The Falcons need an edge rusher from this year's NFL Draft, with a distinct possibility they could take one at No. 8 overall. You all know that, because we've been talking about it since last season's end.
Generating just 18 sacks in 17 games will make such a sentiment plain and clear. We've discussed the top options available, including in our ongoing "8 and No. 8" series, where we've already highlighted Kayvon Thibodeaux and Jermain Johnson II, with Travon Walker's profile coming Friday.
- A trade for A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf, and other potential draft day moves
- McElhaney: Why the Falcons should not draft a quarterback at No. 8
- Wyche: How Marcus Mariota could fit into Falcons long-term QB plan
- Eight at No. 8: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Kyle Hamilton, Malik Willis, Charles Cross, Garrett Wilson, Sauce Gardner, Jermaine Johnson II, Travon Walker
The only reason we haven't done Aidan Hutchinson is because he's a virtual lock to get picked before the Falcons go at No. 8, while you can create a scenario where the others might (key word: might) fall.
I say all that to relay this: There's no sense in writing about those guys when discussing available options at edge rusher in this NFL Draft. You already know about the best options at No. 8 overall. If not, start clicking on the links above.
We'll therefore use this space to discuss how the Falcons could address edge rusher needs later in the draft, including possible trade-down targets, Day 2 options and even a flier who might be worth a long look and some effort put into his development.
Boye Mafe, Minnesota
The former Golden Gopher stands 6-foot-4 and 261 pounds. He ran a 4.53 40-yard dash alongside other standout measurables you want in a high pick. He's an explosive player with power, someone who could thrive at the pro level with the right coaching and development. As we'd said before, Ted Monachino's the perfect position coach for that job, with a track record of success at this level.
Mafe could be a solid addition to the Falcons defense, especially when coupled with an additional pick (or picks) in this NFL Draft or beyond. If the Falcons want to make a play for Mafe, they have to find a spot where they could realistically grab him. That's somewhat difficult from our perspective. He has been mocked into the first round by some, consistently a second-rounder by others. Where could they secure this talent? With a trade way down the board? Could they just get him at No. 43? That prospect seems uncertain, but possible. Maybe. He's a bit of a projection, but there's plenty of upside and potential he could be a productive pro.
George Karlaftis, Purdue
There's the top four edge rushers we've discussed heavily in recent weeks and then there's Karlaftis, who seemingly sits atop the next tier. He's frequently thought of as a late first-round pick, someone who's tough and incredibly strong and generates tons of pressure. His college sack totals are relatively low, which has led some to discount him. He could be an option if the Falcons trade into the 20s, though I'd personally rather get a receiver there and wait for an edge rusher. He's a quality player, though, and a steady one at that. He's the type who could be a productive pro for years, with tons of talent and ability to contribute well to a team-wide defensive effort.
While it seems like I'm somewhat down on Karlaftis, Ryan Kerrigan's his player comp and I loved watching him work. If he is a true Kerrigan clone, any team would be happy.
Can't wait for the second round to get him, so this is only a trade-down target for the Falcons.
Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma
He's a bit smaller than the rest of these edge-rusher options at 6-3, 248, but Bonitto can flat get after the quarterback. He's an explosive player and athlete who's agile and tough to block. He can provide the pass-rush pressure the Falcons have been lacking, though analysts say he'll have to bulk up and develop to be a better run defender, and that he can get swallowed up by good tackles. He also might be a passing-downs specialist at first, but that's not a bad thing for someone available in the second round. Especially if he's even close to as impactful in that area as he was in college, when he had a 29 percent win rate that ranked second in the nation, per PFF.
The Falcons should be able to get him at No. 43 if they'd like. At No. 58? That's a roll of the dice looking for hoping for a hard eight, but it might be a coup if they can land Bonitto there.
Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State
Analysts love this edge rusher, who is highly rated on most big boards. He's 6-2 and 250, a productive college player with the bend and the build to excel at the NFL level. He's also a relatively older player at 23 ½, but he has the all-around skill to be a real playmaker with a nifty set of pass-rush moves.
He might be a tweener in terms of where the Falcons pick, not quite good enough to take in a first-round trade down, too good to last until No. 43 and not quite worth giving up capital to move up in the second round to get him.
Cameron Thomas, San Diego State
Here's an intriguing prospect, in my mind, who could work well for the Falcons as an early-downs edge presence, maybe an interior rusher in the sub package or some base 3-4 defensive end work. Thomas is an intriguing talent at 6-4 and 267 would routinely got into the backfield in college and was an impactful run defender. He has good quickness for his size and can generate heat from several spots. He won't be a 12-sack guy, but he could help generate pressure and provide effective play up front. The Falcons need more of that, and could land him somewhere in the third round.
David Ojabo, Michigan
This is a true wild card in the NFL Draft’s first and second round. Ojabo was considered by many to be a top-15 talent regardless of position, with many mocking him to the Falcons at No. 8 overall. That was before an unfortunate moment at Michigan's pro day, where he tore his Achilles' tendon. P.S. Injuries stink, and are never worse than when they happen during the pre-draft process (or in bowl games).
The injury obviously pushed Ojabo down the draft board, but how far? That's a real unknown. All it takes is one team comfortable waiting a year to reap the benefits of having him. Ojabo was an excellent college pass rusher despite being relatively inexperienced in football, with great upside and potential to be an excellent NFL player. If he falls all the way to No. 43 – that seems unlikely, though a Day2 selection seems probable – I say the Falcons snatch him up even if they landed a pass-rusher at No. 8. This draft is as much about building for the future as it is about the 2022 product, so they should have the patience to take him, even with some uncertainty about explosiveness fully returning after an Achilles' injury.
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