The Atlanta defense in general has been a complete mess over the last two seasons. It did not matter what an offense did, it seemed to work against the Falcons defense. In particular, the defensive line has been the weakest in the NFL. Not only have teams been able to run down the Falcons’ throat, but the line has been unable to generate any pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Falcons were tied with the Oakland Raiders with a measly 22.0 total sacks in 2014. To put that in perspective, Houstan Texans star J.J. Watt had 20.5 sacks by himself last season. He was able to generate about as much pressure by himself as the whole Falcons line did as a team! The focus this offseason was strictly on the defensive side of the ball. Vic Beasley and Adrian Clayborn are just a few of the new guys expected to apply a lot of pressure on quarterbacks this season. If the Falcons cannot create more pressure on the quarterback in 2015, expect it to be another long year.
1. Vic Beasley
2014 Sack Total: N/A (Rookie)
2015 Projected Sack Total: 8.5
Beasley is the highly touted first-round pick out of Clemson. His speed and strength off the edge is what made him one of the most valuable edge rushers in the 2015 draft class. Beasley will step in as a starter for the Falcons this season and will look to make an immediate impact on a Falcons pass rush that was 30th in sacks last season. Last season, Beasley racked up 12 sacks for the Clemson Tigers and was rewarded with ACC Defensive Player of the Year award. He has already raised eyebrows from coaches and fans from his performances in practices and preseason games.
Von Miller is a guy Beasley should look to emulate. They were almost identical sizes heading into their respective combines and ran identical 40-yard dash times. Beasley is much stronger than Miller coming out of college, but is less polished. Miller came in with 11 sacks in his rookie season for the Broncos and has become one of the most dominant pass rushers in the NFL. Beasley will have a tough time reaching those numbers in his rookie season, but he will be great this year and 8.5 sacks in a rookie season would be a great start to his career.
2. Adrian Clayborn
2014 Sack Total: 0
2015 Projected Sack Total: 6.5
Adrian Clayborn will turn out to be a bargain signing for the Falcons if he is able to stay healthy. Clayborn is coming off a season in which he only played in one game due to injury. In 2013, the University of Iowa product racked up 6 sacks for the Buccaneers. In his two full NFL seasons, he had 13.5 sacks. He is not an elite pass rusher, but he is great at getting in the backfield and disrupting plays. The Falcons have seen firsthand the problems Clayborn can cause in the trenches from their interdivisional match ups with Tampa Bay. Clayborn has the reputation of being a big physical nuisance when healthy, and eyes around the organization are warning people not to sleep on this guy.
3. Kroy Bierman
2014 Sack Total: 4.5
2015 Projected Sack Total: 5.0
There was a lot of fuss around the re-signing of Kroy Bierman. Bierman did experience a lot of struggles last season and missed numerous tackles. Most fans wanted the team to cut ties with the 7-year veteran, but the Falcons thought otherwise. While he was far from spectacular in 2014, he was the Falcons’ most effective pass rusher and led the team in sacks. Do not expect Bierman to break out in Dan Quinn’s defense, but he will benefit from the better talent surrounding him.