Falcons need both defensive line starters and depth players to not only rush the passer but defend against the run, so where does Thomas Dimitroff even begin?
While Takk McKinley has been bogged down with injuries in consecutive seasons, there is a belief that he still will put it together if healthy. Atlanta needs another pass-rusher opposite him to take some pressure off, and the failure to generate consistent pressure outside of Grady Jarrett is the foremost problem on a defense that needs attention. Only barely necking out the abysmal Miami Dolphins, Atlanta’s sack total of 28 was tied with three other teams for the second-worst in 2019. If Dan Quinn wants to coach the Atlanta Falcons beyond the 2020 season, there will have to be drastic improvements on his side of the ball.
Enter Yetur Gross-Matos, the (6-foot-5, 264 pounds) former Nittany Lion will be a shoo-in for a starting position on whichever team selects him, and the Atlanta Falcons, who are in dire need of someone who can create constant pressure, make perfect sense. Though he did not record more sacks than Epenesa or Young, he is far more disruptive in the run game than those two and could fill multiple voids on a defensive line that lacks playmakers (outside of Grady Jarrett).
Aside from his physical features, Gross-Matos is a versatile defender. He can play the 5-technique (if he added more weight), 3-technique, and even nose tackle. This quality is noteworthy because having your best pass rushers on the field at one time is most effective in obvious passing situations. He will play mainly on the edge where he is most comfortable, but he reserves the right to be kicked inside, gaining a favorable matchup against an offensive guard.
Yetur Gross-Matos has features that will translate to the next level. In the run game, he solidifies the edge. He uses his length and plays with impressive leverage helping him shed blocks. He stands up tackles with his extended arms and displayed a stronger will to track down ball carriers than his draft class peers.
His pass-rushing ability took quite a leap from his sophomore to junior year. Gross-Matos has used a combination of strength, speed, and technique to get by tackles the past two years, totaling 17 sacks. He utilizes his power to get tackles off balance then his burst and flexibility to get around the edge. His hand usage grew the most between his sophomore and junior seasons. His ability to counter tackles cannot be understated. The best pass rushers use their feet and hands at the same time. Gross-Matos has shown that he has an excellent club move, but my favorite is his swipe and rip combination. This move only works if the rusher simultaneously counters the offensive tackles’ punch then gets flat to pursue the quarterback. He has shown exactly that but with a motor to chase down opposing quarterbacks.
His weaknesses are on a shortlist. First and foremost, his most significant issue isn’t on the field but off it. Yetur Gross-Matos was named in a hazing lawsuit among other current and former Penn State players and coaches. This could highlight his inability to put a team first or can be seen as a blurred story in which Gross-Matos was wrongly included. Either way, the Falcons organization should do their due diligence on every prospect. Another shortcoming is his over-aggressive nature. This will be taken advantage of when playing teams that utilize offensive misdirection, which is the New Orleans Saints bread and butter.
The Falcons finished second-to-last in the NFL in sacks last year. Now moving on from Vic Beasley, the team will look for his replacement. This year’s draft class is light on edge defenders, making the likelihood for a first-round selection at that position even higher. Thomas Dimitroff may be preparing for his final draft as the teams’ general manager, and without an impressive first couple rounds, it will be. Whoever the front office thinks can make the most immediate impact will probably be selected due to the urgency placed on them by team owner Arthur Blank. This strategy could come back to haunt the Falcons if the selection pans out similarly to Beasley.
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