The Falcons managed to surprise their most pessimistic fans by losing eight of their first twelve games, positioning themselves to have a top 5 draft pick in the 2019 draft. Coming into the year- on paper- the Falcons looked to have a roster in the midst of a Super Bowl window. Injuries may have made the Super Bowl far-fetched from the beginning, but this Atlanta team was handicapped for far more reasons than their unfortunately long injured-reserve list.
Their roster is littered with players that are starting to move past their primes, and it showed throughout the season in the secondary and on the offensive line. Both of those areas will have to be seriously revamped if the Falcons want to be playoff contenders this time next year. However, the focal point of the 2019 draft has to be their pass rush.
Despite the lackluster showings by the offensive line over the last few weeks, there is still some talent that can be relied on for next year. Alex Mack and Jake Mathews are the two that look to be penciled in as starters next year. Ryan Schraeder appears to be a safe bet to start at right tackle again. Where the Falcons must improve this offseason is at guard, but at least they have some decent in-house options available if nothing is done. Through the draft or free agency, Atlanta needs to bring in some bodies to sure up the guard spot, but the amount of help required pales in comparison to what they need across their defensive line.
The same can be said for cornerback. Alford and Trufant, as poorly as they have played, are signed for multiple years. Both could have bounce-back seasons with Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen back at the safety spots. The Falcons also spent last year’s second-round pick on Isaiah Oliver out of Colorado. Oliver has not been counted on much as a rookie but is just scratching the surface of his ability. Not to mention, there is a decent chance Atlanta opts to move Damontae Kazee back to a corner role after his breakout season at safety.
Meanwhile, nothing like that can be said regarding the Falcons pass rush. Takk McKinley has shown promise over his two years in the league, but there is no way he should have been relied on to anchor this pass rush. That was an egregious error in judgment by Dan Quinn and the Falcons front office. Unless, they thought Vic Beasley would be the key to the Falcons pass rush, which is an even worse miscalculation on their part. Because other than those two players, I do not really know where Atlanta thought their pass rush was going to come from.
There are very few teams that win a Super Bowl without an effective defensive line. In fact, it is usually the opposite. The best defensive fronts win championships, just ask the Eagles, Broncos, Seahawks, and Ravens.
The Falcons need a complete overhaul to their pass rush. Atlanta should take into consideration the offensive line, and possibly even the cornerback position. Soon, a number of aging players at those positions will have to be replaced. But for the 2019 draft, the Falcons have to be completely and totally committed to selecting pass rushers. I’m talking not just one, but at least two or three guys- maybe even more- that make their living sacking quarterbacks. It is something that will go miles towards improving their defense once the entire unit is healthy and has to be priority number one.