Defensive lineman Montez Sweat of Mississippi State works out during day four of the NFL Combine Sunday, March 3, 2019, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Falcons draft analysis: Team must bolster meek 37-sack pass rush

The Falcons, who have used two of the past four first-round picks on defensive ends, appear set at the position.

They plan to rely on Vic Beasley, the eighth overall pick in 2014, and Takk McKinley, the 26th overall pick in 2017, to do the heavy lifting. 

But depth is important too.

Over the offseason, the Falcons released Brooks Reed and allowed Bruce Irvin to leave in free agency. The Falcons  signed Adrian Clayborn, Steven Means and Chris Odom.

The defensive end position is stacked in the NFL draft, which is set for Thursday through Saturday in Nashville, Tenn. 

“Defensive ends and corners, are always something, and in the secondary as well -- adding depth at strong safety and corner and defensive end, that’s an important part of where we’re at,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “One of the best parts of the draft is you get to pick some guys and develop them into what you think they can be.

“Through the years, that’s been a really fun part of the job. I think you’ll see more of that continue this year. At secondary and defensive end, we need to add guys into the mix.”

The Falcons were ranked 27th against the pass (259.6 yards per game) and 22nd in sacks (37).

Generating a better pass rush is important to Quinn, who will take over as the coordinator this season.

He plans to used Beasley and McKinley differently, but he likes to have an eight to nine-player rotation.

“Outside the tight ends, inside the tight ends,” Quinn said about how he plans to use Beasley and McKinley differently. “We’ll use them on stunts (and) games. (We’ll) just try to feature them in the very best ways we can.”

Ohio State’s Nick Bosa and Kentucky’s Josh Allen are considered the top two pass rushers in the draft and will not likely be available when the Falcons select with the 14th overall pick.

“I think he's outstanding as a rusher,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said of Allen. “He gives you that added benefit of being able to drop and cover.”

MORE FALCONS DRAFT ANALYSIS 

Part 1: Wide receiver/returner -- Find a returner in backyard 

Part 2: Defensive tackles —  Team needs talent

Part 3: Safeties -- Safety position is back in heavy demand

Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat and Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell could still be on the board for the Falcons. But Sweat has a medical issue with his heart that may scare off some teams. 

“I have not talked to anybody on Montez Sweat that has completely removed him from their board,” Jeremiah said. “But it is -- I have talked to some teams that say, we have a little bit of a concern there, and it can be a tiebreaker.”

Sweat, a projected top-10 pick before the health concern was disclosed, could drop to the Falcons. 

“I have him sliding down a little bit because if you feel somebody else is in that same range or same ballpark, it can be a little bit of a tiebreaker,” Jeremiah said.

SiriusXM NFL radio analyst Gil Brandt, the former Dallas Cowboys executive who’s going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August, ranked the top 10 defensive ends in the draft.

Here’s how Brandt has them ranked: 1. Bosa (Ohio State), 2. Allen (Kentucky), 3. Sweat (Mississippi State), 4. Rashan Gary (Michigan), 5. Ferrell (Clemson), 6. Brian Burns (Florida State), 7. L.J. Collier (TCU), 8. Jaylon Ferguson (Louisiana Tech), 9. Chase Winovich (Michigan) and 10. Jachai Polite (Florida).

The Falcons have scouted Ferguson and Winovich, who had a top-30 private visit.

Ferguson had 45 career sacks, including 17.5 last season. 

“I’ve heard end of the first to the third round,” Winovich said. “Whoever loves me the most, I know what they’re going to get, and I think they know what they’re going to get as well.”

» More:  Clemson’s power rangers ready to torment NFL quarterbacks 

The Falcons have also scouted Eastern Michigan’s Maxx Crosby, who’s a projected fourth-round pick.

Crosby had 309 pass-rush snaps, according to profootballfocus.com. He made eight sacks, had 10 quarterback hits and 38 hurries. He had 56 total pressures for a pass-rush productivity of 20.7 percent. 

Former Georgia edge rusher D’Andre Walker met with the Falcons. Former Georgia defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter and former Georgia Tech defensive end Anree Saint-Amour participated in the Falcons’ locals day.  

Walker was slowed during the pre-draft process after sports-hernia surgery.

Walker, who’s 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, played at Langston Hughes High and is from Fairburn. 

Walker started 13 games and finished with 45 tackles, including 11 for loss, 7.5 quarterback sacks and 14 quarterback pressures last season.

He was the co-winner of the “Defensive Up Front” award, given at UGA’s postseason awards banquet. 

He was named to the Georgia Sports Writers Association All-State Class AAAAAA first -team defense as a senior in high school. 

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said that Saint-Amour could be drafted on the final day, meaning rounds 4-7. 

“I think you’ve got some pass-rush ability with him, no doubt about it,” Kiper said.

DEFENSIVE END DRAFT PROJECTIONS

First day (Round 1) – Nick Bosa (Ohio State), Josh Allen (Kentucky), Montez Sweat (Mississippi State), Clelin Ferrell (Clemson), Brian Burns (Florida State) and Rashan  Gary (Michigan).

Second day (2-3) – L.J. Collier (TCU), Jaylon Ferguson (Louisiana Tech), Chase Winovich (Michigan) and Jachai Polite (Florida). 

Third day (4-7) – D’Andre Walker (Georgia), Joe Jackson (Miami), Zach Allen (Boston College), Ben Banogu (TCU), Oshane Ximines (Old Dominion), Jalen Jelks (Oregon), Maxx Crosby (Eastern Michigan), Christian Miller (Alabama), Justin Hollins (Oregon), Anthony Nelson (Iowa) and Jordan Brailford (Oklahoma State). 

Georgia prospects: Jonathan Ledbetter (Georgia), Anree Saint-Amour (Georgia Tech) and Darryl Johnson (North Carolina A&T, Camden County).

SEC: Kyle Phillips (Tennessee), Gerri Green (Mississippi State), Cece Jefferson (Florida), Landis Durham (Texas A&M), Mike Onuoha (Texas A&M), Randy Ramsey (Arkansas) and Charles Wright (Virginia). 

ACC: Austin Bryant (Clemson), Malik Carney (North Carolina), Wyatt Ryan (Boston College), Dewayne Hendrix (Pittsburgh) and Chris Peace (Virginia).

Subscribe to “The Bow Tie Chronicles” podcast with the AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter on iTunes or on the new AJC sports podcasts page.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X