FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Takk McKinley fears no one.
That includes Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a 15-year veteran who has seen a lot of defensive ends throughout his impressive career.
But there’s one he has yet to see, and that’s McKinley.
That will change Sunday and McKinley is ready to introduce himself.
“Big Ben, he’s one of the best quarterbacks of all time, but he hasn’t seen Takk McKinley ... That’s just me being honest,” McKinley said. “Great quarterback, [I] respect him but he hasn’t seen me.”
To some this could seem like a bold statement. But to those who watch McKinley play on a regular basis and have followed his career since being drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, this is McKinley in his truest form.
He’s confident, he’s tenacious and has a motor that doesn’t stop.
He doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk. It’s who he is as a person.
“On the field, I think he shows a real demonstration of who he is,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said of McKinley. “I think you’ve heard me say when someone shows you who they are, you believe them. On the field he’s definitely showing us who he is, and we believe him.”
It’s clear within minutes of watching McKinley play that he’s playing with a fire inside.
That started with his promise to his late grandmother who was responsible for raising him that he would play in the NFL one day.
He’s certainly conquered that promise, but that appears to be just the beginning.
McKinley currently ranks second in the league in sacks with five. He’s a half of sack behind DeMarcus Lawrence and he’s tied with J.J. Watt and Khalil Mack who also have five sacks and he’s played one less game than them.
Sure, McKinley’s speed and strength as a pass rusher allows him to make a lot of plays, but what separates him from others and could take him to the next level is his passion.
McKinley exudes it, and it’s infectious to everyone on his team.
“Football means a lot to him,” defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said. “It’s great to see a man who still loves just putting on a helmet and go get the quarterback. It’s great to see that. When I say that, it’s just passion. It might not look pretty every single time but it’s everything he has every single play. And that is electrifying for the entire defense. It enlightens everyone. It makes us cover better because now we understand he’s sacrificing his life for ours and we have to do the same.”
When asked to describe who McKinley is as a player, rookie defensive Deadrin Senat tackle didn’t need many words: “A mad man.”
“He’s a very cool person once you get to know him, but he’s a mad man,” Senat said. “He brings that with everything he [does]. He plays mad. Sometimes Takk talks, sometimes Takk doesn’t talk, just know he’s ready to play football. Day in and day out, he’s ready.”
It appears he’s becoming that player on the Falcons’ defense who they can count on when big plays are in need.
Take McKinley’s sack in the fourth quarter of the Falcons’ most recent game, a 37-36 loss to the Bengals. On third-and-five with the Bengals on the 9-yard line, McKinley sacked quarterback Andy Dalton for a loss of 9 yards, ultimately forcing Cincinnati to kick a field goal. Had the Bengals scored a touchdown, they would have tied the game, 33-33. The Falcons went on the lose the game in the final seconds, but McKinley’s performance was certainly a bright spot in the loss.
It’s not just the sacks that get the crowd and his teammates energized, it’s also the celebrations that come with them. McKinley has a different celebration for every sack.
Call it a dedication to his craft, on multiple levels.
McKinley relishes in the opportunity to prove himself. He’s been doing it his whole life and it’s one of the many reasons he’s a Falcon.
Growing up in Richmond, Calif., a city once ranked in the top 10 most dangerous cities by TIME magazine, some wondered if McKinley would ever make it out of Richmond.
But nothing was going to get in the way of McKinley living out his lifelong dream, similar to the attitude he takes when he’s on the football field.
The Falcons’ defense could certainly benefit from another strong performance from McKinley on Sunday when they take on the Steelers. The Falcons (1-3) will be without another defensive starter – defensive tackle Grady Jarrett – who is dealing with an ankle injury.
Atlanta will actually be down four defensive starters against the Steelers (1-2-1), but that’s not something that slows McKinley. He’s ready to step up for his team when they need him most.
“Someone has to step up,” McKinley said. “I’m willing to do that.”