The Atlanta Falcons should draft: A Defensive Lineman

Miami Hurricanes defensive lineman Gregory Rousseau (15) wears the turnover chain for the first time in his career when he recovered a fumble that he caused in the first quarter as the University of Miami Hurricanes host the Central Michigan Chippewas at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Saturday, September 21, 2019.

For the first time in a while, the Atlanta Falcons have a top 5 draft pick. In the lead up to the 2021 NFL Draft, we’re going to be looking at several directions the Falcons could go with the fourth overall pick, and making a case for each. This is who the Atlanta Falcons should draft.

There’s a famous saying in the sport of American Football, one made famous by Paul Bryant during his time at Alabama. “Defense wins championships”. It’s a simple statement, in concept. In practice, that doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case. In 2020, however, it did. Despite scoring 31 points, all the praise was saved for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. And for good measure. The Kansas City Chiefs have one of the most potent offenses I’ve ever seen, and couldn’t do a thing during Super Bowl LV. They came away from the big game with 9 measly points, and a quarterback who’d never run more in his life. If the Super Bowl has taught us anything, it’s that the trenches can win you games. The Falcons would be wise to take that lesson on board.

As we’ve established, the Falcons’ interior defensive line was actually pretty ok, but were let down massively by the players coming off the edge. The Falcons have been fairly good at keeping the opposing running backs in check, but have been utterly shredded in the passing game. With an early pick in the first round, and a great deal of attention being paid to the quarterback position across the league, the Falcons could have their pick of the bunch across the defensive line.

Photo Credit: Brynn Anderson-AP Photo

It should be stressed that there isn’t a defensive lineman that is a very clear gamewrecker. A Chase Young isn’t here. Don’t let that put you off the idea of taking someone early on, however. There’s plenty of talent there, all of whom can step in on day one and contribute.

The two big names off the edge heading into 2021 will be Kwity Paye, of Michigan, and Gregory Rousseau, of Miami. From what I’ve seen, Paye looks like more of a traditional “power” defensive end, capable of shutting down plays quickly, as well as setting the edge and closing the pocket. The Falcons are likely to play a healthy combination of 3-4 and 4-3, as they look to create more quarterback pressure moving forward. A versatile player such as Paye would be an outstanding piece to move around. Additionally, it would open up the imagination of Dean Pees when disguising certain looks.

Get to the Quarterback

With Rousseau, on the other hand, it’s a bit more obvious what he can do. In 2019, he registered 15.5 sacks. Only Chase Young registered more, with 16.5. He opted to sit out in 2020, however, owing to the ongoing pandemic. A year removed from his breakout season, there’s an element of “out of sight, out of mind” with Rousseau, That shouldn’t detract from his pure talent, however. Rousseau would be absolutely capable of making an impact on this Falcons defense immediately.

Then there’s the case of Micah Parsons. Parsons is not a defensive lineman. In his time at Penn State, however, he became something of a swiss army knife. Inside linebacker, outside linebacker, off the edge, Parsons did it all. Given the state the defense found itself in, and Dean Pees’ desire to rush the quarterback from all angles, the Falcons would be wise to add a defensive game changer in this draft. There’s none more impactful than Parsons.

For the Falcons to make strides forward, they need to go back to basics. Since 2008, the Falcons have fielded a top 10 defense once, and that’s despite being headed up by two defensive-minded coaches. We know what the offense can do. It’s time to put together a defensive unit capable of truly complimenting it. The 2021 draft is the perfect stage to start that process.

Featured Image Credit: Al Diaz-MIAMI HERALD

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