Falcons should overhaul EDGE position with loaded 2022 draft class

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It is astonishing the Falcons sit at .500 and are the 7th seed in the NFC playoff picture because of all the deficiencies the team has — no run game, below-average offensive line play, and nonexistent pass rush. Atlanta has struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks all season long. Against the Dolphins and Panthers, two of the worst offensive lines in football, the Falcons couldn’t muster much. Deion Jones was the lone defender to record a sack against Miami, while nobody notched one against Carolina.

The Falcons pass rush ranks close to last in every significant statistic — 26th in QB hurries per dropback (8.7%), 25th in QB knockdowns per pass attempt (7.2%), and 31st in QB pressures per dropback (18.6%).

There is no arguing the Falcons need for pass rushers, and it’s not just off the edge either; Dean Pees needs another reliable interior pass rusher next to Grady Jarrett. Lucky for Terry Fontenot and the Falcons, the 2022 EDGE class is loaded. It is the type of draft class that could enable the front office to overhaul the position altogether. The Falcons will have to especially address the situation, considering Ade Ogundeji is the only EDGE defender under contract in 2022.

Dane Brugler is a draft pundit for The Athletic and is widely respected around the draft community. He constantly updates his top-50 board throughout the season and offseason leading up to April’s draft. In his first update since the preseason, he lists 11 EDGE defenders the Falcons should have their eyes on.

1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon (6-4, 255)
6. Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan (6-6, 261)
9. Travon Walker, DL, Georgia (6-5, 275)
11. George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue (6-4, 268)
26. David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan (6-5, 250)
28. Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC (6-4, 255)
42. Isaiah Foskey, EDGE, Notre Dame (6-5, 257)
43. Cameron Thomas, DL, San Diego State (6-5, 270)
44. Logan Hall, DL, Houston (6-6, 270)
46. Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, Florida State (6-5, 255)
50. Kingsley Enagbare, EDGE, South Carolina (6-4, 260)

Thibodeaux and Hutchinson are the cream of the crop in this draft class, and unless the Falcons lose every game for the rest of the season, both players will be long gone before they are on the clock. Walker is the fastest riser on Brugler’s draft board because of his positional flexibility; he has the size and power of a defensive end but the athleticism of an outside linebacker — an ideal scheme fit for Dean Pees’ defense. Walker can play up and down the line of scrimmage while effectively defending the run and rushing the passer.

Karlaftis is one of the most explosive pure pass rushers in this class, but his length (under 33-inch arms) doesn’t align with Terry Fontenot’s preference — Ade Ogundeji (35¼) and Ta’Quon Graham (35) were both in the 90th+ percentile. Ojabo is the forgotten Michigan EDGE defender with Hutchinson stealing most headlines, but he could be one of the most physically gifted prospects in this class — mirroring Odafe Oweh in many ways. Jackson is having a down year, but his pass rush ability is undeniable, though his run defense needs to improve.

If you can read Brugler’s more detailed piece on these prospects, you should; the Falcons will have their eyes on this position group. I fully expect Terry Fontenot to come away with at least two EDGE defenders from the 2022 NFL draft.

Photo: Austin McAfee/Icon Sportswire

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