By now you’ve heard that the Falcons cut ties with Derrick Shelby. Shelby didn’t play a lot in 2017, but when he did he was a terrific defender against the run, and there’s no one on the roster right now who serves as an obvious replacement for him. That means Atlanta will have to look outside of the organization.
As I see it, the team has three options. They can make a huge splash, look to replace Shelby with a similar rotational defensive end, or turn to the draft to get a long-term option with considerable upside. Let’s take a look at all three options right now.
Option 1: Go Get Michael Bennett
This is an appealing option for many reasons. Bennett is a clear-cut upgrade not just on Shelby, but basically anyone else in the defensive end rotation. He can also kick inside in nickel sets, just like Shelby. The difference is that Bennett is also a capable run defender, like Shelby, but he’s also a terrific, intimidating pass rusher. Dan Quinn and company are well aware of what Bennett can do, and thus a mid-to-late round pick is probably not a price that’s going to scare them away. I do believe this is a semi-realistic possibility.
Bennett, Takkarist McKinley, Vic Beasley, and Brooks Reed is a filthy defensive end rotation, and if they add back Adrian Clayborn, they’ll have arguably the deepest group of ends in the entire NFL. This would be a splashy way of replacing Shelby, and one that’s tough to argue against if the price for Bennett isn’t exorbitant.
Option 2: Sign A Rotational Piece
This assumes the Falcons re-sign Adrian Clayborn, because there’s virtually no chance they let him walk and then settle for a lesser player. Dan Quinn and company love their defensive linemen, after all.
If you want a pass rusher, you could take a look at Dion Jordan or Kony Ealy, who both have had largely disappointing careers but impressed at times in 2017. You could look at Williams Hayes, soon to be 33, if you were looking more at run-stopping acumen like Shelby’s. Either way, your goal would be to not spend a ton of money and add a player who could some or all of Shelby’s snaps.
Option 3: Draft A Replacement
Knowing the Falcons as I like to think I do, this is the obvious choice. The Falcons love adding young defensive linemen to the mix, and they’ve already been sniffing around a small handful between the Senior Bowl and the Combine.
There are some quality options who will potentially be available in the middle rounds, including Ohio State’s Tyquan Lewis and Washington State’s Hercules Mata’afa, who we profiled earlier this month. The Falcons would love to have yet another young, cost-controlled option along the defensive line, and this class isn’t particularly strong at the top outside of Bradley Chubb and a handful of others, but is loaded with interesting players who figure to go in the third round or later. I think you can more or less bank on the Falcons chasing Adrian Clayborn hard, and if they don’t wind up landing Michael Bennett, they’ll add a young defensive end to the mix who can contribute on early downs.