Breaking down the 2023 Atlanta Falcons training camp roster: Linebackers

Troy Andersen tries to realize his Urlacher-level potential in 2023.
Atlanta Falcons v Baltimore Ravens
Atlanta Falcons v Baltimore Ravens / Michael Owens/GettyImages

The most important part of any defense is the off-ball linebacker unit. The Atlanta Falcons are making changes to their group this year with the nonchalance about letting Rashaan Evans and Nick Kwiatkowski leave while adding Kaden Elliss and quite a few others to compete for Kwiatkowski's old role. The linebackers unit will be very different for the 2023 season than it was in 2022, and the Falcons should have a much better unit than they had in 2022.

Kaden Elliss

Career Stats: 101 Tackles, 8 Tackles for Loss, 8.0 Sacks, 13 QB Hits, 2 Fumbles Forced, 1 Fumble Recovered, 2 Pass Deflections

One of the Falcons biggest acquisitions in the offseason was the signing of Kaden Elliss to be their starting inside linebacker for the next three seasons. Elliss understands the defense that new coordinator Ryan Nielsen is running and has shown he can perform extremely well in the defense after his 2022 breakout campaign. The Falcons need him to continue his breakout but for the Falcons moving forward. He's got the athleticism and football intelligence to take the defense to new heights.

Elliss will be a guy who plays every snap for the Falcons at inside linebacker as long as he stays healthy all season. The Falcons linebacker corps will be young and inexperienced relative to the rest of the league, but they have a good piece in Elliss. Nielsen will send him on a lot of interior blitzes and use him in short zones. Don't expect him to play a ton in man-to-man coverages because that's not his strength, but if he can get better there, the Falcons could have a top 10 defense.

Role with the Falcons in 2023: Starting Linebacker

Troy Andersen

Career Stats: 69 Tackles, 3 Tackles for Loss, 3 QB Hits, 1 Fumble Forced, 1 Pass Deflection

The Falcons love athletes at the linebacker spot. With Troy Andersen, they have arguably the best athlete to come out of the college ranks on their roster. He has comparable athleticism to Brian Urlacher, and that's the kind of potential he shows. The expectation for Andersen is that he wins one of the two primary off-ball linebacker roles in the defense and plays nearly all of the snaps at the position for the 2023 season.

Andersen could really turn into a stud in the defense. The scheme rewards his downhill style of play against the run and should give him pass rushing opportunities that he wouldn't see elsewhere. The big question for Andersen is how well he can turn into a quality coverage linebacker. In 2022, as a rookie, he had a lot of struggles in coverage and wasn't grasping it well. For the 2023 season, he will have to make strides there for the Falcons defense to take the next step.

Role with the Falcons in 2023: Starting Linebacker

Mykal Walker

Career Stats: 187 Tackles, 5 Tackles for Loss, 1.0 Sack, 4 QB Hits, 3 Interceptions, 1 Fumble Forced, 1 Fumble Recovered, 11 Pass Deflections, 1 Defensive Touchdown

Mykal Walker was a fourth round pick from the Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff era who has been tried in multiple different roles for the Falcons through his first three years. In new coordinator Ryan Nielsen's defense, Walker will likely play a role as the third linebacker on the field when either Kaden Elliss or Troy Andersen need a break or when they run more traditional 4-3 alignments. Walker's biggest asset at this point as a linebacker is his versatility in coverage and as a pass rusher.

With the looks that Nielsen has that will use for his inside linebackers, Walker could be in for a sneaky good season if he's pressed into starting due to injury. He's got the pass rush ability to create pressure with the twists and stunts that will be run inside, and he can align down at the line to add more juice from the edge should they need him in that role. The Falcons will also likely use him on special teams. Without any injuries, he is likely only going to see 15 percent of the defensive snaps.

Role with the Falcons in 2023: Reserve linebacker and special teams ace

Nate Landman

Nate Landman had a solid experience with the Falcons during his rookie year playing some defensive snaps and primarily special teams when he was active. The Falcons might have him ahead for the No. 4 linebacker and special teams reserve role for 2023. He's got the experience with the team and has the best physical tools of all of the options. The Falcons might end up realizing that his undrafted free agent minimum contract from 2022 is the best monetary value here as well.

Role with the Falcons in 2023: Competing for a roster spot, possibly practice squad

Tae Davis

Career Stats: 57 Tackles, 2 Tackles for Loss, 2.0 Sacks, 5 QB Hits, 2 Pass Deflections

The Atlanta Falcons brought in Tae Davis to compete for the role that Nick Kwiatkowski played during the 2022 season as a special teams ace and fourth linebacker on the roster. While Davis is used to this role with the Browns and Texans, the Falcons need him to take the next step and really hold down the unit if he wants to make it on the roster. They also have guys like Mykal Walker and Nate Landman who have experience with the team that could end up usurping him for the role in 2023.

Role with the Falcons in 2023: Reserve linebacker and special teams ace

Andre Smith, Jr.

Career Stats: 33 Tackles, 1 Tackle for Loss, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 Fumble Recovered

Andre Smith has a long history as a special teams ace during his first five years in the NFL. He's not someone who has played a lot of snaps at linebacker in games, but he has experience in similar defenses with the Panthers and Bills. The Falcons might keep him on the roster if they feel that he's the right guy for the job as a depth linebacker and special teams player. The Falcons are looking for a replacement to upgrade what Nick Kwiatkowski did for the team in 2022, and he could be that guy.

Role with the Falcons in 2023: Competing for a roster spot, possibly practice squad

Dorian Etheridge

Career Stats: 1 Tackle

Dorian Etheridge has been a camp body and practice squad player for the Atlanta Falcons over the past two seasons. He has yet to earn a regular roster spot for the Falcons yet, and likely won't end up winning one this year either. He's a slower linebacker, but he has good size so that has helped him stick a little longer. However, the Falcons would be wise to get someone faster and with better football intelligence than Etheridge on the roster.

Role with the Falcons in 2023: Competing for a roster spot, possibly practice squad

Mike Jones

Rookie Year

The Falcons love to bring in linebackers from Louisiana State. Unfortunately, this one isn't very good and doesn't have many redeemable qualities. Mike Jones is smaller, slower and has worse instincts than the rest of the linebackers on this list. The Falcons might save a spot for him on the practice squad for some depth on special teams, but more than likely, this is just another body for camp that won't be expected to do much on the final roster.

Role with the Falcons in 2023: Camp Body

All advanced stats are courtesy Pro Football Focus or Football Outsiders. All traditional stats are courtesy of official team websites, NFLGSIS or CFB Stats. All RAS and athletic testing numbers are courtesy of and Kent Lee Platte's RAS Football website.