As we gear up for the draft, let’s talk about the history of some key positions on the roster under this regime, and what past selections might tell us up about the future.
Bold indicates a Pro Bowl berth.
2008: Kroy Biermann, Montana, 5th round
2009: Lawrence Sidbury, Richmond, 4th round
2011: Cliff Matthews, South Carolina, 7th round
2012: Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy, 5th round
2013: Malliciah Goodman, Clemson, 4th round
2013: Stansly Maponga, TCU, 5th round
2015: Vic Beasley, Clemson, 1st round
2017: Takk McKinley, UCLA, 1st round
2019: John Cominsky, Charleston, 4th round
In all, the Falcons have drafted nine true defensive ends in the last 12 years, in the sense that they came to use them primarily at that position. As meaningless as the designation ultimately is, they have just one Pro Bowl season from those players in all those years, with only a small handful of those players starting or even making a real impact.
Biermann was the earliest (relative) success story, a try-hard, well-rounded player who got time all over the defense under Mike Smith, who came to trust him as a solid run defender and pass rusher. Virtually everyone drafted after him was a developmental pass rusher Smith didn’t seem all that interested in using or a big, tough run defender, and those guys tended to carve out small but significant roles. Matthews, in particular, was a very solid part of the defensive line rotation for a few years despite his draft status.
Under Dan Quinn, the practice of adding plenty of players has gone away, replaced by a tendency to swing for the fences and fill the cracks with veterans. The Falcons drafted just two defensive ends in Quinn’s first four seasons in Atlanta, both first rounders, and neither one has developed into the kind of elite player the team was hoping for. They finally added another guy on the third day in Cominsky, but there’s been some talk of him primarily playing defensive tackle.
What can we learn from that? This front office has not been particularly good at drafting defensive ends, bluntly, which is one lesson. The second is that the Falcons with Quinn on board have not been shy about spending big at the position in the draft, but they tend to do so sparingly. With a massive need at the position again with Beasley leaving, it seems like a good bet that the Falcons will use an early round pick in search of a starter and once again sign a boatload of affordable veterans to fill out the rotation.
Recent history suggests it will be the first round, should they go that route. The most interesting note of all might be that the Falcons have never drafted a DE in the second or third round of the draft, suggesting there’s an organizational philosophy at play there.
Bottom line: Going by history alone, if the Falcons don’t draft a defensive end in the first round, they’re probably not going to until Day 3. Unfortunately, history also suggests they won’t be getting a great one.