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Pre-draft position breakdown: Edge defender

With the draft fast approaching, it’s time to take one final look at the roster to determine the Falcons’ positional needs. Today we take a look at EDGE, where the team added premier pass rusher Dante Fowler. Is there still a significant need in the 2020 NFL Draft?

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

With the 2020 NFL Draft coming up quickly, it’s time to take one final look at the roster before the rookies arrive. The Falcons were fairly active in free agency, addressing some of their most pressing needs and creating some new ones. Over the next week or so, I’ll be taking a look at several of the positions on the roster to determine if the Falcons need to invest resources there in the draft. If you missed any previous entries in the series, you can find them below:

G | EDGE

Today, we’ll take a closer look at the EDGE group. The Falcons have been desperately trying to add talent to the unit for as long as I can remember, but outside of one spectacular season from Vic Beasley the outside pass rush has been anemic. Atlanta made a big-time free agent signing with Dante Fowler Jr., but is that addition enough? Is there still a need to add to the EDGE group in the 2020 draft? Let’s examine the depth chart.

Current Depth Chart

Dante Fowler Jr.
Takkarist McKinley
Allen Bailey
John Cominsky
Steven Means
Austin Larkin

The Falcons are fairly solid at EDGE after the addition of Dante Fowler—assuming he lives up to his $16M/yr contract. Fowler should be able to play on all three downs and offer far better run defense than Vic Beasley, who routinely struggled to finish tackles. With a more consistent running mate, we’ll hope that Takk McKinley can finally reach his potential and have a more consistent season rushing the passer. Allen Bailey will play a big role on early downs as a run-stuffing 5T, and could also potentially kick inside in nickel situations.

Behind the three “starters”, the Falcons have some quality depth players. Second-year player John Cominsky is a tremendous athlete who started to contribute towards the end of 2019. From what we’ve heard, he may begin to transition to more of an interior pass rush role in nickel sets in addition to a more run-focused role on the outside. Steven Means is a reliable rotational EDGE who can play on all three downs and give you solid production. Austin Larkin, a former UDFA, has impressed in training camp as both a pass rusher and run defender. He’ll get an opportunity to compete for a roster spot in training camp.

Is there a draft need?

Despite the free agent additions, the Falcons did lose two big-time contributors in Vic Beasley and Adrian Clayborn. While Fowler and McKinley can take the lion’s share of snaps in the nickel and the combination of Allen Bailey and John Cominsky can stuff the run on early downs, Atlanta could still use an impact #3 pass rusher. It seems unlikely that this player will come in the first round—unless the team ends up selecting K’Lavon Chaisson—but could be an option on Day 2 or early on Day 3.

Some popular names are A.J. Epenesa (if he falls), Zack Baun, Julian Okwara, and Curtis Weaver in the second round. Later on Day 2, the team could look for guys like Josh Uche, Terrell Lewis, or Darrell Taylor. The available players who can actually contribute in a meaningful way fall off pretty quickly after the fourth round, but the Falcons could still potentially get good production out of prospects like Bradlee Anae, Khalid Kareem, Kenny Willekes, or Jabari Zuniga.

However, with the Falcons shortage of picks and the buzz that the team is planning to trade up in the 2020 NFL Draft, a meaningful addition at EDGE seems pretty unlikely. As with guard, a Day 2 addition here probably only happens after a trade down where Atlanta acquires additional second or third round picks.

What are your thoughts on the Falcons’ EDGE group heading into the 2020 NFL Draft? Do you still expect the team to target the position early? Who is a prospect you’d like to see the team add?