How will The Atlanta Falcons Replace The Loss Of Two Key D Linemen?

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 07: Adrian Clayborn
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 07: Adrian Clayborn /
Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons /

The Atlanta Falcons lost 2 key defensive linemen this week when Dontari Poe and Adrian Clayborn signed with rival teams. How the Atlanta Falcons replace them, will be key for next season.

Dontari Poe signed a 3 year $27 million dollar deal with the heated division rival Carolina Panthers. The 6’3 330 pound, 28 year old giant, started all 16 games at Defensive Tackle for The Atlanta Falcons. The former Kansas City Chief was acquired on a 1 year $8 million dollar deal. Poe was second among Falcons’ defensive linemen with 880 snaps played. He finished with 36 combined tackles and 2.5 sacks. Dontari was rated as the 35th best interior defensive lineman by Pro Football Focus.

Adrian Clayborn signed a 2 year contract worth up to $25 million dollars, with the hated New England Patriots. The 29 year old, 6’3 280 pound Defensive End, appeared in all 16 games starting 2. Clayborn collected an Atlanta Falcons’ team high 9.5 sacks, including a franchise record 6 sacks vs the Dallas Cowboys.

AC also had 21 combined tackles. He lead the teams’ edge defenders with 632 snaps played. Adrian was graded the 19th best edge defender by Pro Football Focus.

Clayborn tweeted a goodbye message here:

How will the Atlanta Falcons replace both players?

Adrian Clayborn will most likely be replaced by a variety of players who are already on the roster. Takkarist McKinley, who was drafted in the 1st round of last year’s draft is sure to see an increased workload on the edge.

The return of Jack Crawford from injury will help fill the role of interior pass rusher that Clayborn often filled. Newly resigned Derrick Shelby, is also expected to see snaps on the edge versus the run, and inside versus the pass. More on the Shelby signing by ATL All Day’s Kit Anderson here:

Clayborn also tweeted an endorsement for McKinley as his replacement:

The Falcons recently met with free agent Defensive End Pernell McFee formerly of the Chicago Bears. They have also spoke to Robert Ayers, who has spent the last 2 seasons chasing Quarterbacks for the division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Should the team not sign either linemen, it would be wise for the Dirty Birds to use a pick in rounds 2-4 to shore up the edge rush depth. A local guy like Lorenzo Carter of The University of Georgia could be an ideal fit to add to the rotation.

Replacing Dontari Poe is a very important task for Atlanta Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff. There is no in house candidate to replace his work on run downs. Returning starter Grady Jarrett, is the only true defensive tackle on the roster.

It is widely believed the the Falcons will use their 1st round pick as a replacement for Poe. Washington’s 6’5 347 pound Vita Vea, and Alabama’s Daron Payne 6’2 320 pounds, are the two top candidates. Vea who completed 41 bench press reps at the combine, is almost certain to be off the board when the Falcons pick at number 26. Securing him would require to team to trade up. Payne who was dominant in the National Title Game, could also be off the board as well. Other candidates include Florida’s Taven Bryan, 6’4 291 pounds, and Maurice Hurst of Michigan, 6’2 282 pounds.

I personally, am of the belief that the Falcons need to stick with a larger Defensive Tackle. A big body tackle would continue to draw double teams away from the undersized Pro Bowl snub Grady Jarrett. That would make Virginia Tech’s 6’3 335 pound Tim Settle the ideal plan C, for replacing Dontari Poe.

SI’s Gary Gramling says this about Settle:

"” He might be a heckuva consolation prize for any team that misses out on Vita Vea. Settle was up and down at Tech, but showed the ability to play all over the line and not only eat double teams, but occasionally bring interior pressure in the pass rush. He has some work to do, but the movement skills are outstanding for his size.”"

Check out the latest SI Big Board by clicking the link here.

A few free agent options exists should the Atlanta Falcons choose to go that route. Former Indianapolis Colt and NY Giant Jonathan Hankins, 6’3 320 pounds could be a good fit. Our Kit Anderson explores the possibility in this article:

Miami Dolphin Ndamukong Suh 6’4 307 pounds, and former UGA DT John Jenkins 6’3 327 pounds are also still on the market.

The fact is, the Atlanta Falcons brass faces a pivotal decision, choosing the right Defensive Tackle to replace Dontari Poe. It is paramount that the Bird’s run defense improves, or maintains its 7th ranked status. If the young defense is to take the next step towards being one of the NFL’s most dominant, they must continue to shut down the run. Thomas Dimitroff, Scott Piolli, and Dan Quinn, have to get this draft pick right!

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