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Question of the Week: Besides quarterback, what position group are you most interested in seeing at the NFL Combine? 

Tori McElhaney, Terrin Waack and Amna Subhan discuss. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Alright y'all. We are finally through the coaching carousel part of the offseason. The Falcons have their new head coach and Raheem Morris has filled out the majority of his coaching staff. Now, it's time to get into the nitty-gritty of the offseason. That's right, NFL Draft prep is well underway and – as always – draft season really kicks off in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine next week. 

Terrin, Amna and myself (yo, it's Tori) will be heading to the combine on Monday, and at least one of us will be there from the start to the end of the week's festivities. 

Before we hit the road, though, we wanted to build out a primer for what's ahead; mainly what the Falcons could be looking for when they're in Indy. 

And look, everyone knows they'll be looking at the quarterbacks in attendance. That's a given. 

For the sake of this Question of the Week installment, though, we wanted to pull back on the QB talk for a second to answer this week's question: Besides the quarterback position, which position group are you most interested in seeing at this year's combine? 

Let's get into it.


Tori McElhaney: Edge rushers 

I have made it no secret in the last few draft cycles that I want to see the Falcons use a Day 1 draft pick on an edge rusher. Have they done so? No. Am I bitter about it? Also no. Kyle Pitts, Drake London and Bijan Robinson are more than fine picks in my book, especially when all three are healthy. 

However, that's been the last three years, and the Falcons have yet to go against the grain of going after premium offensive weapons in the first round.

If they decide not to draft a quarterback, instead trading for one or picking someone up in free agency, then the trend really could – and maybe should – move towards taking a top defensive talent at No. 8 overall. And if you're going to spend a No. 8 overall pick on a defender? Beefing up pass rush is still a top defensive need the Falcons have. 

Now, don't get me wrong, the Falcons' pass rush had one of the most intense statistical upticks from one year to the next after Atlanta brought in a wealth of talent off the free agency market last March. The Falcons defense had the largest sack total increase in one year's time than any other team in the league last year, going from 21 total sacks in 2022 and doubling it to 42 in 2023. Even in that upward trend, though, there is always room for more.

And we all know this, too: The Falcons sack leaders in 2023 were Calais Campbell (6.5 sacks) and Bud Dupree (6.5). Neither is under contract with the Falcons in 2024. 

Now, could the Falcons re-sign them? Of course. But even if they re-sign one or both, the fact of the matter is that they're aging players and would likely only sign short-term deals, which don't get me wrong, is more than OK. I'd take Campbell over a lot of young talent. However, the Falcons are in need of a dominant pass-rusher who has youth on his side for long-term production to push the Falcons into the years to come. The right time to get someone like that could be now. 

What's more is I'm not the only one who thinks so with the combine looming. Every Friday, Amna puts together a mock draft round-up of draft analysts' mocks from that week. Last week saw a plethora of analysts highlighting Alabama's Dallas Turner as a fit for the Falcons at No. 8. 

However, Turner isn't the only option the Falcons could look to in the first round. At the combine, they'll also have a chance to see Florida State's Jared Verse, UCLA's Laiatu Latu and Penn State's Chop Robinson, all of whom are top prospects coming off the edge. 

Again, if the Falcons don't go the let's-draft-a-quarterback route, edge rusher seems like a prime positional target in the first round this year.


Terrin Waack: Wide receivers 

Apart from Drake London, there's no guarantee any of the other wide receivers from the 2023 roster will be back in 2024. Mack Hollins, KhaDarel Hodge, Scotty Miller and Van Jefferson are all going to become unrestricted free agents once the market opens. All could come back,  some could come back, or none could come back. Only time will tell.

Regardless, while London — a former first-round pick — is good, he cannot be left alone in that position room. New faces are bound to show up, whether that be through the draft or free agency. The question is who? Perhaps more importantly, how many?

London was the Falcons’ most targeted receiver in 2023, catching 69 of his 110 attempts for 905 yards and two touchdowns. Behind him, though, was tight end Kyle Pitts (90 targets), running back Bijan Robinson (86 targets) and tight end Jonnu Smith (86 targets) in order. Hollins checked in fifth with 70 targets. Jefferson was sixth with 28 targets. 

That's no surprise given how the Falcons used Robinson and Pitts specifically, which was hit on in last week’s roundtable after the assistant coaches' meet-and-greet session in Atlanta.

But, the best part here is, the Falcons have a new head coach in Raheem Morris, a new offensive coordinator in Zac Robinson and a new wide receivers coach in Ike Hilliard. That means the Falcons offense is almost guaranteed to look a lot different this season, regardless of who is behind center. There's potential for a pick-up in the pass game and possibly more opportunities for the wide receivers. 

London won't be rolling solo for long. It'll be interesting to see who joins him in 2024. That answer may say a lot about the direction the new Falcons offense is headed.


Amna Subhan: Cornerbacks

If quarterback is the "big ol' elephant in the back of the room" for the Falcons, as described by Raheem Morris, then cornerback is the smaller elephant in the corner of the room.

If you didn't follow my attempt to sound witty, I mean that cornerback is another big question mark the front office will have to answer this offseason.

Who will start opposite A.J. Terrell in 2024? It could be Jeff Okudah, who started nine games (in 13 appearances), Clark Phillips III, who finished the season at the position, or it could be someone else entirely. We shall see.

Okudah is on an expiring deal entering his fifth season in the league, he recorded 44 total tackles (one for a loss) while allowing 65.5% of passes on 58 targets. While Phillips in 11 games — including five starts — recorded 27 total tackles (one for a loss) while allowing 50% of passes on 38 targets.

So far, the Falcons have done a solid job drafting talent at the position, starting with the previous regime taking Terrell in the first round in 2020. He hit almost immediately with a Second-Team All-Pro selection in his sophomore season. Atlanta then took Phillips in the fourth round last year and he turned in an impression showing when given the chance at significant game reps at the end of his first year.

If you've been following my mock draft roundups, you would have noticed that at some point in almost each one of the national NFL reporters' projections, they have the Falcons taking a corner in the first round, namely Terrion Arnold out of Alabama. Based on their analysis that's a name to look out for at the combine next week.

Regardless how the Falcons decide to answer the question, I'm interested to see what path they take when it comes time to do so.

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