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Why the Falcons should look to develop a young DE this year

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Next year, the defensive end position might be wide open.

Boise State v Oklahoma State Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

The Falcons head into 2019 with three proven defensive ends and a ton of defensive tackles, and they’ll hopefully build a quality line out of that group. Whoever their fourth defensive end...ends...up being won’t be a huge part of the rotation unless they land a solid veteran.

The calculus of the roster is about to change, though, as we noted the other day. The Falcons will once again head into 2020 with some questions at defensive end, as Takk McKinley is currently the only proven player who is slated to be under contract. Vic Beasley, Adrian Clayborn, and Steven Means are about to hit free agency, and John Cominsky is supposedly going to move to defensive tackle in the relatively near future, whether full-time or part-time.

While I also suggested recently that roster trends in the Dan Quinn era point to the team only keeping four defensive ends—and that Takk, Beasley, Clayborn and Cominsky feel inevitable—they have reason to take a harder look at the young players they’ve assembled this summer. At the moment, there are three contenders for that fourth (or fifth, if Cominsky sticks purely at defensive end) spot, and the Falcons should at least strongly consider keeping one or two of them on the practice squad to mix in with next year.

The first is Chris Odom, a name that probably rings a bell. Odom had a nice summer in 2017 but didn’t make the Falcons’ roster and wound up spending a little time with the Packers and then the Salt Lake City Stallions of the AAF, managing 2.5 sacks in eight games. He won’t turn 25 until the season starts and has shown flashes of pass rushing acumen in all of his stints thus far, and he’s under a two year deal with Atlanta. I’d consider him the favorite for a roster spot if there’s one available.

There’s also Austin Larkin, a 24-year-old interesting athlete with 2.5 sacks in college and some solid buzz back when he was with the Cowboys, and Durrant Miles, an undrafted rookie coming off of a 4.5 sack season at Boise State. None of these three players scream high-end future starter, but the team’s need at defensive end is such that if they simply turn out to be solid rotational guys, the Falcons will have a head start on building out their 2019 defensive end mix.

They need to do this because of the looming uncertainty. I’m not suggesting the Falcons will let all their defensive ends besides Takk go next year—they’re neither that broke nor that dumb—but I do think they need to start seriously thinking about what the future of the position would look like, and the potential advantages of having affordable, young depth.