Atlanta poured more draft resources into the offense, but they picked up three players I’d expect to be contributors and traded away a pick to get Arnold Ebiketie, so the difference was not all that stark.
What is interesting is that the team chose to address their pass rush and their linebacker group, passing on adding interior defensive line talent or help in the secondary. Clearly the Falcons felt these were the best players available to them and that there was an outsized need for pass rushing help—I especially won’t quibble with that last point—and that they were in decent shape in other areas. We’ll talk teams needs more tomorrow, but for now, let’s see where their draftees fit on the depth chart.
EDGE Dr. Arnold Ebiketie: Starter
Ebiketie was drafted because he’s already a fairly polished pass rusher and a player who can come in and contribute immediately, with our own Kevin Knight noting he’s comfortable getting after the quarterback with his hand in the dirt and standing up. That will serve him well in Dean Pees’ defense, where he’ll be asked to be the team’s most prolific threat off the edge, and will likely either lead his position group in snaps or come in just behind steady second-year pro Adetokunbo Ogundeji.
We’re not sure how this rotation will shake out just yet, but it’s a fair bet that Lorenzo Carter, Ebiketie and Ogundeji will receive the lion’s share of the snaps, with fellow rookie DeAngelo Malone (more on him in a moment) and veteran James Vaughters also mixing in. Ebiketie has more upside than anyone else in this group and will be, at the very least,
LB Troy Andersen: #3/#4 inside linebacker
No player in this draft class has a greater range of possible outcomes, I don’t think Andersen starts, even if the team trades away Deion Jones. He’s relatively new to linebacker and will need to refine his tackling and coverage before he’s thrust into a major role, and will be a player the Falcons may try in a few different spots before settling on a set job for him. With Rashaan Evans in-house as a trusted option and Mykal Walker available, Andersen’s no higher than third on the depth chart barring a legendary training camp.
That said, Andersen’s tremendous athleticism makes him intriguing, and Dean Pees and company will find a way to get him in on the field as the season progresses. He’ll be a bit of a wild card until we see where he’s at in training camp, but Andersen’s depth chart position to start the season likely just depends on whether Jones is here or not. If all goes well, the Falcons will be looking for him to play a major role in 2023.
EDGE DeAngelo Malone: #4 outside linebacker/rotational pass rusher
I’d expect Malone to be behind Ebiketie, Carter, and Ogundeji to start. With Carter on just a one-year deal and Malone offering some legitimate pass rushing skills, he’ll have a chance to earn a more prominent role as time goes on, but initially the team’s trust in Ogundeji, Ebiketie’s obvious upside, and Carter’s experience and well-rounded game is likely to keep his role a bit limited.
The role he’s likeliest to inherit is the one James Vaughters had for a while when everyone was relatively healthy, which was 15-20 snaps per game and a small role on special teams. It’s just a question of how impactful he’ll be in year one with that kind of playing time, but Malone is slippery and effective as a pass rusher, and I’d bet on him finding his way to a productive rookie season.
What kind of roles are you hoping for from this trio in 2022?