Spicing up the pass rush still a Falcons’ priority


The Falcons know they have an elite offense.

With the scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium having started Tuesday, the reigning NFC champions will continue to focus on improving their defense.

While the pass rush made strides last season, the Falcons will continue to address attacking the opposition’s quarterback.

“I think we need to continue to get up an affect the passer whether if that’s with the young guys who’ll continue to get better and better,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said.

Outside linebacker Vic Beasley had a breakout season in 2016. He led the league with 15.5 sacks and six forced fumbles.

Defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Dwight Freeney combined for 7.5 sacks on the opposite side. Clayborn is battling back from a pectoral surgery, while Freeney will become an unrestricted free agent.

The Falcons will try to improve through free agency and the draft and may double-back to Freeney if there is still a need that he could fill at age 37.

The top pass rushers in the draft, such as Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, Tennessee’s Derek Barnett and Stanford’s Solomon Thomas, are not expected to be available when the Falcons select with the 31st overall pick.

The team may have to decide from among Missouri’s Charles Harris, UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley or Temple’s Haason Reddick.

The draft is considered deep in pass-rushing talent and several of those players will be on display at the combine.

“So just for instance, say they’re looking in the second or third round for an edge guy,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “I would tell you that DeMarcus Walker from Florida State is intriguing, and he’s going to go in the second or third round. Tarell Basham from Ohio University, he’s a really good football player, and he can play for somebody this year as a rookie.”

Kansas State’s Jordan Willis and Villanova’s Tanoh Kpassagnon are also pass-rushing prospects.

“(Kpassagnon) is going to be an intriguing guy to watch at the combine,” Mayock said. “I mean, he could go as high as the second round, as low as the fourth round, but he’s got freaky gifts.”

After consulting with three NFL scouts, here’s our list of the top 10 pass rushers in the NFL draft, which is set for April 27-29 in Philadelphia:

1. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: He’s considered the No. 1 overall player in the draft. “I think Myles Garrett has the most upside of any pass-rusher in this draft,” Mayock said. “When healthy, he’s easy to do on tape. He’s (6-foot-5), 262 pounds. He’s got outside edge (rushing) ability.”

2. Tim Williams, Alabama: He had nine sacks, 16 tackles for a loss and 31 tackles for the Crimson Tide. He may drop because of off-the-field issues.

3. Derek Barnett, Tennessee: He had 33 sacks over 39 game career for the Volunteers.

4. Solomon Thomas, Stanford: He made 62 tackles with 15 for a loss, eight sacks and one forced fumble.

5. Takkarist McKinley, UCLA: Most believe that he’s best suited to be an outside linebacker for a team that runs a 3-4 defensive alignment.

6. Taco Charlton, Michigan: He mainly was a backup until last season, when he recorded 9.5 sacks, 43 tackles and 13 tackles for a losses. Teams like his speed and strength.

7. Charles Harris, Missouri: He made 61 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, nine sacks, two passes batted and two forced fumbles in 2016 for the Tigers. Harris had one of his better games against Georgia, when he had seven tackles and three sacks.

8. Carl Lawson, Auburn: He’s lightning fast off the edge and is strong enough to stay on his path to the quarterback. His medical evaluation at the combine will be key. He has experienced major knee and hip injuries.

9. Tarell Basham, Ohio: He was the Mid-American Conference’s defensive player of the year. He made 50 tackles with 16 tackles for a losses, 11.5 sacks and two passes broken up for the Bobcats in 2016.

10. DeMarcus Walker, Florida State: “With 45 tackles for loss over his career, Walker has first-round production,” Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com said.



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