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Falcons Pass Rush
Atlanta Falcons

Falcons’ Draft Provides Needed Boost to Pass Rush

  • Ryan Fowler
  • May 4, 2022
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In what will be a rebuilding year from the ground up, this is a long trek up a steep slope for General Manager Terry Fontenot and Head Coach Arthur Smith. With franchise cornerstones elsewhere in Matt Ryan (Indianapolis), Julio Jones (UFA) and Calvin Ridley suspended for the 2022 campaign, expectations remain at a minimum for what is expected to be a two-man race for the NFC South crown this fall. However, while every rebuild inherently ushers in years of disappointment and little to rally around, the Falcons’ additions last weekend have raised a banner of optimism due to a new era with Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder set to compete for starting snaps this fall. A draft loaded with impact defensive talent too, the Falcons and Fontenot came away with three excellent front seven defenders worth highlighting. 

Fontenot’s selection of Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie is an immediate boost to the Falcons’ substandard pass rush. After totaling a league-worst 19.0 total sacks last fall, 11.0 worse than 31st-ranked Philadelphia Eagles (29.0), Ebiketie should give Atlanta an immediate threat along the front four. After re-upping Grady Jarrett to provide the push on the interior, a talent like Ebiketie – who was dominant at times at the Senior Bowl – will be thrown into the NFL fire right way whether he likes it or not. It’s optimal scenario for the talent-hungry Falcons defense. While teams like Green Bay and Kansas City initially looked like good landing spots for the former Nittany Lion, in Atlanta, with no expectations of a division title, the pressure is off. Put Ebiketie on the edge, allow him to pin his ears back and get after the passer from the opening snap. 

Just 20 picks later, the Falcons checked off a ton of boxes in one player by selecting Montana State do-it-all defender Troy Andersen – one of the most dynamic athletes in the entire class. 

Versatility. Versatility. Versatility. It’s the adjective that swamped Andersen’s evaluation all cycle long. A talent with All-America honors on both sides of the football, he’s one-of-one in this year’s rookie class. A quarterback, turned running back, turned fullback, turned linebacker, the Dillon, Mont. native checks all the boxes as a potential impact player with scheme versatility on Sundays. 

Andersen was the Big Sky conference Freshman of the Year in 2017, aligning at both outside linebacker and in the backfield. He switched to quarterback in the spring leading up to the 2018 season. While the transition usually welcomes a slew of speed bumps that can take months, if not years, to overcome and be comfortable captaining an offense, his prep background as a two-time All-State signal caller masked any limitations Andersen had under center. While he went on to earn All-America honors once again that year and the following fall (2019), Andersen has made the switch back to the defensive side of the ball for good. 

He was the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year this past fall and a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, given annually to the FCS’ top defensive player. Andersen provides an intriguing mix of violence, range and football IQ from his days as a quarterback to read and dissect plays before they happen. An outstanding blitzer off the edge and through the A and B-gaps as a ‘MIKE’ linebacker in Montana State’s 4-2-5 alignment, we could see him slot on the outside due to his innate ability to consistently fire downhill and win in the open-field against the run.

While he will need to beef up his current 235-pound frame if he eyes any type of role as an outside linebacker, his versatility is truly second to none. He is the definition of a ‘Swiss army knife’ type of athlete who could see himself work into a two-way role similar to Taysom Hill on the New Orleans Saints, who’s spent time at quarterback, tight end, running back, linebacker, and as a gunner on special teams. 

After grabbing Ridder in the third round, the addition of Western Kentucky’s DeAngelo Malone – another Senior Bowl standout – represented one of the sneakier additions to round out Day 2. An extremely twitchy edge talent who’s a “first off the bus” type of athlete with elite athletic intangibles, he was someone that opened scouts’ eyes throughout the week in Mobile. Malone has a unique combo of speed and length and understands how to run the arc and win right now. While his performance ceiling right now remains shallower than that of Ebiketie’s due to his foundational explosiveness at 5-tech, he’s a heck of a talent that should only get better with a healthy allotment of snaps. After totaling 32.5 sacks in five seasons with at least 6.0 sacks in each of the last four campaigns (11.0 in 2020), as good as Malone’s floor is, he and Ebiketie could become an awfully nice tandem of youth-infused pass rushers for Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees’ athletic front seven in the years to come. 

Written By

Ryan Fowler