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Will the Falcons exceed their 2016 sack total this season?

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We think yes.

Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I would not say the Falcons pass rush was great in 2016, but I would say it was improved, and that was reflected in the team’s dramatic gain in sacks year over year. That’s in a year where Derrick Shelby and Adrian Clayborn missed significant time, too, and both were legitimate pass rush assets. They finished the year with 34 in total.

It’s fair to say I’m even more bullish on their prospects in 2016, even before I’ve seen who they wind up with in the draft. That’s chiefly due to the addition of Dontari Poe, a potentially potent force in the middle who should create opportunities for those around him. That’s to say nothing of Grady Jarrett, who had a three sack effort in the Super Bowl and is entering a pivotal third year, or Vic Beasley, who led the NFL in sacks and still didn’t look like a finished product last season.

That likely improvement from incumbents and the new addition might be reason enough, but I also suspect the Falcons will spend their first or second pick in this draft class on a pass rusher, and that addition should be a huge boost for a team that has relied on fresh, reasonably capable bodies over the last two seasons.

The Falcons have not possessed a great pass rush in a great many years, and with the offense figuring to take a slight step back minus Kyle Shanahan and plus a little variance and perhaps worse injury luck. Getting after the passer and putting together a stouter run defense is going to be critical to ensure the Falcons pick up the pace on defense, and to give their gifted secondary more help.

Whether they exceed those 34 sacks or not, I think we’ll see a better, more consistent pass rush from these Falcons in 2017. They’ll need that to stay effective and relevant this season.