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Falcons training camp preview: Edge rusher

With Falcons training camp just around the corner, we take a closer look at Atlanta’s edge rushers. Atlanta is depending on a bounce-back year from Dante Fowler and some of the depth players taking big strides in 2021.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

With the start of the Falcons’ 2021 training camp just around the corner, it’s time to take a closer look at each of the position groups on the roster. We’ll go through each one, noting the potential starters and the competition for depth roles. Now it’s time to transition to the Falcons defense, where we kick things off with the edge rushers. Arguably the weakest position group on the roster, Atlanta is depending on a bounce-back year from Dante Fowler and some of their depth players taking big strides in 2021.

OFFENSE: QB | RB | TE | WR | OT | C/G

DEFENSE: EDGE

THE PRIMARY RUSHERS: Dante Fowler Jr., Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

Dante Fowler Jr.

6’3, 260 | 2020 Stats: 23 total tackles, 12 solo, 25.8% missed tackle rate, 4.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 23 pressures, 49.9 overall PFF grade

There’s no other way to say it: Dante Fowler was a massive free agent bust in a long line of free agent busts for Thomas Dimitroff. He got hurt early in the season and never looked the same again, turning in dismal statistics and grading out as a well below-average starter per PFF. The Falcons somehow convinced Fowler to take an incentive-heavy pay cut this offseason to recover some of his cap space, but the team still desperately needs him to play up to his contract. Fowler will be depended upon as the primary pass rushing threat once again in 2021—let’s hope he’s a better fit for Dean Pees defense than he was for the previous staff.

Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

6’2, 285 | 2020 Stats: 31 total tackles, 24 solo, 0% missed tackle rate, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 15 pressures, 52.1 overall PFF grade

With Barkevious Mingo no longer on the roster, the job of starter opposite Fowler apparently falls to former UDFA Jacob Tuioti-Mariner. Tuioti-Mariner didn’t light it up in terms of statistics, but he showed flashes of quality play and looked like Atlanta’s best edge rusher at times in 2020. He’ll need to continue that growth this season, but Tuioti-Mariner’s versatility and skills against both the run and the pass could give him an easy path to playing a majority of snaps. The Falcons would probably be better served by letting Tuioti-Mariner continue to grow as the third EDGE, but it would take a free agent addition or trade to make that happen.

THE ROTATIONAL RUSHERS: Steven Means, Adetokunbo Ogundeji

Steven Means

6’3, 263 | 2020 Stats: 38 total tackles, 21 solo, 9.5% missed tackle rate, 3.0 sacks, 3.0 TFL, 2 FF, 14 total pressures, 57.8 overall PFF grade

Statistically and in terms of PFF grades, Steven Means was Atlanta’s best edge rusher in the 2020 season. His numbers are actually very respectable for a player who should be the third or fourth EDGE in the rotation, with 3 sacks, 3 TFL, and a healthy number of tackles and pressures. Means has always played at a solid level when called upon, but he’s simply not an impact player. It wouldn’t shock me if Means winds up as the starter opposite Fowler, at least in some packages, but the Falcons still need more talent here.

Adetokunbo Ogundeji

6’4, 260 | 2020 Stats (College): 20 total tackles, 13 solo, 6.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 1 FF, 36 total pressures, 75.1 overall PFF grade

One of Atlanta’s fifth-round draft selections, Adetokunbo Ogundeji is coming off an impressive senior season at Notre Dame. His greatest asset is his size: at 6’4, 260 and with 35” arms, his got the length and mass that NFL teams covet on the edge. Ogundeji is an above-average athlete overall, with impressive long speed and explosiveness. He’s a bit of a wild card this season, but Ogundeji’s strong play as both a run defender and pass rusher could make him the first man up in case of injury.

THE DEPTH COMPETITION: Kobe Jones, Shareef Miller, George Obinna

Kobe Jones

6’3, 255 | 2020 Stats (College): 32 total tackles, 8 solo, 4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks

The Falcons’ only UDFA addition to the EDGE group, Kobe Jones spent his college career at Mississippi State. While never posting flashy numbers, Jones was a solidly productive edge rusher with 19.0 TFL and 7.0 sacks over his four seasons with the team. However, Jones tested out very poorly as an athlete (14th percentile) per RAS, and didn’t run a 40. He’s got good length, but is otherwise undersized and lacks explosiveness and agility. Jones is a long shot to make the roster, but the state of this depth chart means that he’s still got a strong chance at the practice squad.

Shareef Miller

6’4, 254 | 2020 Stats: N/A

If you’re looking for a player to possibly come in and surprise in training camp, the best bet is probably Shareef Miller. A former fourth-round pick of the Eagles in the 2019 NFL Draft, Miller spent the year with the team before being cut prior to the 2020 season. The Panthers picked up Miller off waivers, and he bounced around a bit until he was signed by Atlanta back in June. Miller is a quality athlete with solid size, and had an impressive 2018 season with Penn State: 15.0 TFL and 7.5 sacks. There’s clearly something there—perhaps Dean Pees can find a way to unlock it.

George Obinna

6’3, 240 | 2020 Stats: N/A

A former UDFA from the 2020 draft class, George Obinna was a very productive pass rusher for Sacramento State of the FCS with 20.0 TFL and 14.0 sacks in his final season. He spent training camp with the Browns last season, but did not make the team. Obinna signed with the Falcons this offseason and will compete for a depth role and/or practice squad spot. There’s really not much else out there on Obinna, so we’ll have to wait and see how he performs in training camp.