Looking ahead to the 2018 offseason, the Falcons have several players on expiring contracts. They also have some guys that they could possibly let walk, in order to continue building through the draft and free up additional cap space. Let’s take a closer look.
Re-sign Adrian Clayborn: A pending free agent, Clayborn really came into his own this season. He has over 40 pressures to go with his team leading 8 sacks and 31 QB hits. He very well could be re-signed at the end of the season.
If he walks, due to the premium pricing on edge defenders, don’t fret too much—the thing about this defense is that 5 players (including Clayborn) have played over 300 snaps. Which sounds good, but it really takes a toll on building chemistry. For comparison, The Chargers have 2 edge players with over 300 snaps. The next closest has 59. The Vikings have 3. The next closest is 75. The Jaguars also have 3. I think depth is good, but having 5 edge players with over 300 snaps is just too much. Which brings me to my next point.
Release Brooks Reed: He’s over 30. He has 312 snaps. With 4 games left, he’s on pace for right over 400 snaps. For comparison, Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley have 309 and 322 snaps. Ingram and Bosa in LA have 653 and 681. It’d probably be more ideal to give Takk and Beasley more chances to rush the passer. Splitting Reeds snaps between them would be beneficial.
Edge overall: Personally, I’d prepare for the departure of Adrian Clayborn and the release of Brooks Reed in an attempt to continue to get younger on defense. That would leave a projected 570 snaps from Clayborn, and a projected 400+ snaps from Reed vacated. You can’t split almost a thousand snaps between just Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley added onto to their current workload. However, a draft pick may truly be the most ideal solution to this situation. There’s also Derrick Shelby—although he’s done most of his damage against the run in 2017. With that being said, lets look at a potential REPLACEMENT for Clayborn and Reed, keeping in mind that 5 edge players with over 400 snaps at the end of the season is far too many.
Replacing Clayborn (if needed)
Who knows where the Falcons would be picking, but there are plenty of interesting names to keep an eye on in the 2018 draft class.
Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson. 6-5, 250 - Clemson has produced quite a few quality NFL products the last few years, two of whom are already Falcons in Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett. Ferrell has 30 sacks and 15 TFLs in the last two years, and that’s with 1-2 games left in his college career. He has a nice frame that could add more weight, where he could do what Clayborn does and move inside in passing situations just to keep chemistry flowing. A line of 3 former Clemson Tigers among others may go a long way to benefit the whole “Brotherhood” mantra.
Austin Bryant, DE, Clemson. 6’5, 265. Hey look, another Clemson defensive lineman. His stock is probably based more off of his potential rather than his college production. Though, he did have an impressive 2017 season with 15 TFLs and 8 sacks. His size is ideal, with room to grow if needed. He and Ferrell are both good prospects that could have a similar NFL role: it’s just a matter of who falls and who doesn’t. It’s hard to separate the two in terms of who’s better. Like Ferrell, he could be a guy to come in and try to mimic what Clayborn does—on the outside and inside.
Marcus Davenport, DL, UTSA. 6’7, 255. Davenport is a very interesting guy. His size (with added weight) screams Calais Campbell to me. His production has been stellar as well. With 38 TFLs and 22 sacks, he could be one of 2018’s biggest draft risers. The Falcons, in fact, could be one of the teams to take a chance on the small-school player. He can play on the edge or the interior—which is what the Falcons would need if they sought to replace Clayborn. The thing that’s so enamoring about Davenport is the potential size and havoc he could create in a Calais Campbell-like role.
There are plenty of guys who are worth a look from the Falcons, but these are my favorite versatile “inside-outside” picks. However, even if Clayborn is retained, the talent of these guys should earn them a look as potential rotational or developmental player along the defensive line.
Replacing Reed (if released)
Reed typically lines up as an EDGE. He doesn't move inside like Clayborn, so a guy who is likely to stay in the 245-260 range would probably be appropriate to replace Reed. This draft is a deep one, so it’s certainly possible to find his replacement in 2018. Note: The 3 guys mentioned above could just as well take some of Reed’s snaps, along with Beasley and Takk. Here are some other “pure” EDGE options to consider.
Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College. 6’3. 250. - Landry didn’t declare for the draft last season, but he was already a possible first round pick. With 48 TFLs and 25 sacks in his collegiate career, the production is certainly there. He’s quick and plays a similar game to Vic Beasley. A rotation of Takk, Vic, and Landry would be very fun and a nightmare for opposing offensive tackles.
Lorenzo Carter, EDGE, Georgia. 6’6. 245. - Think of Leonard Floyd, and you have an analogue for Lorenzo Carter. The college production is also pretty close to what Floyd’s was a few years back. It’d be all about putting him in a spot to succeed and giving him an opportunity to develop. Like Landry, putting Carter in a rotation with Takk and Vic could be lethal.
These are the 5 guys that I believe Atlanta should and will look into early in the draft—barring an Arden Key or Bradley Chubb fall. I also believe Dorance Armstrong Jr. and Harold Landry’s teammate—Zach Allen—could get a look as well. However, this is just a guess at this point—the Falcons may not even be interested in DEs early in the draft.
Keep an eye out for my future articles, where I’ll look at DTs, and eventually other positions the Falcons may consider in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.