INDIANAPOLIS – At this point in the NFL offseason, the consensus need for the Atlanta Falcons is an improved pass rush.
Traditionally, defensive ends have been teams' primary pass-rush options, but the lines have become a bit blurred with outside linebackers developing elaborate skill sets to get after the quarterback. That's why the term "edge rusher" has become more popular, to include pass-rush linebackers like current draft prospect K'Lavon Chaisson out of LSU or T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
For the purposes of this article, though, we're sticking with the defensive end position in the traditional sense. That group includes Ohio State's Chase Young, who many – including himself – believe is the most talented player in the 2020 NFL Draft, and Iowa's A.J. Epenesa, who has been linked to the Falcons in many early mock drafts. In a separate article, we will list the linebackers who have met with the Falcons, which will include players like Chaisson.
At least nine of the defensive ends at the combine said they've had informal meetings with the Falcons thus far. Two players, Notre Dame's Julian Okwara and Penn State's Yetur Gross-Matos, said they have not yet met with Atlanta but do have meetings planned for later in the week. Here are the players who have had or will have meetings with the Falcons:
- A.J. Epenesa, Iowa – Informal
- Bradlee Anae, Utah – Informal
- Chase Young, Ohio State – Informal
- Jason Strowbridge, North Carolina – Informal
- Jonathan Greenard, Florida – Informal
- Julian Okwara, Notre Dame – Planned meeting
- Kendall Coleman, Syracuse – Informal
- Kenny Willekes, Michigan St. – Informal
- Khalid Kareem, Notre Dame – Informal
- Ladarius Hamilton, North Texas – Informal
- Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn St. – Planned meeting
WHAT THE PROSPECTS HAD TO SAY
A.J. Epenesa: "Yeah, I have [met with the Falcons]. Just kind of an informal meeting. [They were] just kind of trying to learn who I am and stuff like that. Just asking me questions about how I grew up and stuff like that."
Bradlee Anae: "I remember speaking to their defensive line coach, going over some plays and things like that."
Jason Strowbridge: "They were just trying to get to know me. Just basic stuff, how I play and the type of player that I am, things like that."
Jonathan Greenard: "I had a couple of informals with them. I haven't had any formals yet, but I got really good vibes from them and they obviously know I'm a Georgia kid. I just sat there and talked to them for a little while. [They told me] that I can do a lot. Which is, obviously, talking about my versatility at the position. I can play a stand-up guy and I can be a four-down guy, that makes me a lot more accessible in the football world."
Kendall Coleman: "I had a chance to talk with the Falcons and, overall, I think it went well. They were just asking about who I am as a person, what my values are. And I told them the things that I hold close to my heart, right off the bat the top three would be, football, family and faith. My friends and my family, they're my rock, my support system. They're the people that obviously mean the world to me. If I didn't care about football, I wouldn't be doing this. It takes a lot of drive, passion and desire to get to this point right here. And then faith is something I realized a little bit later in high school and through college that if I want to be my most well-rounded person I need to round out every aspect of my life, and that means religion too."
Kenny Willekes: "We just sat down and talked about ball a little bit. He had me draw up some stuff."
Khalid Kareem: "I had an informal meeting with coach Tosh [Lupoi], it was good to talk to him. He recruited me at Alabama, so it was good to see him after five years and just catching up with him. We also got in depth with Xs and Os to try to see how I would fit in their system."
Ladarius Hamilton: "We were just sitting there talking and they were asking about my family and stuff like that. Trying to get to know me for the most part.