No team struggled to get after quarterbacks more than the Atlanta Falcons in 2021. They logged just 18 QB takedowns, the fewest in the NFL.
It’s tough to predict major improvement, despite the arrival of outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter in free agency. So it would make sense for the Falcons to delve into the 2022 draft class for pass rush help.
One draft scribe has an intriguing idea. It involves the Falcons using the pick they acquired from trading Julio Jones to the Tennessee Titans last offseason to take an edge compared to former Atlanta sack king Vic Beasley.
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He ultimately flattered to deceive after being selected eighth overall by the Falcons in 2015, but the franchise hasn’t had a player register double-digit sacks since Beasley logged 15.5 in 2016.
Unheralded Edge-Rusher a Steal in 2nd Round
In his seven-round mock draft for The Athletic, Dane Brugler sends Oklahoma’s Nik Bonitto to the Falcons 58th overall. That’s the pick the Titans gave away for Jones a year ago.
Given that Jones is now a free agent after a lone, disappointing season in Nashville, getting a competent pass-rusher with that pick would be a steal. Bonitto qualifies as competent after a productive final season with the Sooners, during which he recorded seven sacks and 15 tackles for loss, per Sports Reference.
The numbers are good, and so is Bonitto’s ability to combine “get-off, stride length and flexibility into one alarming package for tackles trying to slow him down,” according to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein.
It’s Zierlein who named Beasley as Bonitto’s obvious pro comparison. The Falcons needn’t be worried about the comparison, even though Beasley struggled to live up to expectations in Atlanta, before finishing his career with the Titans and Las Vegas Raiders in 2020.
His lone standout season came in 2016, when Beasley led the league in sacks. In the process, he helped the Falcons reach Super Bowl LI.
Like Beasley, 6’3″, 240-pound Bonitto lacks elite size, but his speed contributes to a healthy win rate on the outside. As PFF Draft noted, no other Big 12 edge came close to matching Bonitto’s talent for generating pressure:
That’s a number the Falcons would welcome as defensive coordinator Dean Pees attempts to put together an improved arsenal of players able to get to the passer.
Falcons Still Have Work to Do to Improve Pass Rush
Carter is an intriguing signing who has the potential to take his career to the next level on Pees’ watch. The former New York Giants starter finished last season with five sacks in his final four games.
Potential aside, even a breakout season from Carter won’t be enough to bolster Atlanta’s feeble pass rush. Pairing the new arrival with a dynamic rookie like Bonitto would give Pees’ schemes a better chance of working more effectively in Year 2.
Pees is trying to make his version of the 3-4 a success in Atlanta, but he may find more use for Bonitto as a situational rusher in obvious passing situations. The role would help ease concerns about what Zierlein calls Bonitto playing “a little too small manning the edge” and getting “sealed in contain duties.”
Waiting until the second round to get a new pass-rusher may seem like a risk when it’s such a glaring weakness. Yet, the Falcons can afford to wait, especially when there are other pressing needs on the roster.
General manager Terry Fontenot would be better served using the eighth and 43rd picks to take a new playmaker at wide receiver and fortify a weak offensive line.