Atlanta Falcons: Pass Rush Improvement Must Come From Within

Atlanta Falcons, De'Vondre Campbell #59 (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Atlanta Falcons, De'Vondre Campbell #59 (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /
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Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons De’Vondre Campbell (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The Internal Solution

The player that the Atlanta Falcons should truly give more opportunity to rush the passer is strong side linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. Standing 6’4 but weighing just 232 pounds, Campbell is smaller than the typical edge rusher. For this reason he would be best used as a rusher on obvious passing downs. The linebacker who is primarily known for covering tight ends, has been credited with just 3.5 sacks in his three-year career, yet Pro Football Focus who watches and grades every play of every game, gives De’Vondre credit for five sacks.

De’Vondre Campbell only saw 54 pass rush snaps as a rookie in 2016. That total has increased each of the last two seasons and Campbell has rushed the passer a combined 198 times in 2017 and 2018. The past season De’Vondre registered nine total presses and two sacks, in 105 pass rush attempts. That was good for a pressure every 11.7 pass rush attempts. That compares favorably to Vic Beasley’s rate of a pressure every 13.9 rush attempts, on 460 attempts in 2018.

De’Vondre Campbell compiled 13 pressures and three sacks, in just 93 pass rush attempts in 2017. That was an impressive rate of a pressure every 7.2 attempts. That rate was better than Takk McKinley’s 2018 rate of causing pressure once every 8.2 pass attempts. It earned Campbell a very respectable PFF grade of 71.9 for the 2017 season. If stands to reason that with more snaps as a pass rusher, Campbell should get in a rhythm and create even more havoc for opposing offenses.

De’Vondre Campbell has been taught how to rush the passer from one of football’s best teachers, former Atlanta Falcons defensive end Chuck Smith. De’Vondre has been a student of Chuck Smith’s pass rush academy off and on since the offseason before his rookie year. In this 2017 article by D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC, Campbell talked about how much he loves working with “Big” Chuck Smith. He gave the following quotes about what he was working on and how much he enjoys working with Smith:

"“The biggest thing I’m trying to improve on is my line of scrimmage technique,” Campbell said. “I spent the whole offseason training with a (defensive) line coach. Just really working on my hands, my get off, my hip explosion and different things.” “Chuck Smith is amazing,” Campbell said. “I worked with him pre-draft. Once I got here I found I wouldn’t really be doing too much on the line of scrimmage stuff, so I stopped working with him a little bit. “But this past offseason, once I found out was playing (strongside linebacker) again, I started back working with Chuck. He’s an amazing guy. He’s helped me out so much.”"

Chuck Smith also raved about De’Vondre Campbell’s pass rush ability. He did so in this article by Dave Choate of the Falcoholic. Smith is quoted in saying this, about the Atlanta Falcons linebacker:

"“He can play any one of those linebacker positions. And as he continues to develop and grow, he can one day be a pass rusher who can put his hand down (in the dirt). So when you really look at him, he’s a guy who puts in hard work, can rush and has grit, and I just think his versatility makes him the kind of player they were looking for. He also has the build. I know what Thomas (Dimitroff) was looking for—he was looking for length. And De’Vondre has that.”"