MOBILE, Ala. – There's no denying that one of the biggest position needs for the Falcons is at defensive end and the Senior Bowl has two of the best competing this week in Mississippi State's Montez Sweat and Louisiana Tech's Jaylon Ferguson.
The Falcons' pass rush was inconsistent at times during the 2018 season. Atlanta finished 22nd in the league with 37 sacks on the year. Takk McKinley led the way with seven sacks. Bruce Irvin, who was acquired in early November, progressed as the season went on finishing the year with 6.5 sacks. Vic Beasley was fifth on the team in sacks with six.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn have a number of decisions to answer about their own roster over the next few months, including what their defensive line will look like in 2019. Re-signing defensive tackle Grady Jarrett remains the No. 1 priority according to Dimitroff, but how the rest of the unit will look next season remains unclear.
Irvin, Derrick Shelby and Terrell McClain are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents when the new league year begins on March 13th. The Falcons picked up Beasley's fifth-year option ahead of the 2018 season, but what his long-term future looks like in Atlanta remains another one of the biggest offseason questions.
That's why getting a pass-rusher in this year's draft class will be key. And the good news is that this year's class is full of them, including Sweat and Ferguson.
Sweat was one of the top pass-rushers in the SEC over the last two seasons. After leading the conference in sacks with 11 in 2017, he finished his career at Mississippi State with 22.5 sacks and 30 tackles for losses. For a 6-foot-6, 252-pound pass-rusher, Sweat not only has the physical attributes to be a top prospect in the NFL, he also has the speed necessary at the next level.
Ferguson holds the NCAA record for most sacks in a career with 45. In 2018, he recorded 17.5 sacks. Proving that he can translate his game at the next level remains a top priority for the former Louisiana Tech standout.
"I'm using this week to prove I can go up against better competition," Ferguson said.
Ferguson said he plans to meet with the Falcons this week at the Senior Bowl.