There was no way the Atlanta Falcons could come out of the 2022 NFL draft without adding at least one edge-rusher. The team’s pass rush was beyond stale last season, logging a mere 18 sacks, the fewest in the league.
General manager Terry Fontenot didn’t have the salary cap space to acquire a blue-chip solution during free agency. Only Lorenzo Carter, a player with more potential than production, arrived from the New York Giants.
Fortunately, more help finally arrived on the second day of the draft, when Fontenot took two intriguing edge-rushers off the board. One of those players was acquired with the pick the Falcons received for trading Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts.
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The rookie has already been deemed a steal by another former Falcons quarterback.
Ex-Falcons Starter Applauds New Pass-Rusher
The Falcons received lavish praise for one of their four picks on Day 2, and it wasn’t second-round Edge Arnold Ebiketie. Instead, Dave Archer reserved the phrase “one of the steals of the draft” for the other pass-rusher chosen by Fontenot:
It’s high praise considering the Falcons stayed put to select DeAngelo Malone at 82. Fontenot didn’t feel the need to trade up the way he did for Ebiketie. That deal involved the Giants and cost the Falcons a fourth-round pick.
Malone might not have been as highly touted, but there are good reasons to be as enthusiastic as Archer about this pick. The latter played four seasons for the Falcons in the 1980s, and Archer is right to be impressed by Malone’s incredible production at Western Kentucky.
His final season with the Hilltoppers saw Malone add four fumbles and as many batted passes to eight sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss, per Sports Reference. Those numbers are ample evidence of the playmaking flair the Falcons have lacked for too long at the edges of their front seven.
Malone can provide it, but he’s got a tough act to follow because he’s essentially joining the team as a replacement for the man who was the face of the franchise for 13 seasons.
Falcons Used Matt Ryan Pick on Malone
It looked as though the Falcons got the short end of the deal with the Colts when all they received for Ryan was a mere third-round pick. Malone was selected with the pick, per ESPN’s Dan Graziano, so the pressure is on him to deliver the goods and prove the trade was good value for the Falcons:
That’s a tall order considering a competent quarterback is the premium position for any NFL team. Yet, the next most important asset in today’s game might be a prolific pass-rusher.
Malone fits the bill as a skilled quarterback hunter who ATB Network’s Scott Carasik has compared to Carolina Panthers’ rush end Brian Burns. Like Burns, 240-pounder Malone will need to bulk up at the next level, but he has core attributes all successful pass-rushers need.
Those skills include physical flexibility, something Bleacher Report’s Lead Draft Analyst Connor Rogers highlighted back in March:
Malone’s also an Atlanta native who fits the hybrid 3-4 schemes of Falcons’ defensive coordinator Dean Pees. A hometown connection and system fit mean there’s every chance Malone makes a fast start to life in the NFL.
If Ebiketie does the same, while Carter takes a step up in his career, the Falcons will suddenly be well-stocked in the pass-rush department. Then few will mind having used the pick Ryan fetched to take Malone.