The edge-rusher youth movement is on. There isn't a player older than 26 years old in the position, a year after the primary starters were 27 or older.
That was a required change following a season where the Falcons didn't get a steady pass rush off the edge. It was time for wholesale change and a significant investment in the position. Both things happened. Veterans were let go. Then the front office devoted a second- and third-round pick to the edge rushers, plus a young player added on a prove-it deal.
- Positional breakdowns: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Receivers/Tight ends, O-line; D-line; ILBs
- Bair: Arthur Smith scheme, personnel upgrades provides potential for more explosive offense
- Falcons Building Blocks: Kyle Pitts, AJ Terrell, Chris Lindstrom, Drake London
- Finding the Falcons rookie class: Drake London, Arnold Ebiketie, Troy Andersen; Desmond Ridder; DeAngelo Malone, Tyler Allgeier, Justin Shaffer, John FitzPatrick
Ade Ogundeji is the only returning contributor from 2021, and he's just a second-year pro. Will these change help improve the pass rush and establish a young foundation at the position?
We'll explore those prospects with a close look at Falcons edge rushers heading into training camp:
Who's in the room: Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone, Jordan Brailford, Quinton Bell, Kuony Deng, Ade Ogundeji, Lorenzo Carter
53-man projection: Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone, Ade Ogundeji, Lorenzo Carter
Projected starters: Lorenzo Carter, Arnold Ebiketie
Where the position was: Last year's edge rushers were more of a veteran crew, with Dante Fowler and Steven Means playing a lot. Ade Ogundeji got his feet wet with some game action. Outside that trio, there was a rotating band of contributors, including James Vaughters and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner. The Falcons were settled at the position all year and were underwhelming as pass rushers and edge setters. It was clear the Falcons needed an overhaul at the position.
Where the position is: The Falcons needed to revolutionize this position group. A multi-year effort got started this offseason, especially in the NFL draft. They took Arnold Ebiketie early in the second round and DeAngelo Malone relatively late in the third, adding speed and aggressiveness to this group of edge rushers. They also signed 26-year-old Lorenzo Carter after four years with the Giants, a young and promising player who could be part of the team's future. He said the expectations are high even for such a young group.
2021 fifth-round pick Ade Ogundeji returns – last year OLB coach Ted Monachino called him a future “bell cow” – ready to level up in Year 2. He has an ideal frame for an edge rusher.
This crew is unproven but hoping to help the Falcons improve on an 18-sack showing a year ago. They need to be better creating havoc and containing both outside rushes and mobile quarterbacks. They'll have to prove they can do that while developing on the job.
Where the position is going: There's a youth movement going on here, and it's probably not done. The Falcons might continue to add edge rushers even if this group shows promise, but there's an opportunity for everyone in the position group to prove worthy of being a foundational piece.
The Falcons loved what Ebiketie did last year at Penn State believing he's a quality all-around edge rusher with the skill set to thrive at this level. Malone's relatively undersized but a relentless pass rusher. Can Carter be more than the 4-5 sack guy he was with the Giants? Will Ogendeji take control off an edge spot?
See how many consecutive questions I asked? That's because the future of the position is up in the air. We'll have a better this season how many spots are secured and how many roles need to be addressed by how this young group plays and develops.