The lack of an edge rusher is the first thing a disappointed Falcons fan is likely to point to with this draft, and it's true that the Falcons didn't come away with a day one starter to fill that role. It's tough to fault fans for looking at the current group of options off the edge and raising a hue and cry over it.
For all that, the Falcons do have a plan to fix the pass rush, a plan they executed on this offseason. It's not the first choice of the average fan and there's certainly no guarantee it will bear fruit in 2014, but I thought it was important to write about that plan for those who think the Falcons have been groping blindly through the offseason.
The plan can be summed up in three easy steps, which I'll outline here.
- Improve the size and toughness of your down linemen to better occupy blockers, improve the run defense and wear down opposing lines in a way a smaller, lighter line has not. See the acquisitions of Tyson Jackson, Paul Soliai and Ra'Shede Hageman.
- Make an obvious but oft-denied switch to a 3-4 base to take better advantage of your personnel. Maintain your hybrid fronts in sub-packages, but plan to utilize current 4-3 DEs as OLBs in the scheme, for example Kroy Biermann, Osi Umenyiora, and Jonathan Massaquoi.
- Draft a mess of linebackers to aid in that scheme transition, with a particular focus on adding a couple of late-round, intriguing edge rushing options. See Prince Shembo and Tyler Starr.
Viewed through this prism, the 2014 draft makes sense, even if you're not inclined to like it. The Falcons went for Ra'Shede Hageman because they believe he can be the Cameron Jordan-type 3-4 DE the team needs going forward. They drafted four linebackers because they don't have a ton of great fits on the roster at 3-4 OLB and ILB and are likely to purge the team of several fringe guys by the end of this offseason. The team spent the last six seasons trying to field a great defense in a traditional 4-3 with lighter tackles, and then by mixing up their fronts in an attempt to disguise weaknesses. They've concluded, at last, that they need a new approach.