Sacks are the most overrate stat in the NFL, because the most important thing for a pass rush to do is to put pressure on the quarterback. Effective and consistent pressure are caused by good pass rushing- or bad blocking or a combination therein- while sacks are usually caused by the quarterback not being able to escape the pressure or willingly taking the sack. There’s usually a correlation between sack totals and pressure totals, of course, but it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that pressure in spurts doesn’t get the job done in the NFL; consistency is key.
Most coaches state that they look for pressure more than they do sacks, and new Atlanta Falcons defensive line coach Bryant Cox isn’t an exception to this rule. He said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “If you can make the quarterback move his feet and get him off the spot, a lot of times that creates errant throws and that creates interceptions, turnovers and panic. So, I would agree that sacks are not necessarily always the thing you strive for. I think the biggest thing is that you want to affect the quarterback. You want to make him know and understand and feel that you’re are around at all times.”
The Falcons have several needs that they must take care of this offseason, but no need is perhaps greater than pass rusher for the Falcons. While Kroy Biermann’s health next year will make the Falcons pass rush better, Osi Umenyiora was the Falcons only legitimate pass rusher last year. And at this stage of his career, Umenyiora is one of those guys who brings pressure only in spurts and can no longer consistently bring the heat. Maybe he’ll have a better season in 2014, but can the Falcons really count on that? They should be able to re-sign their defensive tackles hitting free agency this year, but that’s another thing Thomas Dimitroff and the organization have to weigh.
Jadeveon Clowney might be the best overall draft prospect in the class, and he’s by far the best DE due to his incredible athleticism, strength, and speed. Clowney is one of those rare players who can excel in any scheme, but he’s an especially good fit in the 4-3 as DE. His ability to dominate as a run defender and pass rusher makes him potentially worth a trade up for the Falcons, who could really use a guy like Clowney. We’ll have to see what happens, though, because the Falcons could also use an offensive tackle and benefit from staying put in their draft slot and drafting a guy like Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson. That said, Clowney is so good and would help the Falcons so much that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Falcons pulled a mini-Julio Jones deal to trade up in order to guarantee that they will get Clowney.