If the Falcons sink a third first round pick into defensive end under Dan Quinn, the pressure will be on immediately for that player to perform well. Whether he does or not could make the difference between the rise of a quality Falcons defense or the team’s inability to become one. Today, we’ll take a look at that potential outcome.
Who might the Falcons take?
The two big names here (besides Nick Bosa and Josh Allen, who will go too early) are Brian Burns and Montez Sweat. Burns is knocked for being Vic Beasley 2.0 by fans who are justifiably concerned about a repeat but probably haven’t seen the man play enough, while Sweat isn’t quite as polished a product but is a monster in the making in the mold of John Abraham. If those players are gone, Clelin Ferrell from Clemson has less upside but a high floor, and could be the selection at #14.
What does it mean for the roster in 2019?
A crowded, potentially terrific rotation of defensive ends. It’s worth noting that Takkarist McKinley has shown stretches of absolutely filthy ability and is heading into his third year with a coach with massive incentive to ensure he succeeds, Vic Beasley was graded by Pro Football Focus as the worst defensive end in the NFL last year and has virtually nowhere to go but up, and Adrian Clayborn is at worst a solid, well-rounded player capable of playing quality snaps. Add a promising rookie pass rusher to that grouping and the best case scenario is havoc, and that’s not even accounting for the promise as a run stopper we saw from Steven Means last year.
Even if the group turns out to be closer to middling, it’s not like the Falcons are going to be hurt by the addition of fresh legs and athleticism to the group. I’d be bullish on more than that, though.
What does it mean long-term?
An awful lot, potentially. The Falcons will be heading into Takkarist McKinley’s fourth season in 2020 and will be considering picking up his fifth year option, which hopefully will be an easy call. Vic Beasley will be a free agent, as will Adrian Clayborn and Steven Means. That means the situation could be dire again next year from a numbers perspective.
That changes significantly if the Falcons make a first round investment at defensive end and snag a pass rusher with promise. A step forward from Takk and that player, while a bit of a leap from where we stand today, would set the Falcons up with two promising young starters and allow them to build from there minus Beasley’s $12.8 million salary, which is obvious a stumbling block to major signings in 2019. Nailing this pick sets the Falcons up to have the kind of end tandem they were supposed to have with John Abraham/Jamaal Anderson, John Abraham/Ray Edwards, or even Takk/Vic. The Falcons can’t let the uneven results of their last two first round investments at end scare them away from trying again, assuming there are players they love enough to invest in.
What are the opportunity costs?
At this point, the answer to that should be obvious. There are quality tackle prospects later on, but there’s almost certainly a top one sitting at 14 when the Falcons pick, and they’ll be passing that up. They could be passing up a top defensive tackle if one falls, too.
More to the point, there’s the opportunity costs both past and present that come with sinking three first rounders into the same position group. The Falcons were hoping and praying that Beasley and McKinley would be the kind of destructive duo they’ve lacked for a long time now, but Beasley’s fallen from grace over four seasons and figures to be difficult to re-sign if he has a great season, leaving McKinley as the building block here. If he doesn’t reach his potential—and especially if another first rounder at DE doesn’t—it could well cost this regime their jobs and set this defense back even further.
That last scenario can’t be dismissed, given this team’s seemingly endless struggles to find a player who even approximates John Abraham’s talent at defensive end, and it represents real costs for a team that could have been building other parts of its defense or offensive line in recent years.
Should the Falcons do it?
If the right player is available, my answer is still a resounding yes. The definition of insanity is said to be doing the same thing over and over again, but that only applies when the chances of payoff are remote. The chances of the Falcons snagging a useful pass rusher in the first round at some point aren’t all that remote—Beasley has been that guy on occasion, McKinley has shown flashes and still has plenty of time—and this team needs better players up front to realize its potential on defense, potential that may otherwise sadly be wasted. If they like Burns, Sweat, or someone we haven’t linked to them and are confident in their evaluation, a defensive end at 14 would be an easy selection to defend, and one that could help transform the defense at last.