The 2019 NFL Draft is only two weeks away, and the rumor mill is starting to heat up around many NFL teams. One of the biggest questions surrounding the Falcons has been whether they’re going to try to trade up for DT Ed Oliver or stand pat at 14. With Atlanta looking into free agent DTs like Tyeler Davison and Ra’shede Hageman, there’s been some speculation that the team may be planning to go in a different direction. It’s also entirely possible that the Falcons are just doing due diligence on available free agents if they don’t get their guy in the draft.
We were able to dig up an intriguing interview with Dan Quinn from the NFL’s spring meetings a few weeks back. In it, he sheds a little more light on the team’s plans at DT, and also his thoughts on the current strength of the rotation.
First off, Quinn was effusive in his praise for DT Jack Crawford.
“I was really pleased with Jack Crawford’s production this year. For Jack to finish with six sacks at defensive tackle, that’s a nice year. I was really encouraged to see him come back off his injury. He was the Ed Block Courage Award winner for us. That kind of tells you what his teammates think of him, to see him persevere. We really missed him in the ‘17 year. He got injured early on and missed the entire year. I was really pleased to see him come back like he did. I love the partnership that him and Grady had together.”
Crawford had a very impressive year coming off a season-ending injury in 2017. He was one of the most effective pass rushers on the team, regardless of position. Although Crawford was initially signed as an EDGE, Quinn made it clear that he would be playing most of his snaps as an inside rusher. Per Quinn, Crawford is going to continue to play the majority of his snaps on the inside.
“That’s really what [Crawford’s] role was last year as well...Every time you want to go through the season, you want to see who played up to their potential...Jack was one of those players who I thought really played up to his standard we set for him, and for what he set for himself as well. I was really pleased to add that kind of pass-rushing ability inside. He’s an important piece to what we have. I love putting him inside in pass-rushing situations.”
Quinn was also asked about the Falcons’ plans to address the defensive line in the 2019 NFL Draft. Quinn was, of course, rather vague about everything—but he did give us some interesting tidbits.
“As we’re heading into it, him and Grady are really quick, really athletic and really good rushers. If we can become more stout and even stronger inside at defensive tackle, we need eight or nine defensive linemen who are able to go. We’ve got to add to that group. There are three defensive ends now who we have confidence and trust in and we have three defensive tackles. We’ll definitely add to that group moving forward. It could be through free agency as we’re still going. It doesn’t end, it just keeps on rocking. We’ll be strategic as we go but there’s also a good draft this year that’s deep at two of those spots.”
There are few noteworthy pieces of information here. First, Quinn seems to view three DTs and three EDGEs as being “safe”, or at least players they plan to build around for 2019. At EDGE, that’s obvious because there are only three players on the roster: Vic Beasley, Takkarist McKinley, and Steven Means. At DT, we have to believe Quinn is referring to Grady Jarrett, Jack Crawford, and Deadrin Senat. Atlanta also has a few other DTs on the roster in Michael Bennett, Justin Zimmer, and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, but it seems that none are thought of as favorites to make the roster—particularly with Atlanta sniffing around other FA DTs this week.
Second, Quinn talks about having eight or nine DL “who are able to go”. That could mean they plan to keep eight or nine on the 53-man roster, which would be pretty standard for NFL teams. We’ve also seen that the Falcons are willing to keep 10 DL, with one of them generally a gameday inactive. This could be a clue that Atlanta is planning to slim down the rotation slightly, or it could just be coach-speak.
Third, Quinn makes it clear that more additions to the defensive line are forthcoming. Which is pretty obvious when you realize that the team only has three EDGE players on the roster currently. He doesn’t reveal any priorities as far as positions, and even says that some additions may continue to come through free agency. But based on these comments and the Falcons’ prospect visits, it seems clear that Atlanta is taking a long, hard look at adding to the DL in the early rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft.
What are your thoughts on Quinn’s comments? How impressed were you with Crawford’s play on the interior? Is EDGE or DT a bigger need for the Falcons heading into the 2019 NFL Draft?