The Atlanta Falcons addressed their pass rush in free agency with the reported addition of Dante Fowler, who recorded 11.5 sacks for the Los Angeles Rams last season. However, Atlanta proved last offseason that it isn't afraid to double- or even quadruple-dip to address a perceived problem.
It's entirely possible the Falcons continue to add to their pass rush in this year's NFL Draft, and although this year isn't as deep with edge players as previous drafts, there are some intriguing prospects who have plenty to offer.
In addition to the reported signing of Fowler, the Falcons have Allen Bailey, John Cominsky, Austin Larkin, Steven Means and Takk McKinley listed at defensive end. Outside of Fowler, the only Falcons with more than one sack in a single season are Bailey and McKinley, so Atlanta may still yet try to add some firepower to its pass rush.
The Falcons currently have six draft picks, but the first two rounds likely offer the best opportunity to significantly upgrade their pass rush. Atlanta holds picks No. 16 and No. 47 in the first two rounds. Since coach Dan Quinn arrived in 2015, the Falcons have selected a pass rusher in the first round twice: Vic Beasley in 2015 and McKinley in 2017.
Here are four early round edge rushers who could be fits within the Falcons defense.
Zack Baun, Wisconsin: This dude is like an actual motor come to life, that's how relentless he is. While Baun, who is 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, may not have the size and length that some other top-tier pass rushers possess, he is an incredibly smart and versatile player. Baun can line up at defensive end or outside linebacker with equal effectiveness, and he diagnoses plays quickly before and after the snap of the football. In his final season at Wisconsin, Baun recorded 12.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss. Watching him on film it's clear how passionate he is for the game of football and his ability to play multiple roles would make him an asset to any defense.
- Comparable: T.J. Watt
- Why he's a good fit for the Falcons: The Falcons could possibly address a number of positions on defense in the first round, including linebacker and defensive end. Baun would help in both areas, possessing the range and instincts to play linebacker as well as the quickness and technique to rush the passer. He's a chess piece who would give the Falcons plenty of options.
K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU: It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why he didn't have more production in college, because Chaisson has all of the qualities one looks for in a defensive end. Capable of blowing by opposing offensive tackles or setting the edge against the run, Chaisson already appears to be a well-rounded player. He also was asked to drop into coverage in college and handled himself well while doing so, and that's something that could be asked of pass rushers in Atlanta's defensive scheme. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end only had 6.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss in his final year at LSU, but he's got all of the tools to become an impact player in the NFL.
- Comparable: Shaquil Barrett
- Why he's a good fit for the Falcons: Chaisson has been among the players most often mocked to the Falcons and for good reason. He projects to be a more productive pro player than he was in college and has the type of athleticism that Quinn often looks for in a pass rusher. If the Falcons truly want to address their pass rush in the first round, Chaisson makes plenty of sense.
Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State: A prototypical defensive end prospect, the 6-foot-5, 264-pound Yetur Gross-Matos should develop into a good player at the NFL level. With 17 sacks and 34.5 tackles for a loss during his final two seasons at Penn State, Gross-Matos has plenty of production on his resume and has the type of length and athleticism to succeed against opposing tackles. That length also helps Gross-Matos set the edge against the run, and he often forced running backs to cut back inside where defenders were waiting to tackle him. Gross-Matos also played multiple spots on the defensive line, and that versatility will be valuable to NFL teams.
- Comparable: Chandler Jones
- Why he's a good fit for the Falcons: Gross-Matos might not have the athletic upside that someone like Chaisson possesses, but he's got plenty of tools that will translate to the NFL. He should become a well-rounded player who has the ability to impact the game as a pass rusher, which is what the Falcons are looking for.
Julian Okwara, Notre Dame: Outside of Chaisson, Julian Okwara is the purest athlete on this list. He's got incredible burst off the line and combines that with surprising power to keep offensive tackles on their toes. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound defensive end missed the final third of the 2019 season due to a fractured left fibula, but he still managed to finish with five sacks. He doesn't set the edge against the run as well as some other defensive ends, but he's a hybrid type of edge player who makes up for that with his ability to play in space. If the Falcons wait until the second round to add a pass rusher, Okwara is projected to still be in play.
- Comparable: Josh Allen
- Why he's a good fit for the Falcons: Okwara seems to embody everything that Quinn looks for in a pass rusher, and he constantly seems to be hunting for the football. The motor is evident, and although he is likely a liability against the run, Okwara could develop into an impactful pass rusher who offers additional versatility.