The Falcoholic’s Atlanta Falcons 2017 Roster Review continues to roll, and today’s entry is a particularly interesting one: edge defender. If you missed any of the previous articles in the series, you can find them all below:
This position group is headlined by two dynamic young defenders in Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley, who are backed up by a slew of high-priced veterans. That could create some intrigue heading into the 2018 offseason. Let’s take a closer look at the 2017 production of the position and the 2018 outlook.
2017 Stats: 29 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 2 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble
2018 Status: Under contract ($4.6M cap hit)
Beasley had an enormously productive 2016 campaign that saw him lead the league in sacks. He followed that up with a disappointing 2017 season—which was at least partially due to a hamstring injury sustained early in the year. Beasley played a variety of roles for the Falcons, including spending time at SLB. Quinn has since stated that Beasley will return to a full-time role rushing the passer from the edge in 2018. Beasley is still only 25 and will be entering the fourth year of his rookie deal this season.
2017 Stats: 20 tackles, 6.0 sacks, 1 pass defensed, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery
2018 Status: Under contract ($2.3M cap hit)
An electric first-round selection for the Falcons in 2017 that became famous for his personality and draft day story, Takkarist McKinley backed up all that excitement with a very good rookie campaign. He appears to be one of the most talented pass rushers on the team, and has enormous potential heading into his sophomore season. McKinley is a stout run defender as well, and should carve out an even bigger role in his second year with Atlanta.
2017 Stats: 21 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries
2018 Status: UFA
Clayborn has been an above-average rotational player for the Falcons since joining the team in 2015, and had his best season yet in 2017. He’s a good #3 pass rusher and offers some versatility, including solid run defense from the edge and the ability to rush from the inside in nickel situations. He’s approaching 30, however, and most of his production came in one game against the Cowboys. Clayborn is a free agent and will likely command substantial money on the open market in 2018.
2017 Stats: 41 tackles, 4.0 sacks
2018 Status: Under contract ($5.4M cap hit)
A solid and reliable veteran, Brooks Reed provides about league-average pass rushing and run defense. He’s a perfectly capable rotational edge player that will get you 3-5 sacks a season and make some plays in the run game. Those types of contributors are a necessary part of an NFL roster, but Reed’s contract escalates to a $5.4M cap hit in 2017. With the Falcons tight on cap space and Reed a merely average player, he’s an obvious candidate to be cut heading into the 2018 season.
2017 Stats: 30 tackles, 1.0 sacks
2018 Status: Under contract ($5.75M cap hit)
Perhaps the Falcons’ best run defender on the edge, Derrick Shelby was initially brought in as more of a hybrid DE/DT. After missing most of the 2016 season with an Achilles injury, Shelby returned for 2017 and played at a high level against the run. However, Shelby offered very little as a pass rusher, and he’s in a very similar position to fellow veteran Brooks Reed: Shelby has a high cap hit ($5.75M), and the Falcons are in a difficult spot with the salary cap. He could also be a candidate for cap savings in 2018.
The Falcons are in a very interesting position with their edge defenders heading into the 2018 season. Two presumptive starters—particularly in nickel situations—are young and still on rookie contracts: Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley. Both have shown flashes of being high-level pass rushers, and McKinley has also shown some plus ability against the run. Behind those two, the Falcons have three veterans—two of which are being paid a ton of money, while the other is likely to be a sought after free agent.
Depending on where the Falcons want their money to go, they could either be in great shape at edge or in a precarious position. Clayborn is the least likely of the three in question to remain in Atlanta, but the big question is whether or not the Falcons elect to part ways with one or both of Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby. The team also has J’Terius Jones—a standout from last year’s training camp and preseason—signed to a futures contract.
Regardless of what the Falcons decide to do in free agency, the depth behind Beasley and McKinley is likely to be something Atlanta continues to invest in via the draft. The number of veterans returning to the team after free agency ends will determine how high that draft investment should be. Luckily, there are a number of intriguing options in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft. I’m on record as being a fan of what DL Hercules Mata’afa could bring to the Falcons as Clayborn-like DE/DT hybrid, but there are plenty of other interesting candidates as well.
What are your thoughts on the Falcons’ depth chart at edge defender heading into the 2018 season? Do you think the Falcons should move on from Brooks Reed and/or Derrick Shelby in favor of a mid-to-late round draft pick? Who are some players you like as potential additions to the rotation?