When the Falcons added Dontari Poe to their defensive tackle rotation, it seemed to shore up a position that had been a relative weakness in 2017. With a grouping of Grady Jarrett, Poe, Ra’Shede Hageman, and Courtney Upshaw, plus more guys who could play inside, the Falcons figured to have a much deeper, more talented rotation than in the last couple of years.
Unfortunately, that dream ended quickly. Upshaw has been out for weeks with an injury, Hageman was cut just before the NFL formally suspended him, and the team has struggled mightily to stop the run. Some of that is on the linebackers, who have struggled with missed tackles, but the Falcons haven’t gotten a lot out of Joe Vellano and Taniela Tupou, and as a result Jarrett and Poe are playing huge snap counts on a weekly basis.
Had the Falcons known this would be an issue, they may have elected to pick up a defensive tackle in the draft, because this looks like a pretty solid class. That would have given them another young, fresh player on the interior this entire time, and I believe that could have made a legitimate different in the outcomes of the Buffalo and Miami games.
Your answer may vary here. For example, you may cast Steve Sarkisian to the wolves, push for a veteran linebacker addition, or thump the table for another receiver. I think Sark and the offense will get better with time, though, and I think the Falcons are smartly putting together a young, talented group of linebackers, even if there’s some growing pains. Receiver is full of talent that just isn’t being utilized at the moment.
Here is a short list of players the Falcons could have drafted instead of who they did draft. I’m not knocking any of the guys they wound up getting—I’m bullish on Damontae Kazee in particular, and think Sean Harlow will push for a starting job—but having a promising young defensive tackle would be awfully helpful at the moment, and certainly would have been over the last few weeks.
Here’s a short list of players the Falcons could have had at the position, had they so chosen. I’m not even entertaining the idea of not drafting Takk, so I built this list accordingly.
Eddie Vanderdoes, Nazair Jones, Jaleel Johnson (3rd round)
Vanderdoes has shown off his strength in Oakland with a couple of nice plays thus far, and certainly has the upside to be a rotational starter for an NFL team, at worst. Jones has a half-sack and has been a valuable (if lightly-used) piece of Seattle’s defensive line rotation thus far, showing impressive athleticism. Johnson’s gotten very little run but is a genuine talent I liked quite a bit coming out.
Duke Riley, meanwhile, has played a ton and figures to be a big part of the team’s plans going forward, but has struggled mightily with his tackling and decision-making in the early going.
Ryan Glasgow, Grover Stewart (4th round)
Glasgow is averaging over 20 snaps a game for a resurgent Cincinnati Bengals defensive line, showing decent pass rushing skills and solid enough run stopping ability for a fourth round rookie. The Bengals seem to like him quite a bit, and at worst he’s a better version of Joe Vellano.
Stewart, meanwhile, is a massive run stopper who has gotten 10 or so snaps a game for the Colts and has been so-so. I’m including him on this list primarily because he would probably be playing right now in Atlanta, though he’d be my last choice on this list.
Sean Harlow, meanwhile, is a project stash, much like Wes Schweitzer a year ago, who should compete for a starting job in a year or two.
Davon Godchaux (5th round)
In many ways, this would have been the ideal pick if the team was going to go for a defensive tackle. Godchaux went later than Damontae Kazee, Brian Hill, and Eric Saubert, and as much as I like the latter two picks, I would have been very happy to get Godchaux ahead of either of them. He’s been sharing snaps opposite Ndamukong Suh, playing well and showing impressive strength, as we saw against the Dolphins just this past weekend.
Kazee has gotten one start for the Falcons and looks like a pretty stellar long-term option, while Saubert has been confined to special teams and Hill is now on the team’s practice squad.
You’ve seen my thoughts on what the Falcons would do if they could go back in time. How about yours?