While the offensive side of the ball is where Atlanta’s identity lays, Dan Quinn’s unit hopes to improve on their 20th ranked total defense from 2019. That improvement could be key to getting Atlanta back into the playoffs for the first time in three years.
In case you missed it, we recently counted down the five most important players on the offensive side of the ball for the Falcons going into 2020. Now, we’re going to do the same exercise with the defensive unit.
Just like with the most important offensive players, I would like to note that this isn’t a direct list of the five best players on the defense side of the ball, but rather the five players whom the team can least afford to perform poorly or to lose to injury/suspension — whether that’s because of their incredible talent or because of the team’s lack of positional depth.
This countdown will continue weekly.
5) Takk McKinley
It’s a do or die year for 2017 first round draft selection Takk McKinley, who had his fifth year option declined and is essentially in a pure contract year going into 2020.
The Falcons have been waiting for things to “click” for McKinley since his promising rookie season, but time is now running out. Following another decent campaign in his sophomore season (where he had 7.0 sacks following 6.0 in his rookie year), the expectation was that McKinley would take that next step and move into a leading pass rusher role in year three. Instead, he regressed to the tune of a 3.5 sack campaign in 2019, even if he still put up solid pressure numbers.
With the addition of Dante Fowler, who will replace Vic Beasley as the team’s premier pass rusher, on the opposite side of him, as well as the introduction of second round pick Marlon Davidson to bolster the interior of the defensive line, the situation is set up for Takk to finally blossom in year four.
With a very inexperienced cornerback group in the secondary, it will be more important than ever for the pass rush to get to the quarterback and to give Atlanta’s young corners as few chances as possible to get exposed against premier wide receivers such as Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Michael Thomas and D.J. Moore — all of whom reside in the division.
If McKinley doesn’t finally take that next step in his development, Atlanta’s pass rush will be hard pressed to be anything better than average at best in 2020.
Takk came close to the quarterback so many times last season, but if you can’t finish the sack those pressures and QB hits mean very little in the NFL. Those sack conversions have to be made at a better clip in 2020, or Atlanta’s defense will suffer while McKinley could find himself on another football team in 2021.