Defensive line assistance is the key to Falcons success in 2019

Defensive line assistance is the key to Falcons success in 2019
Reading Time: 3 minutes.

By guest writer Adam Barton

Gone are the days of 2017 when the Falcons blasted their way to the Super Bowl with a high power, fast-paced offence. Now they are left searching for the silver bullet to get them back to playoffs, picking in the top half of the draft after a disappointing season losing five straight games mid-season to drop out of the playoff race to a 7-9 overall record.

Despite their worst record since 2014, the Falcons still retain much of the offensive talent that powered them to the Super Bowl, in fact the biggest loss since then is on the sidelines in OC Kyle Shanahan. Between Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Devonta Freeman, Austin Hooper and Ito Smith the Falcons still have at worst an above average group of skill position players.

What is holding them back? Well many felt it was Steve Sarkisian, gone and replaced by Dirk Koetter. Koetter was a hot coaching candidate before he became a head coach in Tampa Bay, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he thrived back as a coordinator. The other point holding the offence back is a weak offensive line, particularly on the right hand side and this is an area they could look to address in the draft.

We haven’t got to Atlanta’s real problem though which is on the other side of the ball. There are big holes across the defensive line and at cornerback. They had 37 sacks last season, 22nd most in the league but their standout pass rusher, Vic Beasley has accounted for just five in each of the last two seasons. In fact Beasley had 15.5 sacks in 2016 – Falcons’ Super Bowl year – and 14 combined in 2015, 17 & 18. Atlanta ranked 25th or lower in yards conceded (passing and rushing), points conceded and fumble recoveries, though they did have 15 interceptions.

Not yet having traded any of their 2019 picks away, the Falcons will have nine picks in Nashville as well as two compensatory picks. That gives them the ammunition to target their defensive line, as well as a cornerback opposite Desmond Trufant, and bolstering Matt Ryan’s protection in the mid-rounds, with room for a flyer or two on a running back, tight end or pass rusher.

The one player that could move the Falcons back into the playoff race has to be Christian Wilkins, a defensive tackle from national champions Clemson to provide a threat up the middle and protect against the franchise-tagged Grady Jarrett leaving in free agency. Wilkins is likely to be the most versatile option defensive line option available at pick 14, able to improve the Falcons in both the run and pass game. The former Tiger has good size which will be key to stifling the run and uses his hands, among the best in the draft and feet well to block. Wilkins is better attacking the edges rather than straight up bull rushing and he can get caught rushing too high, especially once engaged.

Regardless of flaws, Wilkins is the best option to help improve Atlanta’s defensive line. Another name to consider would be Ed Oliver, though he would be a weakness alongside Grady Jarrett in the run game. The Falcons may also look at Jonah Williams (G/T) but their defensive needs are bigger than improving a solid line, Rashan Gary (DE) a talented pass rusher though extremely raw with bust potential or DeAndre Baker (CB) if they want to improve their secondary.

The Falcons do have a few areas of need but the DNA of the Super Bowl team still remains, a few tweaks on offence and adding talent on defence could see Matt Ryan leading this team to a wildcard spot at the very least.

This guest piece was written by Adam Barton. You can follow Adam on Twitter @abarton93

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