While Atlanta made a big splash in free agency by adding Dante Fowler Jr., thanks to some creative cap maneuvering, they will still be looking for pass-rushing help in this year’s NFL Draft. Fowler replaces Vic Beasley, who departed to Tennessee, as the team’s top pass rusher. That should be viewed as an upgrade, but there remains a need for immediate impact players, depth, and developmental pieces. The team lost Adrian Clayborn and Jack Crawford in free agency as well, and they do not look to be interested in Takk McKinley’s fifth-year option. Frankly, it may not even need to be an EDGE rusher. They are going to look for pass rush help in any way they can find it.
For months, it was expected that Atlanta would pursue a pass rusher with its first-round pick, but I would be lying if I said cornerback was not the direst need that must be addressed. The good news is that the depth at both positions in this year’s class will allow them to use a best player available approach, and I would not rule out a trade back, either.
I am a big fan of the second tier of pass rushers available in this year’s NFL Draft. This “tier” includes the likes of Bradlee Anae, Josh Uche, Jonathan Greenard, and Curtis Weaver. Another name that should be included in this tier, and will likely be available when the Falcons select 47th overall is Marlon Davidson of Auburn University. Many believed he was going to play on the edge at the next level, but he sets himself apart from this group because he should be able to rush up the middle as well.
Davidson was a four-star recruit who wasted little time to contribute to the Tigers, playing in 13 games as a true freshman. His performance put him on the radar of many scouts who believed he could one day become the SEC sack leader. Unfortunately, we never saw the elite sack production from Davidson, but he did prove to be an incredible athlete with a ton of versatility. Davidson can play on the inside in addition to playing as a five-tech at the college level. He, along with Derrick Brown, who is expected to be a first-rounder in this year’s draft, both opted to return to school despite being deemed high selections following their junior campaigns.
Going back to school proved to be a wise choice for Davidson, as he had by far his best collegiate season in 2019. He posted career highs of 48 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks and was a big part in Auburn having one of the best, if not the best defensive fronts in the nation. Along with his 6.5 sacks, he was constantly pushing the pocket and racking up QB pressures.
Davidson should be able to contribute at the NFL level. The biggest question is what sort of role he will play. While many believed he was destined for the EDGE, this may not be the case. Davidson showed up to the Senior Bowl at 297 pounds, 19 higher than his listed playing weight, and looked sharp as a 3-tech. His future role is going to be up to the team that selects him. I would say this is a rare case of a tweener being a positive for a prospect, as he has the athleticism to play in a 4-3 scheme. Davidson improved as a pass rusher and defending the run as a Senior, but I would not expect elite pass rush production on day one. With that being said, he should find a way to help the Falcons upfront. He may be used as more of a chess piece until he establishes a starting role in the NFL.
Davidson’s blend of size, strength, and athleticism could be enough for a team to fall in love with him and draft him higher than some expected. He is a power player that college offensive lineman could not move around, using strong hand technique to shed blockers, which may be his best attribute. He has a quick first step and moves impressively for a man of his stature.
Personally, I think that Davidson will ultimately end up on the inside at the next level, but it would not hurt to find Grady Jarrett a quality sidekick. He can help the Falcons move the pocket and make life easier for the likes of Fowler, who seems to have finally put things together. Having Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers up front made life a whole lot easier for him in Los Angeles. By adding Davidson to the mix, the Falcons’ newest significant investment could find himself in another desirable scenario.