The offensive line is probably the position group where Thomas Dimitroff and company have absorbed the most criticism, and that’s not without merit. For every great player the team has acquired on the line, they’ve picked up four who didn’t move the needle or were outright bad, and watching Matt Ryan get battered behind that line will turn just about anybody against them.
Yet I still think the pass rush has been the more glaring failure. From 2008-2019, the Falcons have:
- Used two 1st rounders on edge rushers
- Used a 1st rounder on a penetrating DT
- Used a 2nd rounder on a penetrating DT
- Used multiple mid-to-late round picks on pass rushing prospects
- Spent big on the likes of Ray Edwards
For all that, the Falcons still don’t have much of a pass rusher, with their one true success story thus far coming in the form of Grady Jarrett. It’s especially clear that the Falcons, despite expending plenty of resources, have not managed to draft an elite player outside of Jarrett on the defensive line over the past decade-plus.
I fully expect them to spend at least one more draft pick on a pass rusher with upside, but I think free agency is going to be the primary avenue this offseason. Edwards was a notorious flop, but the Falcons have added plenty of useful rotational pieces like Adrian Clayborn, Jack Crawford, and Dwight Freeney over the years without breaking the bank. Dimitroff and company have clearly had more luck figuring out which established players to add, and it might be time for them to go back to the well and try to add a double-digit sack artist.
The “Dante Fowler wants to play in Atlanta” rumors are intriguing, but at the end of the day he’s not a lock to wind up with the Falcons. I do think it’s a virtual lock that the bulk of the team’s free agent expenditures this year will go toward the front seven and juicing the pass rush, though, and I don’t think we can rule out a big name if the Falcons are willing to cut deep and not bring back guys like Austin Hooper and/or De’Vondre Campbell.
The ghost of Ray Edwards still haunts this team, but the draft hasn’t proven to be much of a success spot for the current regime. Expect them to open the wallet this year in the hopes of finding better fortunes.