I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 25th-ranked player: defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi.
To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.
Total Score: 52/100
Last year’s rank: 33
Player Grade: 52/100
Teams he is starter: 8 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 1 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 27 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +4
There is a lot on Massaquoi’s shoulders this season, as in the eyes of many he’s expected to be the team’s top pass-rusher. A fairly tall order for a player with just four career sacks.
But due to the disappointment of Osi Umenyiora last season, many had hope that the Falcons would seriously address their pass rush this past offseason. But the team basically stood pat, suggesting there is a great deal of confidence in players like Massaquoi stepping up.
The hope is for that confidence to not be as misplaced as the team’s confidence was in some of its young offensive linemen last season.
But there is some cause for hope with Massaquoi. While not showing gawdy numbers last year as a pass-rusher, there were many instances where Massaquoi was a step or so away from making a play. And if he can be sped up in any way, he should be able to make up that ground and start turning those “almost” sacks, hits and pressures into actual ones.
That’s where the coaching of new defensive line coach Bryan Cox is expected to impact. If Cox can improve Massaquoi’s skills so that his hands are a bit quicker, that should allow him to disengage from blockers a beat or two faster, which can be all the difference in a game-changing play.
Massaquoi is expected to start over Umenyiora this year in the team’s base packages, relegating the latter to sub-packages. It should help both players as Massaquoi is the better run defender.
Last season, Massaquoi was a bit miscast on the strong side as a replacement for an injured Kroy Biermann. Massaquoi just doesn’t possess those sorts of abilities to be a combo end and linebacker. He’s more a true end, that should benefit from replacing Umenyiora on the weak side in the base package as he did down the stretch last year.
Massaquoi will be asked to play standing up this year certainly, but ideally it will be primarily to rush the quarterback rather than dropping into coverage, another area where he has routinely struggled over the past two years.
It’s a big year for Massaquoi and will determine his future in Atlanta. He could not show the growth expected and might be relegated to situational duties for the remainder of his time here. Or he could blossom under Cox’s tutelage and essentially become the first capable edge-rusher that the team has developed in the Mike Smith Era.
It really could go either way.