The Falcons set their sights on an edge rusher in this class. Similar to the 2013 draft, they targeted one particular player and weren't going to let him end up elsewhere. Desmond Trufant was picked to become their next top-tier corner and help transition from losing Brent Grimes (and eventually Asante Samuel). They moved up eight spots to make that brilliant move. The front office made a similar decision by moving up five picks to draft Takkarist McKinley.
McKinley possesses ideal speed, arm length, and motor for Dan Quinn's style of defense. Adding explosiveness off the edge was desperately needed, as Vic Beasley was the only athletic pass rusher on the roster last season. Despite the defensive line's overall improvement, there were several long spells where the pass rush was non-existent. Not having another capable edge rusher that can play 35 to 40 snaps affected them. McKinley should be a welcome addition to alleviate those personnel issues.
Implications for the defensive line
Unless McKinley is sidelined for a long period of time after undergoing shoulder surgery in March, Dwight Freeney won't be brought back. Considering his limitations at 37 years old, the legendary edge rusher played admirably well last season. He was designated as a pass-rush specialist in the nickel package. Expect McKinley to claim that role, although he won't be limited to playing 20-25 snaps a game. Quinn will look to utilize his relentless motor more often.
McKinley's narrow frame will likely keep him in the nickel package. It will be interesting to see if Beasley rushes from the right side. Despite occasionally moving him around to confuse opposing offenses, Quinn primarily used Beasley on the left side as a pure pass rusher. This applies to McKinley based on his experience lining up on both sides. According to Pro Football Focus, the first team All-Pac 12 defensive end generated 32 pressures on the right side and 24 on the left side.
Quinn talks about versatility at nearly every press conference. When Beasley was asked to spy Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, the pass rush suffered in their regular season matchups. McKinley will play a pivotal role in creating pressure during these situations. With his length and impressive second effort, he could thrive when the Falcons drop eight players into coverage. Not being restricted to one side creates more opportunities for McKinley to become an immediate contributor.
McKinley enters a pretty favorable situation. Beasley's production speaks for itself. The 2016 NFL sack leader is still evolving as a pass rusher. Before suffering a serious knee injury, Adrian Clayborn was playing at a high level. The versatile defensive lineman is capable of excelling off the edge in some capacity. Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby can play some snaps there as well. That should take some pressure off McKinley, who is raw and needs time to develop his overall technique. The Falcoholic's Eric Robinson highlighted those weaknesses in a scouting report.
The front office didn't waste time. Although McKinley is a risky pick, they addressed their biggest roster concern. Quinn has spent three years rebuilding the defensive line. This could be the final step towards becoming an above average unit. Beasley is going to command more attention. As good as Clayborn is, he is far more effective playing in multiple areas rather than lining up in one spot. Reed and Shelby are limited, high effort players. The defensive line needed another true edge rusher that can win in a variety of ways. It may take a considerable amount of time, but Quinn's track record should inspire confidence that McKinley can be a difference maker.