Defensive tackle may not see a massive shift in personnel this offseason, but it could see a significant change in the positional philosophy. With the hire of Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator the Falcons will use multiple looks on defense and shift between the 4-3 and the 3-4. With this new philosophy coming in, it puts an extra emphasis on versatility.
Are the current defensive tackles for the Falcons versatile enough to fit this new scheme?
Current starters Johnathon Babineaux and Corey Peters are both intriguing prospects in this new scheme. Corey Peters to start has been a real nice pick for the Falcons since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2010. He is a great run stopper, as a 4-3 DT and was improving his pass rush moves throughout his 2nd year in the league. The thought of Peters in a 3-4 intrigues me as I think he could be a dominant force at 3-4 DE and could move to NT on passing downs for extra pass rush. Whichever scheme we decide to run Peters is currently our best option on the interior of the defensive line.
Other starter Johnathon Babineaux, I think could struggle to some degree in this new defense. He is at his best when he is matched one on one with a guard where he can use his quickness to explode past his opponent. When being matched up against a double team, he really struggles to get off his block and make any sort of an impact on the play. That is why the idea of him playing 3-4 DE isn’t that promising; as he would face more double teams and would have to do more dirty work on a 3 man line. Babineaux is expected to make over $5 million this year as a player over the age of 30. If cap space starts to become an issue Babs could be one to go especially if the Falcons opt to run more of the Babs unfriendly 3-4, reducing his value to the team substantially.
Going further down the depth chart you find the underachieving Peria Jerry. He was continued to be a disappointment, ever since the Falcons drafted him with their 1st round pick in 2009. What can the Falcons do to avoid Jerry busting out of town?
Not a lot at this stage, he has had 3 years in the league, albeit he missed his rookie year after tearing his ACL which must of made an impact in both his 2nd and 3rd year. But still he has shown nothing to the Falcons faithful that he is capable of mathcing his lofty draft status. He is under contract for two more years at not an alarming rate so he is certainly worth keeping, to see if he can fulfil his potential. He will get one more go throughout training camp but to get on the roster this year he will have to earn it rather than being given the spot simply because he was a former 1st round pick. I am also not sure how we would fit in a 3-4; to play DE he would certainly need to bulk up a bit so he can be more of a force against the run.
Vance Walker was the only other Falcons DT to be on the active roster the entire year. Walker has been solid against the run his entire career whilst offering next to nothing as a pass rusher. He like Peters could fit in either the 4-3 or 3-4 at 3-4 DE, NT, or 4-3 DE but he does not possess starting level talent but would be a good rotational player in Nolan’s scheme.
How do the Falcons improve the position this offseason? Getting a 4-3 DT is not a priority for the Falcons as there are many needs that require addressing first. If the 3-4 is going to be a significant part of the defense the Falcons should look at bringing in a big nose tackle to beef up the line.
In free agency, Dolphins NT Paul Soliai would be at the top of the list. He has played exceptionally well under Mike Nolan for the past two seasons in Miami and according to reports has a great relationship with his former defensive coordinator. Soliai is 28 years old and coming off a year where he was franchise tag player for the Dolphins. He would not be that cheap but would instantly turn the Falcons 3-4 option into a deadly force.
Looking at the draft, Alabama NT Josh Chapman would be a nice option in round 3 and if he slips to the Falcons 2nd round pick Washington NT Alameda Ta’Amu would be a terrific addition to the Falcons D.