Falcons: The 2020 draft class will be a big part of a defensive turnaround in 2021

Falcons: AJ Terrell Greatness on display

Atlanta’s defense surprised some folks in the team’s first preseason game against the Titans last Friday, which is due in part to Dean Pees taking over. A coordinator change can positively affect a unit, but it will always come down to the personnel. Coming into the offseason and after the first preseason game, most of the national and local media would point towards Arthur Smith’s offense as the team’s strength. Still, the defense could be better than once expected, given the lack of elite personnel at some spots. Instead of a couple of stars, this defense will be a sum of its parts, and a big part of the turnaround has to be with the second-year players from the 2020 draft.

  • 1st round (No. 16) – CB A.J. Terrell.
  • 2nd round (No. 47) – DT Marlon Davidson.
  • 3rd round (No. 78) – OL Matt Hennessy.
  • 4th round (No. 119) – LB Mykal Walker.
  • 4th round (No. 134) – S Jaylinn Hawkins.
  • 7th round (No. 228) – P Sterling Hofrichter.

Four defensive prospects were taken in the first four rounds. At first, it seemed to be a decent haul, but now we may have Thomas Dimitroff to thank for an increasingly impressive draft class. A.J. Terrell is ascending to the level of an upper-echelon corner in this league — teammates and coaches are taking an interest. Matt Ryan, Russell Gage, and Arthur Smith are just some of the people who have praised Terrell’s abilities. It seems the Falcons have found their future at the position.

Next, Marlon Davidson looked to be a great pick, but he failed to really show any life his rookie year thanks to injuries. Now, the former Auburn Tiger is in a mentally and physically healthy state in his second season, and it’s showing. His peers, most notably Grady Jarrett, have complimented his approach and play since training camp started. Then in live-action, he constantly disrupted the Titans’ offense in both the pass and the run; he’ll be a key cog in this machine going forward.

Still, the two fourth-round picks look like future starters in the league — Mykal Walker and Jaylinn Hawkins. Walker showed glimpses of his ability his rookie year, but due to playing behind two established linebackers, he had limited playing time. After recording a sack against the Titans, it is clear Walker will eventually be roaming the field from one of the linebacker positions. This year though, the staff will have to get creative to work Walker into more playing time, as he continues to show that he has the potential to be a difference-maker.

Hawkins will likely be the one out of this class that gets the least amount of playing time, given the established players in front of him and recent second-round pick Richie Grant. Still, he recorded a sack in his first preseason game under the new regime. He’s a versatile player, which is why his future in Atlanta seems bright. Hawkins could push Grant and Isaiah Oliver for time as the first defensive back in nickel personnel packages. His shortest path to more reps is in dime personnel packages which uses one more defensive back than a nickel package. Expect Hawkins to compete for a starting job next year when Erik Harris and Duron Harmon’s contracts expire.

This 2020 draft class might be better than once expected as they progress as professionals. A defensive turnaround in 2021 could be powered by these four second-year players.

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