Quarterback Jack Coan #17 of the Wisconsin Badgers is sacked in the second quarter by Chase Young #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on October 26, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Photo: Staff Writer
Photo: Staff Writer

Weekend Reflections: Falcons should do what they must to get Chase Young

I get why sports fans don’t like the idea of so-called tanking. The customers who invest time, money and energy to support a team have every right to expect a good product. Losing now for the chance to draft better talent later might provide some hope, but it hurts the entertainment value. 

With that out of the way, I’ll state the obvious. The Falcons (1-7) must do what they can to select Ohio State junior defensive end Chase Young in the NFL draft. Team owner Arthur Blank says he is evaluating the future of coach Dan Quinn and his football operations during the bye week. The organizational aim should be to get in position to acquire Young as a consolation prize for a lost season. 

The Falcons made a future move last week when they traded veteran wide receiver Mohamed Sanu for a second-round pick. They should make as many more as they can before Tuesday’s trade deadline. After that, the team’s focus should be the development of young players who are part of the future. 

It will be a tricky balance for the Falcons to strike with fans, veteran players and coaches. It’s worth trying for the chance to acquire Young. 

Not long after Young wrecked Wisconsin’s offense on Saturday, the Falcons announced quarterback Matt Ryan would not play Sunday against the Seahawks. The timing was sublime. Ryan’s absence meant the Falcons were more likely to lose again and they did, 27-20, to the Seahawks. The Falcons were better during the second half than the first, but another loss meant another step closer to getting Young. 

The Falcons have a franchise quarterback, which is most important. Edge rusher might be the second-most important position. It’s certainly the biggest need for the Falcons. As it happens, maybe the best overall prospect in the next draft is an edge rusher at the same time the Falcons are on track to draft high in the order. 

The Falcons could have a chance to draft Young even if they aren’t picking No. 1 overall. 

Two teams without a victory, the Bengals and Dolphins, are looking for a franchise quarterback. If those teams pick before the Falcons they are likely to select the top two QB prospects, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert. You never know what Washington (1-7) will do but drafting Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas makes the most sense. 

In that scenario, Young falls to No. 4. The Falcons will be in competition for Young with three teams who recently drafted quarterbacks: the Jets (1-6), Giants (2-6) and Cardinals (3-4). Finish too low in the draft order and the Falcons will have to outbid teams looking to trade up for Young, which figures to be several of them.

Young has 13½ sacks and five forced fumbles through eight games. He was outstanding against Wisconsin with four sacks and two forced fumbles. According to Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus, as a sophomore in 2018 Young led the nation with 75 pressures to go along with 10½ sacks. 

Young is big (listed at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds). His “get-off” time at the snap seems impossibly quick for his size. Young plays the run well, too. He can be used as a defensive end in a 4-3, an outside linebacker in a 3-4 and or any number of creative ways to put him in position to harass quarterbacks. 

It’s not easy for a rookie pass rusher to make a big impact. Young has the talent to do it. PFF rates him higher than some recent pass-rush prospects who were good pros from the start: Joey Bosa (No. 3 overall pick in 2016 draft), Myles Garrett (No. 1, 2017), Josh Allen (No. 7, 2019) and Nick Bosa (No. 2, 2019). 

Young can be the next star pass rusher. The Falcons should do what they must for a chance to draft him. 

Oklahoma’s defense sunk its CFP chances 

Ohio State has a great defense this season. It was just OK in 2018 despite great production from Young. That eventually cost the Buckeyes, who gave up 539 yards and 42 points in a loss at Purdue last season. That defeat kept OSU out of the College Football Playoffs even though the Buckeyes won the Big 10. 

Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator in 2018, Alex Grinch, now is Oklahoma’s DC. The Sooners gave up 426 yards and 48 points at Kansas State on Saturday. Grinch’s OU defense wasn’t as bad on Saturday as his 2018 OSU unit was at Purdue — K-State had two scoring drives of 25 yards or less and three others 46 yards or shorter — but the loss could lead to a similar result for Oklahoma: left out of the CFP even if it wins its conference. 

Georgia is fortunate because, unlike Oklahoma, its CFP hopes don’t have much to do with what happens elsewhere. Win out and the Bulldogs almost certainly will be selected for the CFP. In that scenario FiveThirtyEight puts their chances at better than 99 percent, same as immediately after the loss to South Carolina. 

It will be difficult for the Bulldogs, of course. Beat Florida and UGA still must win at Auburn, which is an excellent team playing in a division with two better teams (again). Get by the Tigers and the Bulldogs would have to beat Alabama or LSU in the SEC Championship game. (Victories against Missouri, Texas A & M and Georgia Tech seem like safe bets but he same was true with South Carolina.)

At least the Bulldogs have a clear path to the CFP. The Sooners probably are finished. They got in the playoffs over Ohio State last season because the committee decided their neutral-site loss to Texas wasn’t as bad as OSU’s loss at Purdue (or Georgia’s two losses). Now another bad performance by Grinch’s defense could keep the Sooners out of the CFP. 

Trae Young already looks a lot better in Year 2 

I’ve expressed pessimism about the Hawks improving on their 29 victories from last season. I have my reasons. There are no clear go-to offensive options beyond the Trae Young-John Collins pick-and-roll, the defense needs a lot of improvement, the bench is offensively-challenged and the early schedule is difficult. 

One reason I could be wrong is if Young is so much better this season that those other things matter less. That’s how it played out in Hawks victories over the Pistons and the Magic, both playoff teams from last season that are good enough to make it there again. 

The Hawks dominated the Pistons and pulled away late from the Magic mostly because Young couldn’t be stopped. We can’t draw any sweeping conclusions from a two-game sample but, man, Young looked really good

In the opener at Detroit on Thursday Young scored 38 points on 21 shots with nine assists and seven rebounds (!). The Pistons had no one who could check Young. They also were strangely passive with their pick-and-roll defense early in the game. Bad idea: Young had 16 points with two minutes left in the first quarter. 

In the home opener against the Magic on Saturday Young scored 39 points on 25 shots with nine assists and seven rebounds again (!). The Magic saw what Young did to the Pistons and wisely decided they would crowd him before he could use screens. But Young countered by making quick moves away from screens and pulling up for jumpers or getting into the lane to create havoc. 

Young had 11 turnovers combined in the two games but those don’t matter so much when he’s scoring so efficiently as the focal point of the offense. That’s especially true because Young’s improved defensive play from the exhibition games has carried over. It helps that Young is playing alongside rookies De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, two long wings with good defensive potential.

Young is good enough to make me look silly for my preseason pessimism about the Hawks. As an early booster of Young, I’d be fine with that. 

My Weekend Predictions went 8-4 

After posting consecutive losing weeks for the first time, a 4-1 record against the spread on NFL games sent me to a big comeback victory. 

I picked the Seahawks when they were favored by 3½ points. Once it became clear Ryan was out, the consensus line in Las Vegas moved to Seattle -7.5. Those who waited to take Seattle took a bad beat when Falcons kicker Matt Bryant made a 37-yard field goal with 1:17 to play. 

Then again, Bryant also missed two-field tries so the luck evened out. At least that’s what I tell myself when I’m on the luckier side. 

I finally got on the Georgia State bandwagon. The Panthers rolled to a victory over Troy, their fourth straight. The GSU sports Twitter account then trolled Georgia by using some fuzzy math to “prove” that the Panthers are better than the Bulldogs.

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010. 
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