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Defensive End: John Abraham, Kroy Biermann, Lawrence Sidbury (UFA), Jonathan Massaquoi, Cliff Matthews
Head coach Mike Smith will be the first to tell you that sacks are an overrated statistic, and that’s good for the Atlanta Falcons because they ranked 25th in the league with only 28 sacks in 2012.
Smith believes that simply disrupting the passer is sometimes good enough in pass-rushing situations, and the Falcons fared better in that regard this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Falcons ranked 15th in the league on PFF’s pass rush ratio after notching 46 quarterback hits and 176 quarterback hurries. Middle of the road is not good enough going forward, however, especially since the future of John Abraham is in question.
Abraham, who notched 10 of Atlanta’s 28 sacks, is turning 35 years old in 2013. Because Smith manages the elder statesman with kid gloves in terms of extra rest, Abraham still has gas left in the tank. But he won’t be around forever.
There’s also a growing sentiment—reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution—that Abraham’s $4.25 million contract might make him a cap casualty. The only way that happens, in my opinion, is if health is an issue. A healthy Abraham can net the Falcons 10 sacks in 2013, and that’s well worth the money.
Kroy Biermann flourished under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan in 2012. He was used as a tweener 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebacker, and he set a career-high with 52 tackles. He also had four sacks. Biermann could continue to grow under Nolan, but after Biermann, it gets dicey on the depth chart.
Lawrence Sidbury looked like he was ready to break out after 2011 but showed nothing on the field in 2012, although he rarely got the chance to. Sidbury doesn’t seem to fit in with the Falcons any longer, and since he’s a free agent, he’ll likely not return to Atlanta.
Cliff Matthews caught the eye of the coaching staff late in the season, after he saw some considerable snaps for a second-year, seventh-round pick. He should continue to develop, as should Jonathan Massaquoi, who didn’t make as much of an impact as expected.
With Sidbury likely gone and Massaquoi still a question mark, Atlanta may look towards a pass-rusher in the draft, and they may do it early. Addressing the pass rush, or lack thereof, is probably a top five priority this offseason.
I don’t see Atlanta going toward defensive end in the first round of the upcoming draft, and the team may look at an OLB for pass-rush help, too. But I believe that if a powerful end shows up on the draft board where general manager Thomas Dimitroff thinks he can get value, he’ll pounce.