The Rise of Atlanta Falcons DE Jonathan Massaquoi


In what has become a string of abysmal games on the defensive side of the ball for the Atlanta Falcons, who now rank last in the NFL in total yards given up, a bright spot has emerged. We’re all familiar with the excellent young corners the team has anchoring the secondary, but it’s extremely hard for anyone in the secondary to make plays when noone on the front seven has been able to consistently put pressure on the quarterback. However, a playmaker in the front 7, has emerged in the past few games: Jonathan Massaquoi.

The 26 year old Massaquoi is a hometown product, having played his football at Central Gwinnett Highschool, in the metro Atlanta area. He attended Butler Community College for a year before transferring to Troy University, where he’d make his college home in the Sun Belt conference. In his first season with the Trojans, Mass was stellar: totaling 76 tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss, and a Sun Belt leading 13.5 sacks in 13 games played. It was clear that he was someone who could disrupt the pocket. His junior year, however, was not as successful as his sophomore campaign: he had 52 total tackles (down 24 from the previous year), 10.5 tackles for a loss (down 10), and just 6 sacks (down 7.5) in 12 games played. A 15 pound weight gain in the offseason was cited as one of reasons for his drop off in production (he shed those 15 pounds after entering the NFL). Mass decided to forgo his senior year of college to enter the NFL draft, but he knew that the rough year he was coming off of would hurt his stock.

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In the consensus pre-draft analysis for the Atlanta Falcons, Jonathan Massaquoi was characterized as a player with excellent speed and a good pass rush technique, but someone who was very raw and who would have to spend some extra time in the weight room. One Yahoo Sports analyst went as far as to call Mass a potential “pro bowler, and quarterback sack leader.” He also went on to say that “if his skills were more refined, he’d be a first round lock.” The Troy product ended up falling to the Falcons in the 5th round, and was really the only bright spot in what was an awful 2012 draft for Thomas Dimitroff (you can read my full draft grades article here).

True to the analysis, Massaquoi was very raw coming out of college, and as a result, didn’t make an impact his rookie year. The one time Central Gwinnett Black Knight played in eight games total that year, and had 2 tackles on limited snaps. His playing time spiked in his sophomore campaign, when he took advantage of an unfortunate situation: Kroy Bierman’s season ending achilles tear. Mass ended up taking full advantage of the opportunity: playing in all 16 games (starting 4), and having 46 tackles along with 4 sacks, in the process. It wasn’t even certain that he would make the team at one point before the season, but it’s a good thing for the Falcons that he did.

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  • This season, Jonathan Massaquoi has really made his presence felt. Fans had been calling for the underwhelming Kroy Bierman to be benched, or at least have his playing time reduced, just a few weeks into the season. Reluctant at first, Mike Smith eventually ended up obliging to the request, after it had become clear that Massaquoi was playing at a much higher level. The Troy product has particularly shined in the Falcons’ last two games, against the Bears and Ravens respectively. He was the best player on the defensive side of the ball against the Bears; totaling 4 tackles, 2 QB hits, 3 hurries, and a sack, while also earning a +3.0 rating from Pro Football Focus for the performance. It was the best game of his career to date, and was topped just a week later against the Ravens. Once again the MVP of the defense, Massaquoi broke out to the tune of 6 tackles, 3 QB hits, and 2 hurries on a season high 52 snaps (only 20 pass rush opportunities), while also dropping running back Justin Forsett for a 5 yard loss in the 4th quarter. He just missed out on a sack as Joe Flacco got rid of the ball while being pulled down, just before his knee touched the ground (supposedly). Massaquoi’s consistent pressure and disruptive presence, led to the playmakers in the secondary making plays, as Robert Alford ended up intercepting Flacco in the endzone twice. Mass’ performance earned him a +6.9 rating from Pro Football Focus, which was a game high.

    Jonathan Massaquoi has finally gotten the opportunity for more playing time, and he’s proven himself worthy of being more than just the rotational defensive lineman he was at the start of the season. Against the Bears he played 59% of the teams snaps, and against the Ravens he was on the field 76% of the time: these were his two most productive games ever, according to advanced analytics. Mass’ Pass Rush Productivity score is the third highest among all 3-4 outside linebackers in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus; Kroy Bierman, meanwhile, is 49th out of 49 players who qualify. It’s not even a question anymore, Jonathan Massaquoi deserves the starting role, and maximum playing time.