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Question of the Week: What is the Falcons most pressing defensive need?

Scott Bair, Tori McElhaney, and Ashton Edmunds discuss. 

The Falcons defense is transitioning into a new era with the recent acquisitions of defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen and assistant head coach/defense Jerry Gray. While the remainder of the defensive staff is still being rounded out, there's still plenty to discuss surrounding the state of the defense.

Eleven of the Falcons' defensive players are set to be free agents in 2023, including nickel cornerback Isaiah Oliver and edge rusher Lorenzo Carter. With college bowl games now in the rearview, the focus shifts to free agency and the NFL Combine. This offseason will be much different for the Falcons than the previous two years. Why? Atlanta is projected to have the second-most-cap-space in 2023 which will allow them to both keep and acquire key players.


With that being said, questions remain about the defense and what it will look like at the start of the 2023 season. So that poses the question: What is the Falcons most pressing defensive need, and why?

Ashton: I think there's a serious need at the cornerback position. The Falcons secondary allowed an average of 231.9 passing yards per game this past season, ranking 25th in the entire NFL, per Team Rankings. According to PFF's previous two NFL secondary rankings, the Falcons sit in the bottom half in each of those lists.

Outside of A.J. Terrell, there hasn't been much consistency from this unit, and that's mainly due to a lack of depth. Darren Hall and Cornell Armstrong held their own in place of Casey Hayward, but it ultimately wasn't sustainable throughout the course of the season.

Free agency would be an opportunity for the Falcons to acquire a player to compliment Terrell. Top defensive backs Marcus Peters and James Bradberry are set to hit the market in 2023, per Spotrac. Also, having Jerry Gray on staff, who has a track record of developing defensive backs, is definitely a positive for the Falcons.

Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell #24 defends a pass during the third quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday, January 8, 2023. (Photo by Kevin Liles/Atlanta Falcons)

Tori: I will say this until I am blue in the face: The Falcons need to acquire big, nasty, scary interior defensive linemen. I'm talking someone who lines up over the center or guard who does what Ryan Nielsen said he wants his defensive line to do: Go forward and attack.

It's been a long time since someone not named Grady Jarrett has consistently gotten that push into the pocket. Ta'Quon Graham showed promise and glimpses of doing so in 2022, but his injury showed the Falcons they need more of that, a lot more.

For the last two years, I fear I have been saying the same thing: The Falcons need to find help for Jarrett along the defensive interior. I think coaches are on the same page, though, with Arthur Smith saying a few times over that the Falcons pass rush problem isn't just a problem with the defensive ends (or outside linebackers according to what you want to call them). It's a problem along the interior, too.

It's not all bad, though, as the hiring of Nielsen and the acquisition of significant cap space in 2023 are two factors that may alter the Falcons interior defensive push. That process begins with free agency and the draft. Particularly free agency, in my opinion.

Heck, I'm not saying the Falcons should go get Daron Payne, but I wouldn't be mad about it.

Scott: The Falcons need help everywhere on defense. There's little arguing that, there really isn't a wrong answer here. But I've found the answer that's the most right. Ha. They need help at defensive end, and not only in terms of talent. They need a new type of edge rusher.

While Nielsen didn't exactly open up his playbook and pass it around at his press conference, the New Orleans defensive line he coached featured some big dudes at defensive end. That's not how current Falcons edge rushers are built. The Falcons may need a few bigger bodies at that spot to help with run defense and getting after the passer. If Myles Murphy is available at No. 8 overall, I'd snatch him up in a snap.

And drafting at that position would come only after I brought in a free agent (or two) in an effort to give Nielsen what he needs to run the defense well. Maybe a Nielsen reunion with Marcus Davenport? Or Kentavius Street? Or both? The Falcons need to add some size up front. At least logic suggests they do. Unless Nielsen's changing some things up. If he isn't, the Falcons still need more and better edge rushers. Gotta improve the pass rush, especially on the outside. There should be no position group that receives more assets than this one.

Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos of our home, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, during the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.

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