Although the Atlanta Falcons fell short of a return to the Super Bowl, there were still positives to take away from the season. Which Falcons are trending upward?
The main reason the Atlanta Falcons were the only NFC team to return to the playoffs was the improvement of the defense.
Dan Quinn’s “Fast and Physical” motto showed, as the defense jumped from 27th in points allowed per game (25.3) to 7th (19.1) in just one season.
Young stars have emerged throughout the Atlanta defense, but which ones will appear on this list of rising Falcons?
3. Takkarist McKinley
When the Falcons traded up to the 26th spot in last year’s NFL Draft, many expected Atlanta to take either an offensive guard, like Forrest Lamp, or a defensive end, such as Derek Barnett or Derek Rivers.
However, UCLA product Takkarist McKinley came off the board.
McKinley hadn’t showed up in most Atlanta mock drafts leading up to the draft. McKinley’s personality was felt on draft night, from bringing a picture of his grandma on stage to cussing in an emotional speech that caught everyone’s attention.
It was made clear right away that McKinley would bring plenty of emotion and passion to Dan Quinn’s squad.
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His play on the football field has been just as exciting, as McKinley has been a shot in the arm for the defensive line.
McKinley racked up six sacks in the regular season, ranking second on the team behind Adrian Clayborn with 9.5.
Also, Takk has two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
His efforts helped Atlanta improve their sack total for the second consecutive year after ranking last in the NFL in 2015.
Takk blossomed in the second half of the season, totalling six sacks in his last nine games, including the playoffs.
His best play of the year was arguably his strip sack of Russell Wilson on Monday Night Football, which resulted in a scoop-and-score for Clayborn.
He’s the long-term compliment to Vic Beasley that this defensive front desperately needed. Beasley had over 45% of the team’s sacks in 2016, which called for another pass rusher to take the pressure off of Vic. He’s done just that, as the future looks bright for these two.
Takk did all of this despite only playing 401 defensive snaps (38.19%). Takk played the fourth most snaps of the Falcons’ edge rushers, falling behind Adrian Clayborn (52.86%), Vic Beasley (46%), and Brooks Reed (39.24%).
With Clayborn being a free agent next year and McKinley’s talent clearly evident, expect his snap count to be around 40-45% next year. And with more snaps, expect Takk’s production to only go up in his second season.