Ought to Needy Atlanta Falcons signal ex-Colts Jabaal Sheard or Justin Houston?

The Atlanta Falcons are having pass rush problems. At the end of the Dan Quinn era in 2019, the Falcons ranked in the bottom three of any meaningful defense pressure statistic, including sacks. And now, at the dawn of a new era, first year general manager Terry Fontenot, former 2013 first-round selection leader, signed Barkevious Mingo …

We think who the Hawks should attack first is an easy choice: Justin Houston.

And maybe a guy to target too? One of Houston’s youngest Indianapolis Colts teammates …

In the case of Sheard, a former runner-up, this would be a reclamation project. He’s now 32 and has moved a lot since playing for the Patriots in a Super Bowl seven years ago. Sheard is 6-3, 265 and may still have something to prove after spending the past two years mostly on NFL training teams.

Houston has more of a blue chip reputation. Houston, a graduate of Statesboro High School and former Georgia Bulldogs linebacker, wouldn’t just be a feel-good story if he got home to play for the Falcons. Houston is still very good at what he did best throughout his career – sacking the quarterback.

With the Indianapolis Colts, he recorded 19 sacks and 30 quarterback hits in the past two years. In 2020, he had 8 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, and 8 tackles for loss with 25 tackles.

Houston was All-Pro in 2014 and made it to the Pro Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs for four consecutive years from 2012 to 2015. During his all-pro season, he led the NFL with 22 sacks. With an additional 2.5 sacks, he is the 36th player in NFL history to reach 100 sacks.

It would be special to see this milestone reached in the same state that he was raised in. But Houston also fulfills a need. The Falcons didn’t have a single player reaching 5 sacks last year. Only one Falcons player (Vic Beasley in 2019) has posted 8 sacks in a single season in the past three years.

Houston fulfills a great need for Dean Pees’ defense. Even at 32, he probably fulfills this need better than Mingo would have done. Houston has sacks more in its last 24 games than Mingo has in its entire eight-year career.

Houston won’t be an all-down linebacker. Last year he played just under 59% of defensive snaps for the Colts (Mingo played about 36% of Chicago’s defensive snaps last year).

But that’s in line with the 2020 snap counts of Falcons defensive ends Steven Means and Dante Fowler. Grady Jarrett was the only Falcons defensive lineman to play in more than 60% of the team’s defensive snaps last year.

At the moment, Means and Fowler assume that 55-60% of the Falcons’ snaps will be seen again in 2021. Houston could start and allow Pees to use Fowler more situationally. Or Houston could be the pass rushing specialist, coming third fresher than ever in his career.

READ MORE: Falcons’ Placing Fantastic Four in the NFL’s Top 101

In whatever capacity, an outside pass rush is key to anyone the Falcons choose to replace Mingo with ahead of the season. Jarrett creates a lot of pressure from the middle. The hawks need more help. These two ideas are a stopgap solution – but they help.

READ MORE: Fowler: Failure or Breakout?

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