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Why drafting an edge rusher is the biggest priority for the Falcons in the draft

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For the Falcons’ defense to take the next step, another pass rusher is required.

NFL: NFC Championship-Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Successful teams don’t draft players on a need to need basis. They evaluate the best available prospects and see which player can be a difference maker at a position without a definitive long-term starter. That is how the Falcons have built a championship caliber team in two years. Evaluating each position on the roster and seeing if they could use an upgrade is a more viable approach. It represents what they should value and address at some point in the draft.

Some personnel question marks should be confronted early in the draft, while other positions or depth concerns can be saved for the later rounds. For the next three weeks, I’ll be looking at five of the biggest positional needs. It will be listed in chronological order starting with the most substantial roster worry. Unlike in recent years, the Falcons are in fantastic shape going into the draft. They will look to continue improving up front on both sides of the ball. That starts with addressing a familiar draft need.

For the umpteenth season, the Falcons need to draft an edge rusher. It continues to be a lingering need for their defensive rebuilding project. The revamped front office has done a great job adding speed and versatility in the back seven. With Dan Quinn’s influence, they’ve made tremendous strides in a short period of time. The defensive line is still undergoing a major overhaul.

Quinn inherited the worst defensive line in the league. It featured aging pass rushers, one-dimensional run stuffers, and bad scheme fits. Ra’Shede Hageman is the only defensive lineman remaining from Mike Smith’s final season. That indicates their lack of talent, which played a significant role in becoming the worst defense in the league.

After a league-low 19 sacks in 2015, Quinn made several personnel changes and the pass rush dramatically improved. Vic Beasley went from being a raw, overwhelmed edge rusher to the NFL sack leader. Signing Adrian Clayborn to add ferocity and versatility was a fantastic decision. Despite suffering multiple serious injuries last season, the former first round pick caused havoc. Dwight Freeney proved to have something left in the tank, along with being a valuable mentor. Inserting Brooks Reed into a full-time role at defensive end worked out better than expected.

Coaching defensive linemen is Quinn’s bread-and-butter. He knows how to get the best out of them. That makes the idea of drafting an edge rusher in the first round even more intriguing. Everyone knows the Falcons need another edge rusher. Why not draft a player that could elevate an entire unit? Freeney isn’t expected to be back, while Clayborn and Derrick Shelby aren’t consistent enough off the edge. They are more effective, when being shifted across the defensive line.

As previously mentioned, it will come down to which players are available. The uncertainty at right guard makes someone like Forrest Lamp enticing. Regardless of what transpires, the front office will draft an edge rusher within the first two rounds. They know the long-term upside of having someone that can take the pressure off Beasley. After enduring the worst collapse in NFL history, Quinn realizes you can’t have enough pass rushers. That makes drafting one the biggest priority for the Falcons to finish what they started.