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.
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.
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.
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
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.