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Does Dante Fowler Jr. Release Change Atlanta's Draft Plan?

Atlanta's release of Dante Fowler Jr. only clarifies its need to address the pass rush this offseason

Dante Fowler's biggest problem since being selected third overall in 2015 has been consistency. In the end, the inconsistent play cost him another season on the Atlanta Falcons roster. 

Dante Fowler Falcons at Bills
Dante Fowler vs. Jacksonville
Dante Fowler Atlanta Falcons
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Fowler was released Wednesday after two inconsistent seasons. Signed to a three-year, $45 million deal, the soon-to-be 28-year-old pass rusher was paid all of his guaranteed money last offseason, making him a cap casualty entering a pivotal offseason.

Fowler was only scheduled to count for $4.6 million this season.

The biggest question now is if Fowler's release will change the outlook on Atlanta's draft plan starting with the No. 8 selection. As of now, it's hard to imagine losing a player like Fowler would change general manager Terry Fontenot's draft plan.

Simply put, Atlanta needed pass rushing help with Fowler on one side of the football. It still needs it with him gone. 

Keep in mind that Fowler led Atlanta in sacks during the 2021 season with 4.5 takedowns. Nine other players combined for the other 13.5 sacks, with three players recording two sacks apiece. 

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The Falcons finished dead last in sacks with 18 last fall. Now with Fowler hitting free agency, Ade Ogundeji, James Vaughters and John Cominsky are the only names on the 2022 roster who have played meaningful reps at pass rusher. 

In reality, Atlanta won't have to reach in the draft to select its next hopeful pass-rushing sensation. If one of the top names were to fall to them, or if Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith were to be enamored by a talent at next month's combine, by all means the Falcons should be interested. 

Unlike in years past, the pass rushing class has high-end talent on both Days 1 and 2. Should Atlanta be interested in going with the best pass rusher early, a name like Michigan's David Ojabo, Purdue George Karlaftis or Florida State's Jermaine Johnson all should be in play. 

If the Falcons were to wait until Rounds 2 and 3, they'd be getting more raw talents, but still names with upside. Talent such as Minnesota Boye Mafe, Cincinnati's Myjai Sanders, USC's Drake Jackson and Penn State's Arnold Ebiketie might not be as NFL-ready as others, but still provide value on the defensive line. 

It's all about fit for Atlanta. The Falcons must consider upgrading their offensive line and secondary as well, meaning if a player that is graded higher than the pass rushers, they shouldn't hesitate to select them early. 

All the release of Fowler indicates is that Atlanta isn't pleased with its pass rush. It will be a priority to address this offseason, but not one that moves the needle into panic mode at No. 8.