We continue our list of breakout candidates with a player that just had his fifth-year option declined. If that’s not enough motivation for him to up his game, I’m not sure this former first-round pick will ever live up to his billing. If you missed part one of this series, click here.
McKinley has been a breakout candidate for two years now. He showed a lot of promise as a rookie, recording six sacks as a rotational pass rusher, leading many to believe the Falcons made the correct choice by trading up to snag him in the first round. Unfortunately, he hasn’t become the double-digit sack machine many envisioned after his rookie campaign.
In year two, McKinley only upped his sack total by one. However, he did record the second-highest pressure rate in the NFL — ahead of guys like Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, and Von Miller. While sacks are sexy, the best defensive minds will tell you pressures are equally as important. So for a second-year player, it was impossible to call his season a disappointment, and there was even more hope that a breakout was around the corner.
Instead, McKinley’s third season was his worst to date. He played in 14 games (13 starts), recording a career-low 3.5 sacks. He was still one of the best at applying pressure on the team, racking up 13 QB hits, but that’s not saying much when considering the Falcons anemic pass rush. Because of the lackluster campaign, management decided to decline his fifth-year option. While I’m not sure that was the correct decision given how much pass rushers demand on the open market, the Falcons have been screwed the last two fifth-year options they did pick up.
Vic Beasley’s option should never have been picked up, and even though Keanu Neal was undoubtedly deserving of it, he’s suffered back-to-back season-ending injuries. I’m not sure the Falcons would be so keen on paying him close to $10 million now, but they don’t have a choice since the option is guaranteed if the player is injured. So I don’t blame Atlanta for making McKinley earn it, but it could turn out to bite them in the butt.
The former UCLA Bruin now has all the incentive in the world to perform, as he will be an unrestricted free agent, and he also has the most talent around him to help create pressure. Grady Jarrett has proven to be one of the best interior defensive linemen in football. The addition of Dante Fowler is a massive upgrade over Vic Beasley, and rookie Marlon Davidson will add even more firepower to this pass rush. It could be a perfect storm for McKinley to finally have that double-digit sack season we’ve all been waiting for.