Perhaps the weakest position group on the roster heading into the offseason, the Atlanta Falcons knew they had significant work to do at EDGE to improve the NFL’s worst pass rush. With just 18 sacks in 2021, Atlanta’s defense simply lacked the ability to affect the QB—even with Dean Pees sending a copious amount of blitzes.
The team said goodbye to sack leader Dante Fowler Jr.—who amassed just 4.5 sacks—and let other primary contributors like Steven Means and Jonathan Bullard walk in free agency. In their place, Atlanta signed veteran Lorenzo Carter—who put up 5.0 sacks in 14 games in 2021—and added a pair of high-upside edge rushers in the 2022 NFL Draft: Arnold Ebiketie (2nd round) and DeAngelo Malone (3rd round).
Now that the dust has settled on the offseason, let’s take a closer look at Atlanta’s EDGE group.
The starters: Lorenzo Carter, Arnold Ebiketie
2021 Stats: 14 games played, 14 games started | 50 total tackles, 28 solo, 6.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 16 total pressures, 2 FF, 13.8% missed tackle rate | 5 PD, 1 INT | 65.3 overall PFF grade | 9.91 RAS
One of Atlanta’s biggest outside additions in free agency, Lorenzo Carter immediately walks into a massive role as the top EDGE on the roster. Carter has never posted eye-popping numbers as a pass rusher, but plays a well-rounded game in all three phases. He’s been a productive run defender, a quality option in coverage (15 PD in 4 seasons), and a consistent pass rusher. In 2021, Carter finished the season with 5.0 sacks in the final five games, and said in his interview that “everything finally clicked” for him. Let’s hope that translates into a breakout year—because Atlanta desperately needs Carter to have a career season in 2021.
2021 Stats (College): 12 games played | 62 total tackles, 34 solo, 18.0 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 2 FF, 1 PD | 8.90 RAS
The second player selected by the Falcons, Atlanta traded up for the chance to get Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie near the top of the second round. It makes sense: the team’s need was desperate, and Ebiketie is a potentially high-end pass rusher with standout college production. A prototypical speed-rushing 3-4 OLB, Ebiketie wins with his explosiveness and bend. He was dominant at times in college, and had his best season in 2021 after transferring from Temple. Ebiketie thrived against the higher level of competition at Penn State—let’s hope he can do the same in the NFL, as he’ll be relied upon to play a major role in 2022.
Rotational players: Adetokunbo Ogundeji, DeAngelo Malone
2021 Stats: 16 games played, 11 games started | 33 total tackles, 18 solo, 5.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 6 total pressures, 13.2% missed tackle rate | 1 PD | 54.2 overall PFF grade | 6.91 RAS
Atlanta’s sixth-round selection from the 2021 NFL Draft, Adetokunbo Ogundeji wound up playing a significant role (nearly 50% of snaps) for a moribund Falcons edge group in his rookie year. He performed about as well as you could expect for a rookie sixth-rounder, and was solid against the run. Ogundeji struggled to make an impact as a pass rusher, however. We’ll see if he can develop in that area, but he’ll likely be counted on as a starter in base packages against the run once again.
2021 Stats (College): 14 games played | 94 total tackles, 44 solo, 17.5 TFL, 8.0 sacks, 4 FF | 4 PD | 9.06 RAS
The second of two EDGE players added by the Falcons in the 2022 NFL Draft, DeAngelo Malone is an exciting addition with really fun tape. Coming out of Western Kentucky, the level of competition must be taken into account. But Malone absolutely dominated against both the run and pass, using his unique blend of speed, bend, and power to create consistent disruption. In the NFL, Malone will likely start his career as a pass rushing specialist due to his less-than-ideal size profile. Given the state of Atlanta’s depth chart, Malone could have a sizable role as a rookie on passing downs.
Depth and practice squad competition: John Cominsky, Jordan Brailford, Kuony Deng, Quinton Bell
2021 Stats: 4 games played | 2 total tackles, 2 solo, 1.0 TFL | 9.42 RAS
One of the more intriguing Day 3 picks of the Dan Quinn era, John Cominsky came in as an elite athlete from a small-school program at EDGE. Quinn decided to have him bulk up and transition to an interior pass rushing specialist. Although Cominsky showed some occasional flashes, he never managed to earn a significant role. He managed to stick around last year with the new regime and transitioned back to EDGE. Although he rarely saw the field in 2021, I still like Cominsky’s chances due to his experience, special teams acumen, and elite athletic traits. Right now, he’s the favorite to make the roster as the fifth EDGE.
2021 Stats: N/A | 8.49 RAS
A former 7th round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Jordan Brailford wound up on IR to start his NFL career. He was subsequently cut by Washington at the end of training camp in 2020, but managed to catch on with the Vikings. Brailford saw very limited snaps that year before bouncing around the league once again in 2021, finally ending up on Atlanta’s practice squad and signing a reserve/future contract for 2022. Brailford has some intriguing athletic tools and a few years in the NFL under his belt, and could be a sleeper for the roster or practice squad.
2021 Stats: N/A | 9.31 RAS
Another former 7th round pick from the 2019 NFL Draft—this time of the Raiders—Quinton Bell made the initial roster but wound up cut midseason. He was signed to the Buccaneers’ practice squad, and stuck around there through training camp in 2021. Bell eventually found his way to Atlanta’s practice squad early in 2021, and returned on a reserve/future contract. Much like Brailford, Bell has some elite athletic traits but not much production to show for it—but after a few years in the NFL, could potentially be close to breaking through.
2021 Stats (College): 2 games played | 4 total tackles, 1 solo | 5.96 RAS
Atlanta’s only UDFA addition to the EDGE group, USC’s Kuony Deng is a very interesting prospect. Athletically, Deng tested out fairly average, but he does have great size (over 6’5, 244) and length (nearly 34” arms). Deng’s calling card in college was his versatility, as he lined up at almost every linebacker position. His 2021 season was cut short due to injury, but he’s an intriguing prospect who can play both inside and outside—similar to Brandon Copeland last year.
Outlook: Improving, but still a long way to go
There’s no doubt that the 2022 version of the EDGE group is a lot more interesting than the 2021 version. Lorenzo Carter should be an upgrade over Dante Fowler, while Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone are both big upgrades in the pass rushing department. I still like Ogundeji as a rotational, base package defender who can give the defense a stouter presence against the run. In terms of the depth, there should be an interesting battle for the final roster spot.
But this group lacks a star at the top—a true EDGE1. Carter and Ebiketie are probably both EDGE2 prospects at best—and I don’t mean that as a knock. I’d also feel better about this group with another veteran in the picture, as there are still some moderately intriguing names out there in free agency (Trey Flowers, Jadeveon Clowney, Alex Okafor). As it stands now, this group is in Year 1 of a multi-year rebuild. I’m happy with the additions and progress thus far, but the Falcons still have a long way to go.