The Falcons’ single biggest liability entering this offseason was the defense’s inability to pressure opposing quarterbacks in 2021. Atlanta’s defense totaled a league-low 18 sacks, and if you need some context for how bad that is — TJ Watt (22.5) and Robert Quinn (18.5) recorded more individual sacks than the Falcons did as a team.
It’s been an issue in Atlanta for as long as I can remember. No single defender since John Abraham has consistently beat opposing tackles off the edge for the Falcons.
Many believed the Falcons hit on Vic Beasley after he led the league in sacks (15.5), but if you watched the games, you saw how difficult it was going to be to keep that production up. Beasley recorded ten sacks in the following two seasons combined, and the Falcons front office elected to curb that disappointment by handing Dante Fowler a lucrative three-year deal.
Fowler had a rough couple of seasons in Atlanta, and now the new regime is beginning to rebuild the pass rush group. Terry Fontenot started by drafting Ade Ogundeji last year, who mostly had a meh season. Despite flashing at times, mainly using his vicious long-arm move, Ogundeji was a non-factor during his rookie year. Still, hopes are high for the former fifth-rounder.
Fontenot continued this offseason by signing Lorenzo Carter, who is undoubtedly the most talented pass rusher on the team at this point. The defense will lean heavily on his experience, especially the EDGE unit, which is exceptionally green. Fontenot also double-dipped in this year’s draft to completely re-shape the team’s pass rushers. Atlanta traded up six selections in the second round to select Arnold Ebiketie, who is set to have a significant role in the defense this season. Then, just one round later, the Falcons selected Western Kentucky pass rusher DeAngelo Malone, who was the Senior Bowl American Player of the Game.
Malone led Conference USA in tackles for loss (16.5) and was second in sacks (8) while leading the nation among defensive linemen in tackles (88) last season. He’s got every accolade imaginable — two-time Conference Player of the Year and three First-Team All-Conference honors. He possesses a quick first step, impressive athleticism, and an unbelievable motor. His pass rush skill set is developed, and he spent most of his time in college as the weak-side defender in even fronts, with most of his snaps coming standing up as a wide-9 rusher.
It’s no coincidence the Falcons have continued to pluck Senior Bowl invitees. Jim Nagy has developed the single most impressive showcase for draft-eligible college players. Malone was even one of the Senior Bowl Director’s favorite picks.
“One of our favorite picks in entire draft,” Nagy said. “Twitchy, violent, fast, & productive. Perfectly suited for ATL’s 3-4 OLB. Should add to pass rush as rook & double-digit sack potential.”
If he realizes his potential, Malone could record double-digit sacks, which would be the first Falcons defender to reach the mark since Beasley back in 2016. Even if he doesn’t, the Falcons desperately need to increase their pressure rate; Malone should be able to help with that.
Photographer: Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire