The Falcons could have a pair of pass rushers to build around

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The Falcons, amid a rebuild, are going to rely heavily on the younger players on the roster. Atlanta traded away Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in back-to-back offseasons as the new regime guts the depth chart to build it from the ground up. A duo of pass rushers in particular could be some of the most important foundational pieces — Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone.

Atlanta’s pass rush has been absolutely horrid for the past decade, ranking near the bottom of the league in sacks. And last year, the unit reared its ugly head.

The team recorded a pathetic 18 sacks, 11 sacks less than the Eagles, who had the second-fewest in the NFL. T.J. Watt and Robert Quinn tallied more individual sacks than the Falcons did as a unit. And three of the four players to total more than one sack from 2021 are on different teams — Dante Fowler, Foye Oluokun, and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, who only played in four games last season.

It’s fair to say the Falcons will have a new sack leader this year. Lorenzo Carter has the chance to be that leader after signing with his hometown team earlier this offseason.

Carter ended last season’s campaign hot, notching five sacks in the final four contests for the Giants. He’ll surely look to prove that wasn’t a fluke, but his track record suggests otherwise. The former UGA Bulldog has recorded 14.5 career sacks in four seasons with New York; that’s averaging just over 3.5 sacks per year — i.e., not good. Granted, he missed significant time in 2020 after rupturing his Achilles, but I still wouldn’t put my eggs in Carter’s basket to turn the pass rush around.

Carter should provide a pass rush boost in 2022, but the future of the group is Ebiketie and Malone.

The Penn State product is one of the more promising pass rushing prospects the Falcons have acquired and will have no shortage of opportunities to pressure opposing quarterbacks because of such a thin position group. It isn’t fair to expect him to put up double-digit sacks in his first season, but the Falcons are certainly hoping for something close to it since they traded up to get him.

Malone probably doesn’t have the same high expectations among Falcons fans because he was a mid-round pick, but, similarly to Ebiketie, he’ll undoubtedly have the opportunities to establish himself. Even with the lower draft status, the coaching staff is clearly high on Malone.

“This is the best-looking 240-pound kid I’ve ever coached,” outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “He doesn’t look 240 on the hoof. He’s muscled up. He’s thick. He just is really lean and has metabolism through the roof. I’m not worried about DeAngelo’s weight at all, not at all. The things we ask him to do, he’s big enough.”

The Falcons should be better in this area. The personnel was improved, and returning players are that much more familiar with the system. I wouldn’t expect an even average pass rush, but the Falcons shouldn’t be dead last. The future is what’s so appealing; Atlanta could have pair of pass rushers to build around.

Photographer: Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire

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