The Atlanta Falcons have added several key pieces to their defense this offseason. Most recently, the Falcons officially announced the trade for cornerback Jeff Okudah, who was the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
But the Falcons may very well add another defensive piece in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft. At least that’s what Sports Illustrated’s Matt Verderame predicted in his latest mock draft.
“After adding safety Jessie Bates III and defensive tackle David Onyemata in free agency, Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot continues the face-lift with Van Ness, who had 19 tackles for loss and 13 sacks over the past two seasons for the Hawkeyes,” wrote Verderame.
Selecting an edge rusher in the first round is an obvious choice for the Falcons. They haven’t been better than 24th in sacks since the last time they made the playoffs in 2017.
In two seasons under head coach Arthur Smith, the Falcons have finished last and second-to-last in sacks. Overall, they’ve had 39 sacks since the start of the 2021 season. That is, by far, the fewest in the league.
The Las Vegas Raiders have the next fewest sacks over the past two seasons, but they had 62 sacks.
The Falcons pass rush has been embarrassingly bad, especially recently. Adding defensive linemen David Onyemata and Calais Campbell will help, but Smith’s team is also long overdue to target an edge rusher early in the draft.
NFL draft experts consider Van Ness one of the best edge rushers available. He’s ranked a top 15 player in the 2023 class on The Athletic, ESPN and Pro Football Focus big boards. All three of those websites also rated Van Ness a top three edge rusher in the class.
If there’s any concern with Van Ness, it’s his consistency. But he has the potential to be the star edge rusher the Falcons desperately need.
“Van Ness is more of a splash player than consistent force on tape, but he possesses projectable traits that should allow for continued ascension as a pro,” NFL analyst Lance Zierlein wrote.