Even after additions, Falcons defense leaves a lot to be desired ahead of NFL Draft

falcons helmet 2020 Raheem Morris

The Falcons have made a flurry of free agent additions to the defensive side of the ball, but at this point in the offseason, it leaves a lot to be desired as we approach the NFL Draft.

Terry Fontenot is seemingly doing what he does every offseason and filling out the roster with cheaper veterans in preparation for taking the best player available in the draft.

Kevin King, Antonio Hamilton, Eddie Goldman, and James Smith-Williams were signed over the last week or so, and they all bolster the Falcons’ most pressing positions of need.

With the Falcons’ offensive-focused first part of the offseason, Fontenot filled the two biggest roster holes at the opening bell, inking Kirk Cousins and Darnell Mooney to multi-year deals in addition to Charlie Woerner.

The five returning starters along the offensive line and the trio of top 10 draft picks at skill positions give Zac Robinson’s offense the expectation of being one of the top units in the NFL.

It’s positioned the Falcons to be able to take the best player on their big board as they’ve done in each year of Fontenot’s tenure. However, the defense still has glaring red flags for a club with such high hopes in 2024.

Arthur Blank expects to make the postseason, and probably even more. Giving Cousins $180 million and $100 million guaranteed has signaled that the organization believes it can compete in the postseason.

The defense lost its defensive coordinator and co-sack leaders, but the Falcons haven’t done anything to replace the latter, and I don’t think fans comprehend how big of a deal Ryan Nielsen was for the defense last year. There will be growing pains.

It’s not to say Jimmy Lake can’t be that guy. It’s more about how good of a job Nielsen did. Additionally, Calais Campbell and Bud Dupree topped the defense with 6.5 sacks each last season and they’ve replaced them with James Smith-Williams, who has never topped three sacks in his career.

Granted, maybe the new staff is high on Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone, and Zach Harrison. Maybe, they can more than fill those voids. And maybe the draft brings a premier pass rusher like Dallas Turner, Jared Verse, and Laiatu Latu, but should a team with this high of expectations be reliant on such unproven commodities? Especially one that has a strong history of selecting the best player available in the draft? A proven pass rusher would’ve gone a long way.

Hell, for that matter, the Falcons haven’t exactly solidified the secondary. Seventh-round pick DeMarrco Hellams supplanted Richie Grant in 2023, but that’s all that makes up the safety options next to Jessie Bates. I expect another cheap, veteran free agent signing to fill that void, not a difference maker.

A.J. Terrell doesn’t have an obvious running mate opposite of him. I hope the team doesn’t think Antonio Hamilton and Kevin King are the answer, and relying on two of Clark Phillips, Mike Hughes, and Dee Alford to fill two secondary positions on a team with championship aspirations seems a bit reckless.

Again, maybe the draft brings about another starting corner, but my point is the Falcons have done the draft a certain way since Terry Fontenot came to Atlanta, and it hasn’t been reaching for needs.

There’s more offseason left, so I’ll hold my breath, but right now, the Falcons defense will be a weakness.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire


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