Editor's note: This is the first installment of a five-part series examining NFL Draft options the Falcons could use to address positions of need. We'll go over players the Falcons could take at No. 8 overall, plus considerations on Day 2 and Day 3.
The Falcons have remade their defensive front, with significant upgrades added through free agency.
We've seen David Onyemata, Calais Campbell and now Bud Dupree sign on the metaphorical dotted line in recent weeks, bringing experience and track records of success to a line without much of either in recent years.
- Official free agency signings: S Jessie Bates III, DL David Onyemata, LB Kaden Elliss, QB Taylor Heinicke, CB Mike Hughes, LB Tae Davis, WR Mack Hollins; DL Joe Gaziano, WR Scotty Miller, DL Calais Campbell, OL Josh Miles, OLB Bud Dupree, CB Jeff Okudah, OL Ethan Greenidge
- College pro days, top-30 visits: What the Falcons are focusing on as NFL Draft looms
- Bair Mail: Christian Gonzalez, Bijan Robinson and addressing left guard spot
- Grady Jarrett on Falcons free agency moves
All those guys will also be working with new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, widely ranked high among defensive line coaches who can generate serious pressure.
Those are all positives for a pass rush looking for better. It doesn't mean, however, that the Falcons don't need another edge rusher. They could well use the No. 8 overall pick to acquire one, with it a virtual certainty that the Falcons get one at some point during the three-day draft.
Let's take a look at some options they could go with during different portions of the NFL Draft:
Lukas Van Ness, Iowa
Will Anderson and Tyree Wilson are generally regarded as the top edge rushers in this draft class. I tend to agree. I also don't think they'll be available to the Falcons at No. 8 overall, long gone even if four quarterbacks are taken beforehand.
That leaves the Falcons to look at the next tier, where Van Ness sits. He seems like an ideal scheme fit, a massive and tenacious pass rusher who can play across the line. Van Ness is a disruptor through and through, with 19 sacks over two seasons with the Hawkeyes. He's a big dude at 6-foot-5 and 264 pounds, which fits with the hulking line being built in Atlanta. He's young and seems to have major upside, which Nielsen can extract. If Wilson and Anderson are in fact off the table, Van Ness would be an excellent option to fortify the front.
Other options: Nolan Smith, Georgia; Myles Murphy, Clemson
BJ Ojulari, LSU
The Marrieta native would fit what the Falcons like to do despite weighing in at 249 pounds. He can get after the quarterback and be a true edge rusher, especially on obvious passing downs. He had 103 pressures the last two years, which is the third highest in that span, per The Athletic. He gives maximum effort and was a team captain, suggesting he would also be a culture fit with the Falcons, a team that puts great value in that. His speed and relentless pursuit would bring a different flavor to the pass rush. If the Falcons go cornerback, running back or something else in the first round, Olujari would be a quality pickup if he's available at No. 44.
Keion White, Georgia Tech
If the Falcons don't go edge rusher in the first round, seeing Keion White fall to No. 44, well beyond expectation, might constitute a dream scenario. White is a hulk at 6-4 and 285, with great play strength and power. He could be another Nielsen project that could pay major dividends down the line.
Tuli Tuipulotu, USC
Nielsen went to USC and should have connections to get the real dirt on a talented player who could be an option in the third round. He had 13.5 sacks for the Trojans last season and has a tireless motor. He has the size you need at the position and could be molded into an NFL starter in time. Getting that from a third-round pick would be huge for a Falcons team looking to bring pressure in waves.
Other Day 2 options: Will McDonald IV, Iowa State; Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame; Zach Harrison; Derick Hall, Auburn
Dylan Horton, TCU
This player offers scheme versatility, steady run defense and traits that could help him develop into a quality NFL pass rusher. He's athlete through and through, someone who played safety earlier in his college career and bulked up considerably to fit a new scheme. Day 3 guys are generally projects in some way or another but getting 10 sacks in a breakout 2022 campaign suggests he knows how to get home and pressure the quarterback. The Falcons could add him to the rotation and let him develop without high expectations.
Other Day 2 options: K.J. Henry, Clemson; Viliami Fehoko, San Jose State; Mike Morris, Michigan; Caleb Murphy, Ferris State
Atlanta Falcons players are back at Flowery Branch to kick off prep for the 2023 season.