Falcons: Mid-to-late round defensive linemen Terry Fontenot should target in the NFL draft

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Terry Fontenot has preached that the Falcons must hit on later-round draft picks and lower-priced free agents, given their current salary cap outlook.

“We’re going to have to find players because you can’t just build your roster with overpaid players in free agency or top draft picks. We have to really dig and find value in free agency,” Fontenot said via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “That’s working with the coaches and finding exactly what they need and going and finding the players that they need. That’s throughout the entire draft, and that’s in undrafted free agency. So, we have to be scouts and go find good players that can really fit the make-up and profile that we are looking for.”

The first two parts of this series covered mid-to-late round running back and safety targets; now, we move on to the defensive line, which is the Falcons biggest need heading into free agency and the draft.

Khyiris Tonga

Tonga is a run-stuffing nose tackle that has the size to find early success as a two-gap player, regularly commanding double-teams in his three years as a starter for BYU. He’s a stout run defender whose first step is impressive for his size and makes him a tough player to leave one-on-one in running or passing situations.

The BYU product has the upper-body strength and the lower-body compliment to drive interior lineman back with a bull rush, a key element missing from the Falcons pass rush. He pushes the pocket, freeing up others to make plays and handles double-teams well. However, his pass rush is pretty one-dimensional — winning only with his first step and brute strength, occasionally knocking down passes when he doesn’t win. His character is right in line with what Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot want to establish as the culture, both on the field and off.

Payton Turner

Turner is the definition of versatile and is exactly the type of EDGE Dean Pees covets in his defense, spending much of his career for the Cougars as an interior defender but slimmed down to a light 270-pounds before 2020, where he enjoyed his most productive year yet, totaling 25 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, and a forced fumble in just five games. Turner has taken reps as a 3-technique defensive tackle, a 5-technique defensive end, and as a stand-up edge rusher. Essentially, Pees could move him up and down the line of scrimmage, depending on the situation.

Ronnie Perkins

Perkins is one of the most enthusiastic and explosive defenders in this draft. The most underrated aspect of the Oklahoma product’s game is how powerful he can be, living in the backfield, both as a pass rusher and against the run. The power he possesses becomes clear when setting a strong edge against pulling guards, fullbacks, or tight ends. There are multiple examples on tape of him forcibly pushing behemoth’s a lot bigger than him back from the line of scrimmage. His power and intelligence consistently help him in pass-rush situations.

The one issue is the suspension before a championship game due to a failed drug test, but the NFL has severely lessened the penalties for Marijuana use. During Perkins’ unfortunate suspension, his Oklahoma teammates raved about everything he was doing off the field to get them going, so his regret is apparent. Whether Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot want to take a risk is the million-dollar question.

Osa Odighizuwa

Odighizuwa possesses the natural leverage, length, explosive power, and short-area quickness to play multiple roles along an NFL defensive front. He can line up as a 7 or 9-technique defensive end in a four-man front all the way to a 1-technique nose tackle in a three-man front. But on most downs, he primarily played a shade inside the tackle as a 5-technique defensive end or a 3-technique defensive tackle, depending on the down, distance, and defensive package. The former UCLA Bruin is a diverse rusher with an intriguing combination of natural leverage and long arms, a legitimate threat if put in a good position to attack the passer. Odighizuwa is a reliable run-stuffer as well. He diagnoses runs quickly, and his quickness allows him to attack behind the line of scrimmage while his power allows him to hold and make plays off of blockers.

Cameron Sample

Sample had a career-year at Tulane last year, setting personal bests in every notable statistical category at his position with 52 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and five sacks en route to being named first-team All-AAC. According to PFF, he posted a 90.4 pass-rush grade (3rd), 22.6% pass-rush win percentage (1st), and had 48 quarterback pressures (4th). His versatility is apparent and should be a desirable attribute to Fontenot, playing both as an outside linebacker in Tulane’s 3-4 defense and in the 4i-technique position in a 3-3-5 scheme.

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Photographer: Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire

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