At some point, you have to look at a general manager — perhaps the front office in general — and recognize they can’t properly evaluate a certain position. For the Falcons, that position has been the defensive line, particularly pass rushers.
Atlanta hasn’t had a high-quality pass rusher since John Abraham was terrorizing quarterbacks. As a result, the Falcons hadn’t finished inside the top 10 in the sack category since 2004, when they coincidently finished first in the league. It doesn’t matter where Thomas Dimitroff searched for talent — whether it be in free agency or the draft — he never found a difference-maker.
Dimitroff’s parting gift might just have been the signing of Dante Fowler to a three-year, $48 million deal — one that he didn’t even come close to living up to in the first year. He recorded just three sacks and four tackles for loss in 14 games. Now, the Falcons owe him close to $19 million in each of the next two seasons, and it’s already sparking conversation whether the new regime will cut him this offseason — even though they’ll have to eat a bunch of money to do so.
But Fowler is just one of a long list of underwhelming pass-rushing acquisitions made during the Thomas Dimitroff era. Ray Edwards somehow managed to be even less impactful than Fowler in his one-and-a-half seasons with the team after the Falcons handed him a lucrative contract. Amazingly, Vic Beasley is probably the best pass rusher the Falcons have had since Abraham left, which is extraordinarily sad considering he had just one good season out of five. Takk McKinley was a bust, but the lack of edge rushers the Falcons drafted during the Dimitroff era was more concerning than anything.
For whatever reason — perhaps it is because they didn’t feel as confident scouting the position — the Falcons have not spent many draft picks on pass rushers. This is puzzling because it is a premium position. They didn’t draft one in 2020 (I’m not counting Marlon Davidson as an edge rusher). They didn’t really in 2019 either, unless you consider fourth-round pick John Cominsky a pass rusher, but he’s more like a defensive tackle, and they didn’t select one again in 2018.
I mean, think about that. As bad as the Falcons pass rush has been over the last few seasons, they didn’t spend one pick on a pure pass rusher. That’s borderline insanity.
The last selection the Falcons used on a pass rusher was in the first round of the 2017 draft. It was Takk McKinley, and we all know how that turned out. The Falcons only took one pass rusher in the drafts from 2014-2016 (Vic Beasley), and the last time they took two in the same draft was in 2013 — Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga — a fourth and fifth-round pick, and of course, neither of them panned out.
Football has evolved a lot over the last decade, but the saying ‘the game is won in the trenches’ still rings true. The team that hoists the Lombardi each season usually features one of the best offensive and defensive lines. Atlanta’s put together some fantastic offensive lines, but they haven’t focused nearly enough on their defensive line to sustain success on that side of the ball. Hopefully, the new regime places much more emphasis on getting after the quarterback — not just with their mouths but with free agents and draft picks.