Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog — our weekly list of nine things that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.
1. The No Spin Zone. It was a down year for edge pass rushers in the NFL draft.
After Ohio State’s Chase Young went with the second pick to Washington, the next edge rusher taken was LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson, who went to Jacksonville with the 20th overall pick.
Carolina took Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos with the 38th overall pick in the second round. Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa, who was projected by many to go to the Falcons early in the draft process, went 54th overall (22nd in the second round) to Buffalo.
Epenesa, along with Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm and Vanderbilt’s Jared Pinkney, were on our list of “losers” at the combine. Fromm dropped from the third round to the fifth (167th overall by Buffalo). Pinkney, who played at Norcross, dropped all the way out of the draft and was signed by the Falcons as an undrafted free agent.
» STEVE HUMMER: Fromm’s decision to leave takes hard, cold turn
Six pass rushers were taken in the third round. Detroit picked Notre Dame’s Julian Okwara (67th), the New York Jets took Florida and Sprayberry High’s Jabari Zuniga (79th), the Los Angeles Rams took Alabama’s Terrell Lewis (84th), New England took Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings (87th), Houston selected Florida and Hiram High’s Jonathan Greenard (90th) and Pittsburgh tabbed Charlotte’s Alex Highsmith (102nd).
The Falcons had a 5.8% adjusted sack rate, which ranked 28th in the league, last season. The adjusted sack rate gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent. The numbers point to a stout front, weak pass rush and coverage issues (mostly from the first half of the season).
Despite not taking an outside rusher, the Falcons believed they improved their pass rush in the draft by taking cornerback A.J. Terrell and defensive end/tackle Marlon Davidson in the first and second round.
“I do,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said when asked if he felt they improved the pass rush. “I think being able to get upfield, of course, we know that with what (coach) Dan (Quinn) stresses in his defense, combine that with, I think, a really growing and soon-to-be-evolving secondary that's going to pair well with our pass rush. I think we're going to continue to improve there significantly.”
The Falcons signed Dante Fowler in free agency to replace Vic Beasley. In addition to their rookies, they are counting on defensive end Takk McKinley, who’ll be coming off shoulder surgery, to have a breakthrough season.
2. A word from Dr. Pass Rush. Former Falcons great Chuck Smith, who goes by “Dr. Pass Rush” these days, approved of the team drafting Davidson.
“Marlon is a good football player, he’s strong vs. the run and will develop into a productive pass rusher,” Smith wrote in a text message to the AJC. “This is a great pick for the Falcons.”
Smith, who finished his career with 58.5 sacks over nine seasons in the NFL, trains defensive linemen on the art of attacking and rushing the passer.
He shared his thoughts on the Falcons’ draft class on his new YouTube channel.
3. Farewell to Bosher. The Falcons quietly have moved on from punter Matt Bosher, who served the team well since being selected in the sixth round of the 2011 draft.
Bosher, 32, was not re-signed and is a free agent. He punted in 130 regular-season games and eight playoff games, including Super Bowl LI.
Bosher averaged 45.7 yards per punt and also handled kickoffs. He kicked off 704 times and had 55% of his kicks go for touchbacks.
He also will be remembered for mixing it up on the coverage teams, coming up and making big tackles.
4. Don’t rush Mack out the door. Falcons center Alex Mack is set to make an $8 million base salary next season in the final year of his five-year, $45 million deal with the Falcons.
When you are a member of the All-Decade team and a six-time Pro Bowl selection, you’ve earned the opportunity to tell the team you want to keep playing or that you want to hang up your cleats.
Mack was in Cleveland when Joe Thomas retired.
Everyone was stunned with the 49ers traded for Washington’s Trent Williams. Shortly after that, it was learned that offensive tackle Joe Staley had informed the team he was ready to retired.
What the Falcons can’t do is push Mack out the door before he’s ready, like they did with Todd McClure.
The Falcons had drafted Peter Konz and thought they had McClure’s replacement. That didn’t work out too well.
“But as far as where Alex goes, he's still playing at a high level, and as far as past 2020, there's a lot of time until it gets to that,” Quinn said.
Hopefully, the Falcons don’t fumble his exit.
5. Swinney on Terrell. Falcons first-round pick A.J. Terrell, who was taken 16th overall, played 1,827 snaps for Clemson over three seasons.
Terrell became the fourth player selected from Clemson during Dimitroff’s tenure.
Defensive end Malliciah Goodman (fourth round, 2013), defensive end Beasley (first, 2015) and Grady Jarrett (fifth, 2015).
Here’s what Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had to say about Terrell:
“A.J. Terrell is the Deshaun Watson of this group, and what I mean by that is he’s a Deshaun Watson at a different position. The reason I say that — and this is what I’ve told everybody — is his consistency. He’s handled himself like a pro since the day he got here as far as his maturity, his love of preparation, his mindset, and the type of teammate he is. He’s got unique intangibles to go along with a rare skill set for his position.”
Here's what Clemson cornerbacks coach Mike Reed had to say about Terrell:
“The Falcons are getting a very highly skilled defensive back and a true professional on and off the field. He came in here with a business-like approach on day one. He’s a huge competitor, loves to work, loves to play football, loves to compete. And he ultimately is a great teammate. He is truly a great person, a joy to be around, and he’s going to be a big, integral part of that team.”
6. First-round money. Terrell is projected to sign a four-year contract worth $14.3 million, with a $7.9 million signing bonus, by salary website spotrac.com.
Defensive end Brian Burns, who was selected 16th overall by Carolina last season, signed a four-year $13.5 million fully guaranteed contract last season. He received a $7.8 million signing bonus.
7. Review AJC’s position-by-position 2020 NFL draft series. Below are the links to the AJC’s 12-part position-by-position draft series. You see how we had the players ranked entering the draft.
AJC’s 2020 POSITION BY POSITION DRAFT SERIES
Quarterbacks: Joe Burrow leads class | Top 10
Running backs: Cam Akers’ life lesson | Top 10
Tight ends: Harrison Bryant top prospect | Top 10
Guards/Centers: Solomon Kindley a late-rounder | Top 10
Offensive tackles: Austin Jackson’s life lesson | Top 10
Wide receivers: Jeudy or Lamb | Top 10
Defensive tackles: Brown, Kinlaw stand out | Top 10
Defensive ends: A ‘generational’ talent | Top 10
Linebackers: Simmons a position-less LB | Top 10
Safeties: Loaded with Georgia talent | Top 10
Special teams: Georgia’s kick-centered | Returner with flash | Top 10
Cornerbacks: Jeff Okudah a lockdown CB | Top 10
8. Free agency tracker. Who’s coming, who’s going and who’s staying:
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
» Todd Gurley, running back
» Laquon Treadwell, wide receiver
» Justin McCray, guard
» Hayden Hurst, tight end
» Khari Lee, tight end
» Dante Fowler, defensive end
» LaRoy Reynolds, linebacker
» Edmond Robinson, linebacker
» Matt Schaub, quarterback
» Keith Smith, fullback
» John Wetzel, offensive lineman
» Blidi Wreh-Wilson, cornerback
» Tyeler Davison, defensive tackle
» Steven Means, defensive end
» Sharrod Neasman, safety
» Ryan Allen, punter
» Austin Hooper, tight end
» Devonta Freeman
» Luke Stocker, tight end
» Kenjon Barner, running back
» Justin Hardy, wide receiver
» Matt Simms, quarterback
» Wes Schweitzer, offensive guard/center
» Ty Sambrailo, tackle
» Desmond Trufant, cornerback
» Vic Beasley, defensive end/linebacker
» De'Vondre Campbell, linebacker
» Adrian Clayborn, defensive end
» Jack Crawford, defensive tackle
» Johnathan Cyprien, safety
» Ra’Shede Hageman, defensive tackle
» Kemal Ishmael, safety/linebacker
» Jamar Taylor, cornerback
» J.J. Wilcox, safety
» Matt Bosher, punter -- Unrestricted free agent.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
» Brian Hill, running back - Signed his $2.1 million tender.
» Michael Bennett, defensive tackle – Free agent
» Younghoe Koo, placekicker – Signed a one-year contract extension for $660,000 on Feb. 18.
9. Depth chart. Here’s how the Falcons’ depth chart looks like after the draft.
The top three picks are likely headed straight to the starting lineup, Terrell at left cornerback, Davidson at defensive tackle in a time-share with Davison and Hennessy at left guard.
Rookie punter Sterling Hofrichter will get a chance to beat out veteran Ryan Allen, who was solid last season.
The fourth-round picks, Mykal Walker and Jaylinn Hawkins, will have to earn their stripes on special teams.
Undrafted rookie free agents are listed separately for now.
Here’s a look at the Falcons’ updated depth chart:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 13 Christian Blake, 19 Devin Gray, 80 Laquon Treadwell
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 75 John Wetzel
LG 61 Matt Hennessy, 73 Matt Gono, 77 James Carpenter, 64 Sean Harlow
C 51 Alex Mack, 61 Matt Hennessy, 64 Sean Harlow
RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 68 Jamon Brown, 65 Justin McCray
RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 65, Justin McCray
TE 81 Hayden Hurst, 86 Khari Lee 87 Jaeden Graham, 85 Carson Meier
WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 15 Brandon Powell
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 6 Kurt Benkert, 16 Danny Etling
RB 21 Todd Gurley, 25 Ito Smith, 30 Qadree Ollison, 23 Brian Hill, 42 Craig Reynolds
FB 40 Keith Smith
DE 56 Dante Fowler, 53 Austin Larkin
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 50 John Cominsky
DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 90 Marlon Davidson, 94 Deadrin Senat
DE 93 Allen Bailey, 55 Steven Means
DE 98 Takk McKinley 91, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
LB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 46 Edmond Robinson, 52 Ahmad Thomas
LB 45 Deion Jones, 55 LaRoy Reynolds, 43, Mykal Walker
RCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 29 Josh Hawkins, 39 C.J. Reavis,
LCB 24 A.J. Terrell, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 28 Jordan Miller
NCB 20 Kendall Sheffield, 34 Chris Cooper
SS 37 Ricardo Allen, 22 Keanu Neal, 32 Jaylinn Hawkins, 35 Jamal Carter
FS 27 Damontae Kazee, 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman
K 7 Younghoe Koo
KO 7 Younghoe Koo
P 9 Ryan Allen, 4 Sterling Hofrichter
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 9 Ryan Allen
KOR 15 Brando Powell, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus
PR 15 Brandon Powell, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus
UNDRAFTED ROOKIE FREE AGENT CLASS 2020
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