Atlanta Falcons: Philip Wheeler will make an impact on defense


Philip Wheeler was signed by the Atlanta Falcons last week and initially it was thought that he would be a depth signing for the Falcons. Upon closer review, he might just be a key piece of the puzzle for Dan Quinn’s fast and physical style of defense.

Wheeler may end up being the middle linebacker the Falcons need on defense. That spot is currently occupied by Paul Worrilow, however it is no secret that he struggles in coverage. Worrilow did have an interception to stop a scoring threat by the Titans last week before the end of the first half but truth be told, it was just a terrible throw by backup quarterback Zack Mettenberger.

Worrilow is currently rated as the 42nd inside linebacker by Pro Football Focus. There are only 32 teams in the NFL which means there are plenty of backup players grading higher than him. He’s just not getting it done, and may end up being a backup and special teams player before the season is over.

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Wheeler has the size at 6’2, 245 lbs and speed to play the middle linebacker position similar to the way Bobby Wagner does with Seattle. He will fill the games on run plays and roam the middle of the field in zone defense with the ability to cover running backs out of the backfield and shut down opposing tight ends.

In 2014, he graded out as the 16th best outside linebacker for the Miami Dolphins however a change to inside linebacker could benefit him as he enters his eighth NFL season. His flexibility to play outside linebacker was probably a big reason the Falcons decided to sign him and waive Allen Bradford. Especially considering the injury woes of Justin Durant.

This week I expect to see Wheeler on the field for about 12-15 reps. The Falcons will be able to evaluate his performance to see what he has left in the tank. I suspect he has something to prove and will work his way into the starting middle linebacker spot by Week 10.