The 2013 Falcons draft was organized around a guiding principle: Get better on defense, for this year and years to come. The team walked out of the weekend with more talent and more depth in the secondary and along the defensive line, at minimum, which is encouraging.
Less clear is whether the pass rush improved. For years and years, the Falcons have not managed to put an above average pass rush on the field, whether your metric happens to be sacks, pressures, hurries or just grazing the quarterback lovingly with your fingers as you lunge by him. They've been heavily reliant on John Abraham and Jonathan Babineaux over that entire time.
This draft did not feature any high-round draft picks expended on the pass rush. Aside from signing Osi Umenyiora, the Falcons have not brought in any outside help that seems particularly likely to have a big impact in 2013. The question then becomes whether the pass rush can possibly be any better than it was in 2012, when it was once again mediocre as a whole.
The answer is a qualified yes. The Falcons have multiple young players along the line who have considerable potential but went through what essentially amounted to redshirt years in 2012. Travian Robertson is incredibly strong and showed ability to collapse the pocket in college, and he'll definitely draw significant snaps with Vance Walker gone. Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews have some pass rushing ability and should get more snaps with Ray Edwards long gone. Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga are both physically gifted pass rushers, though both have work to do. For all the flack Kroy Biermann gets, he still was second on the team with four sacks a year ago.
It stands to reason that the addition of young, talented players that fit the Mike Nolan mold would add at least an incremental upgrade, especially over the first several games when Ray Edwards was busy wasting a roster spot. And while Osi isn't necessarily as good as John Abraham overall, do remember that he's younger, should be able to play more snaps and will probably not fade down the stretch the way Abe did. This is not a knock on The Predator, but an acknowledgement that being a 35-year-old pass rusher carries certain burdens with it. It's worth remembering that the Falcons did send Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas after the passer last year, and 'Spoon in particular has both the athleticism and the instincts to make that work.
So while we may not necessarily see more sacks than we saw a year ago, the pressure generated should be a little better, or at least a little more consistent. But if you're looking for a giant leap forward, you're unlikely to find it unless Osi experiences a career revival at age 31.
Critics of this regime's method of building a pass rush have one thing right: The Falcons have not sunk high-round assets into the pass rush since Thomas Dimitroff arrived, relying on a mixture of free agents and third day picks to help bolster the pass rush. Up to this point, that approach has had limited success. We'll all hope this year's draft is the one that changes the tide, but it's tough to expect immediate dividends from the same approach the Falcons have been deploying. Our best bet is to hope for growth from Matthews, Robertson and Massaquoi, and more creative blitzing from Nolan that gets the linebackers and even secondary involved.
Your thoughts on the pass rush in 2013?
2013 Falcon Draft Class
First Round: CB Desmond Trufant
Second Round: CB Robert Alford
Fourth Round: DE Malliciah Goodman
Fourth Round Compensatory: TE Levine Toilolo
Fifth Round: DE Stansly Maponga
Seventh Round Compensatory: S Kemal Ishmael
Seventh Round Compensatory: S Zeke Motta
Seventh Round Compensatory: QB Sean Renfree