In allowing Adrian Clayborn and Courtney Upshaw to walk this offseason, the Falcons signaled that they were ready to turn the keys over to Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley full-time at defensive end. The team has made its living rotating heavily in recent years, but with a slimmed-down rotation in the making and Clayborn in New England, there’s little question the pressure to produce falls on the team’s young stars.
That’s why the big question with defensive end doesn’t have much to do with depth, and everything to do with whether Takk McKinley is going to prove to be every bit the breakout candidate he’s being identified as this offseason.
For the record, I believe he will. Takk is big, powerful and fast, and he’s going to start the season doubling his early 2017 snap counts (at least), so the opportunity will be there. As long as he has a good offseason and is healthy, I’d expect him to challenge for the team lead in sacks and make more than a few tackles look foolish along the way. If Beasley also does well, this will be one of the league’s premier duos.
But of course, there are no guarantees, and the Falcons don’t have a particularly compelling Plan B if Takk isn’t a monster.
If Takk doesn’t take the huge step forward everyone seems to be anticipating, the Falcons are almost certainly going to struggle to generate a ton of pressure off the edge. Vic Beasley is a bounceback candidate in his own right, but Brooks Reed is more solid than anything else as a pass rusher, Derrick Shelby is more of a run stopper, and nobody beyond that quartet is particularly proven. It’s fair to say the team has a lot of eggs in Takk’s basket, and they’d need a fortunate roster cut from another team or an unexpected boost from a player like J’Terius Jones to mitigate that.
Fortunately, again, Takk has the talent and opportunity to put it all together and make this question look very silly in short order. One of the nice things about this year’s Falcons is that most of the questions seem likely to be answered in a positive way than any year in recent memory, and we’ll hope that Takk is every bit the star the Falcons need him to be.