The rookie that can push the Atlanta Falcons over the top

Sep 17, 2016; Columbia, MO, USA; Missouri Tigers defensive end Charles Harris (91) celebrates after a sack against the Georgia Bulldogs in the first half at Faurot Field. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 17, 2016; Columbia, MO, USA; Missouri Tigers defensive end Charles Harris (91) celebrates after a sack against the Georgia Bulldogs in the first half at Faurot Field. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports /

The Atlanta Falcons had a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI. Who is the rookie that can push them over the top and get them to a title?

As great as the 2016 season was for the Atlanta Falcons on the whole, the disappointing end in Super Bowl LI will linger until the team wins a title.

There will be a period of transition for this team on the offensive side of the ball with Kyle Shanahan departing for San Francisco, but the pieces remain in place for Atlanta to repeat as NFC Champions and contend for a Super Bowl yet again in 2017.

The question now, after the initial wave of free agency, is what kind of player do the Falcons need to target early in the draft that can push them over the top?

After watching this team last season and how they progressed quickly with so many rookies defensively, I think the area Atlanta needs to address in the first round is obvious. Vic Beasley had a monster year this past season, racking up 15.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in the regular season, but none in the postseason.

Beasley is getting some help from newly acquired defensive linemen Dontari Poe, a former first round pick of Scott Pioli (now the assistant GM in Atlanta) with the Kansas City Chiefs. Poe brings some added pressure and size to the interior defensive line, where Grady Jarrett began to emerge as a stud last season for the Falcons.

In addition to Dontari Poe, the Falcons brought in versatile Jack Crawford from the Dallas Cowboys, a 6-5, 288 pound defensive lineman that can play inside and out.

Those two big free agent pickups added to the talent already on the roster in former first rounder Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, and Ra’Shede Hagemen give the Falcons an exciting defensive front…

…but there’s still a need to add some more flash to the pass rush.

Dwight Freeney proved to be a valuable pickup in free agency last year, as he sort of helped clear the way for Vic Beasley and provided a mentor for some of those young players to look up to. He had three sacks in the regular season and one in the Super Bowl, but the Falcons really lacked a top flight secondary pass rush presence.

In today’s NFL, getting pressure on the quarterback is almost just as valuable as having an elite quarterback. If the Falcons can pair an elite quarterback in Matt Ryan with two edge rushers that can bring the heat, they have the horses on the interior defensively to be able to make life terrible for opposing teams.

That’s why I believe the best solution for the Falcons in the first round is to take a pass rusher that can take pressure off of Vic Beasley, and also cash in on his own one-on-one opportunities. In my mind, there’s a potential steal at the bottom of the first round in Missouri’s Charles Harris.

The versatility of Harris to play both with his hand in the dirt and standing up is appealing from an overall fit standpoint. Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme seems to be perfect for a player like Harris that can do what he does best and get to the quarterback.

Atlanta already has a stellar secondary in the making and the added pressure up front from guys like Beasley, Poe, and someone like Harris could make them even more dangerous.

Harris has exceptional burst off the line, and despite not running the best 40-yard dash time at the Scouting Combine, he showed off great athleticism at the Missouri pro day, posting a 37.5-inch vertical jump and a nine foot, 10 inch broad jump.

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Those numbers were significantly better than the ones he posted while at the Combine, and I think he showed off to scouts what they needed to see from him.

Most importantly, you see in Harris a player that just has a knack for making plays behind the line of scrimmage. He’s not the elite speed guy like Beasley, but he has the ability to use a variety of moves to get pressure on the quarterback.

I think for the Falcons, this is a player that can help get them over the top. He’s got the potential that I think he can rack up 8-10 sacks in his rookie season with the talent around him and the scheme Dan Quinn brings to the table.

If he can provide even eight sacks in the regular season and another ‘closer’ at the end of games, Atlanta is going to be very tough to beat this season.