The Falcons can spend as much money in free agency as they want; without internal development, this team is going nowhere. Atlanta’s 2021 draft class took another step forward last season. Richie Grant assumed a full-time starting role, Avery Williams turned into the best punt returner in football, and Ta’Quon Graham may have had the biggest Year 2 in the class. There have to be similar sophomore leaps within the 2022 draft class, and PFF’s early breakout candidate for the Falcons in 2023 is Arnold Ebiketie.
Atlanta’s offensive players have already broken out — or we at least know what they’re capable of with a real quarterback — but the defense is lacking players obviously primed for future success.
Ebiketie managed 28 pressures across 303 pass-rushing snaps in his rookie season, and he tallied 14 defensive stops on the year. His best game came in his first (and only) start, and edge rusher is a position that can have a transition period. There’s not much data that says this is a likely breakout, but Ebiketie was a talented draft prospect, so it’s certainly plausible.
There are no arguments about the weakest facet of the Falcons team — the pass rush. Now, building a consistent pass rush is more than just drafting guys like Terrell Suggs. Atlanta needs to bolster the interior, the second level, and the secondary. All of those contribute to the Falcons’ ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
If the interior defenders can get stops on early downs, forcing offenses into third and longs, the Falcons will have a better pass rush. If the secondary can cover routes longer and give the rushers more time, the Falcons will have a better pass rush. There is more than one way to skin a cat.
Obviously, the quickest way to improve a pass rush is to have an elite pass rusher — a player like Nick Bosa or Micah Parsons. Bosa posted three fewer sacks than the Falcons did as a team. Having a guy who can go get 15+ sacks a season is invaluable. Nobody should expect Arnold Ebiketie to be that guy, but hopefully, he can put up double-digit sacks eventually.
Photographer: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire
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