were able to draft in LA, and they had a lot of success with. So we have a lot of confidence in our scouting staff, and we’re going to make sure we get the most of those players.”

The idea of the edge class having depth extends beyond Atlanta’s war room. It’s a belief also held by NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who noted the vast number of quality pass rushers already in the league and the opportunity to add several more this spring – including some perhaps after the event’s opening day.

“When you look at the draft, to me, there’s some other interesting names you could go after outside the first round at the edge rusher position,” Jeremiah said.

But who?

Outside of his top 50 players, Jeremiah is fond of Alabama’s Chris Braswell and Colorado State’s Mohamed Kamara, both of whom present strong athletic profiles and could fly off the board in the second round.

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Still, Morris won’t discriminate between speed and power rushers; he’s worked with both and will continue to do so moving forward. He said the most valuable skill set he’s found is that which allows players to turn speed into power and display counter rushes alongside it.

Pass rushers come in all shapes and sizes, Morris said, and their ranking on Atlanta’s big board ultimately comes down to fit.

“When you’re talking about those guys, they pretty much move in different areas and how you want to walk,” Morris said. “You go out there and you see what you can do with the player as opposed to what he can’t do, and I look forward to finding guys I can do things with.”

Fontenot dubbed pass rushers as a premiere position, and both he and Morris confirmed they plan on adding to it.

But in a draft featuring impressive talent at cornerback in Toledo’s Quinyon Mitchell and the Alabama duo of Terrion Arnold and Kool-Aid McKinstry, filling needs while maximizing value is critical.

The Falcons could also find themselves in the enviable position of being able to draft a receiver like Washington’s Rome Odunze, LSU’s Malik Nabers, or Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. Each of whom is considered the top wide receiver prospect since Ja’Marr Chase in 2021.

And accomplishing such a feat may ultimately lead the Falcons to bypassing the position so many have already cemented as a surefire avenue come the draft’s opening frame April 25.

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