The Atlanta Falcons drafted three rookies on the defensive side of the ball, all with potential to make a major impact in their first season.
Linebacker Troy Andersen and EDGE rusher Arnold Ebiketie face an uncertain path to starting roles. While Ebiketie is very likely to play significant snaps on passing downs, he may have to beat out free agent addition Lorenzo Carter to start in Atlanta’s base 3-4 defense.
Andersen will be an impact player on special teams his rookie year, but is still learning the nuances of the linebacker position, as 2021 was the first season he’s ever strictly focused on the position. Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy believes Andersen’s best football is “way ahead of him,” and that he’ll be a starter in his second season.
Much like Ebiketie, Western Kentucky’s DeAngelo Malone will see a role on passing downs. He’s a hyper-athletic outside linebacker who should be a perfect fit for Pees’ 3-4 scheme, working both forward off the line of scrimmage and in reverse, dropping into coverage. His versatility will help him see the field early, but Malone likely won’t see too many starts during his rookie season.
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The starting job will not be given to any of the three rookies, it will have to be earned. However, the opportunity is certainly there.
While all three face unique paths to the starting lineup, there is a legitimate chance some first-year players will get there depending on injuries and if they can live up to their pre-draft hype.