5 Best Options for the Atlanta Falcons to Bolster Pass Rush This Offseason
When looking at why the Atlanta Falcons were so bad in 2014, the first thing that pops into mind is the complete lack of a pass rush. The Falcons need to improve on it if they want their defense to turn into one of the best units in the NFL.
And while there are many ways to improve on the pass rush, Atlanta should specifically focus on the kinds of guys who force double and triple teams with their disruptive efforts—whether that's on the interior of the line or on the outside.
They should also be focused on guys who would be versatile within the scheme.
Bringing in a guy who can only rush from one side and one spot severely limits what you can do with him. So Atlanta would be wise to work in at least one of the following five guys into its offseason plan.
5. DE/OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech, 6'3", 242 Pounds
The Falcons would love someone who could play Kroy Biermann's role, and do it better.
Jeremiah Attaochu from local Georgia Tech would be the perfect fit for that role. He's an athletically gifted player who could play the strong-side linebacker role in the 4-3 or 3-4.
Attaochu also does well with his hand in the dirt on the weak side of the field going one-on-one with an offensive tackle. He relies on his speed to beat tackles, but has also shown that he can learn proper bull rush techniques and pass rush moves.
Attaochu should be there in the early part of the second round, to as late as the early part of the third round. If the Falcons decide to address the offensive line early and not sign a pass rusher in free agency, this would be the best option for the Falcons to pursue.
4. DE/OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo, 6'3", 248 Pounds
If Atlanta signs a ton of offensive linemen, and are locked into drafting a pass rusher after Jadeveon Clowney has already been picked, Atlanta could easily go with Khalil Mack in the first round.
He's a unique mix of James Harrison and Brian Orakpo.
Mack could be a great fit as a hand-in-dirt defensive end on the weak side, but he would give Mike Nolan another option in the defensive scheme.
Mack, Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Massaquoi are all able to line up as both 3-4 linebackers or 4-3 defensive ends. This allows quite a bit more scheme versatility than what the Falcons had previously.
The combination of these three pass rushers would give the Falcons the kind of pressure they have needed for years. More than that, he has some solid coverage ability to help stuff tight ends.
3. DE/OLB Brian Orakpo, Washington Football Team, 6'4", 257 Pounds
Want a world-ender at linebacker and defensive end? Go with Brian Orakpo in free agency.
He's someone who can get after the quarterback from anywhere on the field. The Falcons would be wise to bring in the long-time Washington defender.
Orakpo would be someone who would allow a similar scheme versatility that John Abraham offered in 2012. Abraham was able to stand or put his hand in the dirt—Orakpo can provide that and more. The only real hole in his game is coverage, but Atlanta would rarely use him there.
His ability to slot into any gap and either blitz or pass rush into it is definitely something that would be an asset moving forward. Atlanta would be wise to bring in the true world-breaker that is Brian Orakpo.
2. DE Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers, 6'4", 290 Pounds
While the first three guys in this show were defensive ends who could also play linebacker, Greg Hardy is a defensive end who could also play some 3-technique defensive tackle in pass rushing sets.
Hardy is a guy who has ruined the day for the Falcons for the past two years.
Atlanta would help its team in two ways by bringing in Hardy.
They would take away a division rival's best pass-rushing threat, and they would add a guy who would be the best pass rusher Atlanta has had since John Abraham was in his prime.
Hardy is a long shot, though.
He's likely to sign with the highest bidder. And with how he is talking about contracts, it seems as if he wants a deal that will top $100 million, according to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer.
Is the "Kraken" really worth that much money?
1. DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina, 6'6", 275 Pounds
While all of the previous options would be good, the best, but possibly riskiest, is taking Jadeveon Clowney in Round 1 of the NFL draft.
He's someone who can instantly add to the Falcons pass rush off the edge in the standard 6-, 7-, and 9-techniques for a 4-3 defensive end.
However, don't be fooled into thinking that he can only play those roles in the Falcons' defense. Mike Nolan would be wise to plan some 3- and 5-technique roles to move Clowney inside for a couple of plays every game.
Don't be shocked if he's used as a linebacker in some capacity as well.
Clowney isn't going to be anything more than a pass rusher standing up, but using him to rush all over the formation the way the Panthers use Greg Hardy is the best way for Atlanta to go. Atlanta also has a strong enough locker room and smart enough coaching staff to rotate and maximize his play.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and the NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.