Arthur Smith has stated on multiple occasions already this offseason that the pass rush will be a focal point leading up to the 2023 campaign. That should be obvious. The Falcons haven’t had a consistent pass rush for over a decade and have been far and away the worst team at getting after the quarterback over the last two seasons, recording just 18 sacks in 2021 and 21 this past season. They need a complete overhaul across the defensive line, but the promising news is they might finally be able to address it this offseason.
The Falcons have a top 10 pick and the second most cap space of any team. Organizations shouldn’t be reaching for needs in the draft, especially when picking #8 like the Falcons, but Atlanta must use some of their money on players that can sack the quarterback. Here are the top free agent pass rushers that could interest the Falcons.
Ngakoue has one specialty, and that’s rushing the passer. He’s a liability against the run, but he has 65.0 sacks in 110 games since entering the league in 2016, including 19.5 over the last two seasons.
When talking pass rush, the initial thought is EDGE rushers; however, pressure from the inside can be even more valuable, and few have been better at rushing from the defensive tackle position than Javone Hargrave in recent seasons. He finished 2022 with a career-high 11 sacks and had his second-most sacks in 2021 with 7.5. Pairing him with Grady Jarrett would give the Falcons a lethal combination on the interior.
Copy and paste everything I said about Hargrave for Payne right here. After recording 4.5 sacks in 2021, he broke out for a career-high 11.5 sacks this season, including five forced fumbles.
Davenport’s surface level numbers leave a lot to be desire. He recorded just 0.5 sacks in 2022; however, he was elite at pressuring the quarterback. That matters too, and Davenport did record 9.0 sacks in 2021. He’s a high quality pass rusher the Falcons will likely have on their radar, especially given his ties to Terry Fontenot from New Orleans.
Jones is a fantastic defensive tackle that has shown a knack for getting after the passer. He would pair fantastically with Grady Jarrett and is coming off a season in which he recorded 6.5 sacks in just 13 games.
I feel like we talk about Clowney coming to the Falcons every offseason, but perhaps this is the year he finally makes Atlanta his home. There are some things not to like, and he’s coming off a down year for the Browns, but he can still get after the passer. Clowney would instantly become the team’s best EDGE rusher, even if he probably should only be used as a rotational piece.
Key is a physical specimen that has dealt with off-the-field issues. But assuming those are behind him, his best football could be in front of him. He put up some quality numbers as a rotational pass rusher for the Jaguars, recording 4.5 sacks and 15 QB hits.
Justin Houston can do one thing very well, rush the passer. He’s more of a rotational piece at this point in his career, but he can still get after the quarterback with the best of them, recording 9.5 sacks in 2022. A University of Georgia product, perhaps he would like to end his career in a familiar environment.
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