As we continue this series of breaking down the Falcons roster by position, I am now onto the defense, where I will start with the group that has been the least productive for years — the edge rushers. However, with the signing of Dante Fowler, and Vic Beasley now out of the picture, there is hope that this unit will finally take a step forward. If you missed any breakdowns of the offensive position groups, click the links below.
The starting group on the edge is headlined by the Falcons’ blockbuster signing of the offseason, Dante Fowler Jr. Dan Quinn grew fond of Fowler when he was the defensive line coach at Florida — where Fowler played college ball. The Falcons had significant interest in him going into the 2015 Draft with the 8th overall pick, but he wound up going 3rd to the Jaguars.
His career got off to a brutal start, as he tore his ACL in training camp as a rookie and only recorded 16 total sacks in the three years following. However, he finally broke out last season, racking up 11.5 sacks and 58 tackles. While the statistical comparisons to Beasley are similar, their playing styles could not be more different. Fowler has improved in each season and has an infatuation for inflicting as much pain as possible. Beasley ran away from contact, and his one All-Pro campaign was an obvious outlier. This is a significant upgrade for the Falcons, the only question is, how much of one?
Across from him will be Takk McKinley. The Falcons opted to decline his fifth-year option after he had another underwhelming campaign in 2019, recording just 3.5 sacks in 14 games. Now, he enters a proto-typical prove-it year as he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. It’s time for him to turn some of those pressures into sacks, which may be much easier to do with a legitimate pass rusher like Fowler on the opposite side.
The backups could be a handful of guys. Both Allen Bailey and Marlon Davidson will be integral pieces to the defensive line. Primarily, they will play on the inside, but they will also receive some reps on the edge, especially on rushing downs. The same can be said for John Cominsky, who the coaches are excited about entering his second season.
As far as pure edge rushers though, the Falcons have Charles Harris and Steven Means. Harris was acquired this offseason for a seventh-round selection. The disappointing 2017 first-round pick only has 3.5 sacks combined over three seasons. However, he was often misused in Atlanta. We will see if the Falcons can get more out of him as he moves to his natural defensive end position. Means signed with Atlanta in 2018, playing in eight games (4 starts), providing decent production for a rotational player, resulting in a one-year contract in the offseason. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in training camp, costing him the entire year. However, the Falcons brought him back for 2020, allowing him to battle for a roster spot.
Austin Larkin is one of those fringe players that will also be vying for one of the final places or the roster. He was impressive during the preseason last year, but he was eventually cut and spent most of the season on the practice squad, appearing in just one game. The Falcons also signed a couple of undrafted free agents at the position. Bryson Young, a talented player out of Oregon, is a 6’5″, 250-pound physical specimen that recorded 73 tackles and 2 sacks in 24 games. Austin Edwards is a Ferris State product. At 6’5″ and 280 pounds, he racked up 84 tackles and 4 sacks in his 30-game career and was named the 2019 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
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