Thursday May 23rd, 2024 2:19AM

Falcons could target edge rusher in NFL Draft

By Charles Odum AP Sports Writer

ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons' offseason overhaul, highlighted by the additions of coach Raheem Morris and quarterback Kirk Cousins, add intrigue to the team's NFL draft plans.

By signing Cousins to a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million guaranteed, the Falcons appear to have no need to join the competition for the top quarterbacks in the draft with their No. 8 overall pick. Desmond Ridder, who opened last season as the starter, was traded to Arizona for wide receiver Rondale Moore following the Cousins signing.

Taylor Heinicke, who shared the job with Ridder last season, returns as the probable backup.

Is there still a need for another quarterback? Cousins will be 36 when the 2024 season opens, and he is returning from a torn right Achilles tendon that ended his 2023 season after eight games.

While it's possible the team could add another quarterback after the first round, the Falcons could focus on defense at the top of the draft. Atlanta may address a pressing need by looking for an edge rusher, such as Alabama's Dallas Turner, in the first round.

OFFENSIVE FOUNDATION IN PLACE

A healthy Cousins should be a good fit for an offense that has focused on adding playmakers with recent first-round picks. Last year's top rookie, running back Bijan Robinson, joined tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receiver Drake London as the most recent first-round selections, all taken in the top eight overall.

The Falcons gave Cousins another playmaker by signing former Chicago wide receiver Darnell Mooney to a three-year, $39 million deal with $26 million guaranteed.

NEEDS

The Falcons moved closer to the middle of the NFL team leaders with 42 sacks in 2023, a dramatic jump from 2022, when they had only 21, and 2021, when they were last with 18.

Even so, Atlanta hasn't had a player with as many as 10 sacks since 2016, when Vic Beasley had 15 1/2. Defensive tackle Calais Campbell and linebacker Bud Dupree, who each had 6 1/2 sacks to share the team lead, are free agents. Campbell may retire.

If selected, Turner could move into the outside linebacker role in the 3-4 base scheme to be installed by Morris and new defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake.

The Falcons' other needs include cornerback, defensive tackle and offensive tackle. The offensive line under former coach Arthur Smith was perceived to be a strength, but the unit excelled in run blocking while allowing 40 sacks.

Also, there is room for a deep threat to serve as a complement to London, Mooney, and Moore at wide receiver.

DON'T NEED

Robinson, Tyler Allgeier and Avery Williams give new offensive coordinator Zac Robinson a strong foundation at running back, even after Cordarrelle Patterson signed a two-year deal with Pittsburgh. Tight end also looks deep with Pitts, Charlie Woerner, John FitzPatrick and Tucker Fisk.

BIJAN BALL

There is much expectation that Bijan Robinson's skills as a receiver out of the backfield will be better utilized by Cousins and Zac Robinson. While on the Rams staff in 2022, Zac Robinson saw Bijan Robinson show his diverse skills at Texas against Oklahoma State.

"Bijan had about 180 yards of total offense," Zac Robinson said. "It seemed like every time he touched the football, something good was going to happen. That was my first exposure to him. ... Seeing him play in person up close, I was like, 'This guy is unbelievable.' Then you study him throughout the draft and you realize what a special player he is. With the ball in his hands, there are so many things he can do. There's nothing he can't do. That's what gets you excited."

FAN OF FONTENOT

General manager Terry Fontenot's recent first-round draft picks received a thumbs-up from Morris in his introductory news conference.

When asked what he liked about the Falcons' roster, Morris said, "That's real easy. Drake London, Bijan Robinson."

Added Morris of Fontenot: "This man has acquired some really good pieces and tools."
 

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