Since Dan Quinn has been the Falcons head coach, he’s tried to implement his style of fast, aggressive play into the Falcons culture. While it’s been effective at times, the one area which struggles almost frequently is the pass rush. Tied for 29th last year, it’s unfortunate because when the front end struggles, it leads to the secondary taking the brunt of it when teams consistently rack up the yards.
So what can be done about it? The team has addressed the need in the draft before, yet some selections like Vic Beasley didn’t reach their full potential outside of one year (2016) and Takk McKinley might be on the way out after this season. While the latter isn’t outright confirmed despite reports that came out of the scouting combine, it does leave the door open for possibilities.
Fans and media alike have thrown out countless ideas, and most of them could be effective. And there’s one specific idea thrown around which has consistently generated some buzz: “what about Yannick Ngakoue”?
It’s no secret that he’s wanting out of Jacksonville, even getting into a Twitter spat with Tony Khan about this:
The million-dollar question here is: would it be feasible for Atlanta to pursue him?
Let’s look at the positives first. Ngakoue has generated 37.5 sacks in his four-year career, with his highest coming in the famed 2017 “Sacksonville” season. Also, during that run, he led the league in forced fumbles, generating six and recovering two (one for a score). Furthermore, he’s started all but two games he’s played in during his career, the outliers being his debut in a loss to the Packers and a Week Two contest last year against the Texans. This showcases an ability to stay healthy, which is important in a high collision sport.
Let’s also look at what system he’s coming into. The Falcons are not the best upfront with their pass rush, with their highest total coming in 2017 (39.0, ranked 13th). Other than this year, the team has finished in 32nd (2015), 16th (2016), 22nd (2018), and T-29th last year. In fact, their pass rush was so invisible, the team didn’t record one single sack from Week Three against Indianapolis to Week Seven against the Rams. Worth noting: while in those five games they did generate pressure, they just couldn’t finish the job.
So let’s look at the potential trade offer which has been going around. The offer is as follows:
ATL: Trades DE Takkarist McKinley, a 2021 fourth-round pick and a 2021 seventh-round pick
JAX: Trades DE Yannick Ngakoue
While this trade does bring some merit to the Falcons, there are some potential ramifications being overlooked. First off, they’d be looking at trading an individual they traded up to draft for an individual who was selected in the third round. And while McKinley hasn’t truly lived up to his potential, he’s still a decent player in his own right and deserves to play for Atlanta in 2020. Furthermore, they just signed Dante Fowler to a three-year, $48 million deal in free agency and drafted Marlon Davison in the second round of the 2020 draft, so it appears as though they have enough on the front seven to at least make some noise in a division that features two pocket passers in Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
This brings me to my suggestion if Atlanta chooses to pursue this option: remove McKinley from this deal and add a second-round selection in 2022 to Jacksonville for Ngakoue. My reasoning behind this is simple: I want to see if a second individual who has established themselves in the NFL can light a fire underneath a former first-round selection in the Dan Quinn era and open up more opportunities for him to eat.
As stated above, Vic Beasley was a good player coming out of Clemson and was selected eighth overall in the 2015 draft. In 2016, what did Atlanta do in free agency? Oh, right: they went out and signed Dwight Freeney, who’s arguably revered in the pass-rushing game as the spin move savant. And how did Beasley perform in that season? Nothing major; he just led the league in sacks with 15.5 en route to a Super Bowl berth. Yes, he did fall off in the next two years but did earn the fifth-year option, and did enough to earn a one-year, $9.5-million deal with the Titans that can reach a maximum of $12 million with incentives. Worth noting: every first-round pick by the Falcons has earned the option, which is a good indication of the team’s ability to draft impact players.
So why can’t Fowler be the Freeney to McKinley’s Beasley? I’m all for anything which can bolster a problem in the Brotherhood, but I want McKinley to leave on his own terms. He’s played enough in my eyes to play out the rookie deal, including the fifth-year option. If Atlanta decides to move on after that, I respect the decision since it allowed him to play it out.
For now, I won’t rule out Ngakoue being brought to Atlanta in a trade scenario. I just wouldn’t part with #98 in a trade for an individual who will be a free agent next year.
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