Let’s be clear about something: The Falcons are not done on the defensive line. Cornerback and the line simply are not finished products, and the draft is likely to yield at least one piece per unit, which means all Quinn’s praise for his current group does need to be taken with a bit of a grain of salt.
That said, the Falcons are also going to have to rely on players they didn’t have to rely on a year ago, a simple bit of reality confirmed by the exits of Adrian Clayborn, Jack Crawford, and Vic Beasley. The only new addition of consequence to the group has been Dante Fowler, which means players like Allen Bailey are going to be relied on far more heavily than they were a year ago.
Enter John Cominsky and Steven Means, two likely beneficiaries of the vacated snaps. Quinn predictably has praised both, in interesting ways.
“He provides pass rush for us...we’re excited to get him back.”
Means is not a guy you think of as being a pass rusher, largely due to the lack of production over the course of his career. We know he’s a rock solid run defender and he did put up a sack, 3 pressures, and 2 hurries on 156 snaps in 2018, but he won’t be asked to be a huge producer on that front in 2020. He will, however, likely be asked to step into Adrian Clayborn’s role from a year ago alongside Allen Bailey, taking significant snaps in relief of the team’s starters. That alone will give him an opportunity to make Quinn look prophetic.
“Certainly, we’ll see Cominsky and his role increasing as it’s going.”
This is a lot more vague, but again, there will be snaps available and the Falcons were clearly loving the thought of Cominsky developing into a hyper-athletic inside-outside presence on the defensive line. Last year in just 100 defensive snaps, he had half a sack, 3 pressures, and 2 hurries, or about Means’ production with 33% fewer snaps. The team talked when he was drafted about getting him involved at defensive tackle down the line, and I expect that to come to fruition this year.
Cominsky is a critical piece of this defensive line, full stop, whether he steps into a major role this year or not. Means and Takk McKinley are headed to free agency next week and Dante Fowler and Grady Jarrett are the only high-caliber players signed long-term, and Cominsky’s upside means he could end up being a nominal starter at some point if he can realize it, and at an affordable price. The Falcons haven’t talked him up as glowingly as some others to this point, but I’m legitimately excited about where he can take his career.
Neither Cominsky or Means figures to be an elite player this year, but the Falcons rotate so heavily that they’ll be involved. If they can both stay healthy and take a step forward—particularly Cominsky—the line is going to be intriguing next season. I just hope the Falcons aren’t afraid to make further additions, just in case that doesn’t happen.