DL – this is team priority Number One to me. Yes, the pass rush is better, but that’s mostly Vic Beasley, who’s playing a Von Miller-esque strongside linebacker / defensive hybrid role, with lesser contributions from Adrian Clayborn and Dwight Freeney. What’s everybody else doing? The run defense, as the game against Philly showed, can also be suspect. This is supposed to be a Seahawk-style defense, and when the ‘Hawks were dismantling Denver in the Super Bowl (and everybody else on their way there) they were doing it with a D-line that was two-deep at every position and rotated heavily with little if any dropoff regardless of who was in the game. The Falcons don’t have that kind of talent and depth right now, and they’re due to lose a good chunk of what they have in free agency. Freeney, Courtney Upshaw, and Jon Babineaux are all free agents. Tyson Jackson and perhaps even Ra-shede Hageman are candidates to get cut.
Free agency could offer the likes of Chandler Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Melvin Ingram off the edge, and Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, and John Hankins up the gut. Calais Campell is a potential free agent who could play both the five-technique and the three-technique positions. The draft also offers a lot of talent this year along the defensive line, with multiple options likely being available in the latter half or latter third of the first round, which is where the Falcons’ pick should be (Derek Barnett DE Tennessee, Carl Lawson DE Auburn, Charles Harris DE Missouri, Solomon Thomas DE Stanford, Dawuane Smoot DE Illinois, Vita Vea DT Washington, and Star Lotulelei DT Utah, for example).
LB – the issue here is depth. The starting trio of De’Vondre Campbell, Deion Jones, and Beasley (in
a base 4-3 set) is fine, but Sean Weatherspoon, Philip Wheeler, Paul Worrilow, and LaRoy Reynolds are all free agents. I’d like to see Reynolds back, as I see a little Nate Stupar in him – a good special teams player who’s also a better linebacker than I thought. He’s got good speed, too. Weatherspoon just can’t stay healthy, Wheeler is aging, and Worrilow is a liability in coverage, though. We need the LB depth to be younger, faster, more athletic, and better against the pass. I’d look more to the draft than free agency to try to address this issue, with prospects such as Jalen Reeves-Maybin Tennessee and Josh Harvey-Clemons Louisville coming to mind immediately.
CB – I’d let Robert Alford walk in free agency. He can make plays (let’s not forget the pick-six in OT versus Washington last year), but it seems like more often than not he’s either getting beat deep or committing a penalty to keep from getting beat deep. Desmond Trufant may be one of the top ten corners in the league. Jalen Collins has played surprisingly well since Trufant went down with an injury in the win over Tampa Bay, and just may be the guy Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff thought they were getting when they drafted him 42nd overall in the 2015 draft. Brian Poole has been a revelation at the nickel spot. C. J. Goodwin and Akeem king have both had their moments to give Atlanta hope for their futures.
I don’t necessarily think CB has to be addressed in the offseason, but that really depends upon how everyone other than Trufant plays for the rest of the year. It’s not a great year for corners in free agency, and I believe there are bigger needs to address, anyway. The draft, however, offers some intriguing mid- and late-round prospects that could be good fits (Kevin King Washington, Ahkelo Witherspoon Colorado, Jeremy Clark Michigan, and Rasul Douglas West Virginia, to name a few).
S – other than re-signing Kemal Ishmael, I don’t know that anything really needs to be done here. I hated the Keanu Neal pick at the time (and a friend of mine has the video on his phone to prove it 🙂 ), but he has played like a first-round pick, grading out as one of the top ten rookies in the league, regardless of position, according to Pro Football Focus. There are those who don’t like Ricardo Allen, but let’s not forget he’s only a third-year player and a second-year starter at free safety. Wouldn’t it be a little early to pull the plug on the experiment with him? Yes, Eric Berry could be a free agent, but I feel like there are bigger needs to spend money on than free safety. If Ishmael is re-signed he brings great depth and versatility. He can play strong safety, special teams, probably free safety if he had to, and even outside ‘backer in a pinch. Robenson Therezie is solid as a backup to Allen.
ST – no concerns here. Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, and Josh Harris are all good at what they do and are under contract. The only potential issue here would be if Bryant decided to retire, but I’ve heard nothing to that effect as yet.