Falcons: Could Atlanta draft the personnel for a 3-4 defense?

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This isn’t really a ringing endorsement, just more of a think piece. It’s no secret Atlanta’s defense is… not good. Even after firing Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff, there are still multiple holes on this roster. 

With Takk McKinley likely on his way out, edge rusher will be a need going into the draft. Grady Jarrett and Marlon Davidson are the most promising pieces on the D-Line, while Dante Fowler Jr. has been a disappointment so far. 

In a 3-4, the focus is placed on linebackers getting to the quarterback. Fowler would have his hand in the dirt much less, and Jarrett would be placed in more of a Fletcher Cox type role. Marlon Davidson is a hulking man, standing at 6’4 and 303 pounds. He isn’t a pure nose tackle, and bigger defensive ends are preferred in a 3-4 to eat up space. Atlanta lacks a true nose outside of Tyeler Davison, and he could be traded before the trade deadline. However, they’re not that difficult to find in the draft. I quite like Mykal Walker so far — he’s earned some more snaps, especially with the team looking towards the future. There are some pieces that could make this work, but the draft will be very telling.

If Atlanta is out of range for a quarterback, this draft is chock full of versatile defenders, notably Micah Parsons, Gregory Rousseau, and Marvin Wilson. Parsons would likely work best as a “Sam” linebacker, and Rousseau may be the best pass rusher in the entire draft. Adding Parsons to a linebacking corps of Deion Jones, Foye Oluokun, Mykal Walker, and Dante Fowler gives Atlanta many different looks on defense. 

Parsons was an edge out of high school, and he’s notched 6.5 sacks in two years at Penn State. Rousseau led the ACC with 15.5 sacks at Miami, and at 6’7, he can put his hand in the dirt or come off the edge. He has incredible bend and reminds me a lot of Brian Burns. However, Rousseau is a lot thicker and stronger than Burns was coming out of Florida State, but unfortunately, he opted out of the 2020 season. We’ll have to wait and see on him. 

Marvin Wilson is another very enticing option — he’s one of the best pass-rushing interior linemen to come out of the draft in years. He’s pretty good against the run, but he’s a master at creating massive amounts of pressure up the middle with his 6’5, 304-pound frame. If you have Fowler off the edge and Wilson, Jarrett, and Davidson are all getting a push up front — the pass rush will be much improved.

The secondary is still a very sore spot. I think linebacker will be addressed in the draft, but as it stands — Atlanta is pretty thin. Foye and Deion are supremely talented, and Mykal Walker has looked good — but Fowler’s transition may not be as smooth as I make it sound. Improving the pass rush will take a lot of pressure off the secondary, and that’s crucial with young guys likely coming to take the place of Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, and Damontae Kazee. Atlanta has improved, but they’re still ranked 28th in sacks per game. So if the Falcons draft defense in the first round, what are the potential looks in a 3-4?

 

Parsons

 

WSDE: Grady Jarrett

SSDE: Marlon Davidson

IDL: Tyeler Davison?

Linebackers: Deion Jones, Foye Oluokun, Micah Parsons, Dante Fowler Jr.

 

Strengths: Micah Parsons becomes a swiss army knife and turns this linebacking corps into a force. His coverage and versatility can’t be understated.

Weaknesses: Dante Fowler isn’t built to be a 3-4 end. That’s not his role; he needs to be rushing the passer. That will leave a hole at DE. Marlon Davidson could be capable of filling that role; however, because of injuries and now Covid-19, we haven’t been able to see what he’s capable of yet. Tyeler Davison works as a nose tackle, but as I mentioned above, the Falcons could move him at the trade deadline, forcing them to draft or sign another beefcake on the defensive line this coming offseason.

 

Rousseau

 

WSDE: Grady Jarrett

SSDE: Marlon Davidson

IDL: Tyeler Davison?

Linebackers: Deion Jones, Foye Oluokun, Dante Fowler Jr. Gregory Rousseau

 

Strengths: This look would give Atlanta a hellish pass rush on both sides. Drafting a pure nose like Christian Barmore would remedy Atlanta’s issues. They’re easy to find later in the draft. This set also gives Atlanta the most versatility. In certain situations, Rousseau can slide down, and Davidson can move inside.

Weaknesses: Coverage from linebackers becomes an issue. You’re mostly going to have to rely on Foye and Deion — but they’re both capable. If Tyeler Davison isn’t traded, he isn’t much of a pass rusher. Atlanta would likely have to spend more draft capital to complete this set, but it has loads of potential.

 

Wilson

 

WSDE: Grady Jarrett

SSDE: Marlon Davidson

IDL: Marvin Wilson

LBS: Deion Jones, Foye Oluokun, Mykal Walker, Dante Fowler Jr./span>

 

Strengths: The defensive line suddenly becomes a force. We haven’t seen much out of Davidson, but this will give him the potential to shine. He moved all over the defensive line at Auburn, and if he can drop some weight, he’ll be a hassle at DE. Jarrett and Wilson rushing the passer up the middle will be a nightmare for guards and centers all over the NFL.

Weaknesses: Linebacker coverage would be down. Mykal Walker gets thrown into the fire, and Dante Fowler has to start producing and earning his keep. However, I don’t see how the pass coverage can get much worse, so I’m willing to take that risk.

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Taking a look at the possibilities, Wilson completes the team the most. I really like the looks he provides, but Rousseau offers the most upside. Parsons is probably the safest pick and may be the best player of the bunch. Illustrating this just shows Atlanta has multiple big holes — even if they stick in a 4-3. It’s yet to be seen what the new staff will do, but I think a move to a 3-4 is worthy of consideration. It will be crucial for Atlanta to keep hoarding draft capital and create a new culture — one of defensive and offensive versatility, something they sorely lacked during the Quinn era.

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