Predicting the Atlanta Falcons Starting Lineup Post Week 1 of Free Agency
Week 1 of NFL Free Agency is over, and so far the Falcons have made quite a splash.
Steven Jackson and Tony Gonzalez have been the marquee additions, and Atlanta was also able to reel in top re-signing priorities in tackle Sam Baker, safety William Moore and guard Garrett Reynolds.
Atlanta's biggest questions right now lie at defensive end and cornerback. With the release of Dunta Robinson, it seemed apparent that a deal with Grimes was in the works, but so far it appears Atlanta might be in dire need of a starting-caliber cornerback.
Whether in the draft or through one more free-agency move, here's how Atlanta's starting depth is shaking up after a week into the new league year.
Starter: Matt Ryan (6th year)
2012 Stats: 4,719 yards, 32 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 68.6 completion percentage, 99.1 rating (74.5 QBR).
Outlook: If a new contract isn't put together this offseason, 2013 will be a contract year for Ryan. He's undoubtedly the franchise quarterback and the centerpiece of the Falcons' future. With all of the weapons he will have around him, there's no reason to think he will do any less than he did last season. Whether pundits want to call him elite or not is irrelevant. This guy has the 'it factor' that earns teams Lombardi trophies. It's simply a matter of time.
Backup: Dominique Davis (2nd year)
Starter: Steven Jackson (10th year)
2012 Stats: 257 carries, 1,042 yards (4.1 ypc), four touchdowns, 38 receptions, 321 yards
Outlook: There's no disputing the difference in Steven Jackson and former tailback Michael Turner. While both are of similar age, Jackson brings more able legs and versatility into Dirk Koetter's offense. Having a starting tailback who can violently attack the line of scrimmage, as well as catch passes out of multiple formations, makes the Falcons offense that much more comprehensive and dangerous. His veteran presence and highly-regarded character are also perfect assets to Atlanta's locker room.
Backup: Jacquizz Rodgers (3rd year)
Starter: Bradie Ewing (2nd year)
2012 Stats: None
Outlook: Ewing was drafted in the fifth round by the Falcons last season to compete for the starting fullback position, left vacant by the release of fan favorite Ovie Mughelli. However, a season-ending knee injury in a preseason game haulted Ewing's NFL career. Mike Cox, who started at fullback for the Falcons this past year, is a free agent and is unlikely to be re-signed. In this day and age, the fullback position has little value, but the Falcons should like what they have in Ewing.
Starter: Tony Gonzalez (17th year)
2012 Stats: 93 receptions, 930 yards, eight touchdowns
Outlook: Getting Gonzalez to return for one more season is now the top line on general manager Thomas Dimitroff's resume. Gonzalez, who claimed this past regular season that he was 95 percent sure he was retiring, is coming back for some unfinished business. After all, the Hall of Fame tight end, to be, was an inside slant away from sending the Falcons to their second Super Bowl appearance in team history. With a fifth year as a Falcon from Gonzalez, the organization can continue to enrich his career in a way Kansas City could not in terms of success. There may not be a more loved figure in Atlanta sports than the man simply known as 'Tony-G'.
Backup: Chase Coffman (4th year)
Starters: Julio Jones (3rd year), Roddy White (9th year)
2012 Stats, Jones: 79 receptions, 1,198 yards, 10 touchdowns
2012 Stats, White: 92 receptions, 1,351 yards, seven touchdowns
Outlook: It's hard to imagine that White is now considered the "Mr. Reliable" of the offense, but that is exactly what the happy-go-lucky receiver has become since 2007. Jones, on the other hand, is the equivalent to the toy that every other kid in the neighborhood wants. After a Pro Bowl season full of long touchdown receptions, a freak performance in the NFC Championship Game propelled Jones into the conversation of being one of the top three receivers in the league.
Backups: Harry Douglas (5th year), *Possible draft pick
Starters: Sam Baker (6th year), Tyson Clabo (9th year)
Outlook: Baker was one of the big three the Falcons wanted to re-sign this offseason after having a breakout year in 2012. His cap number for this season is only $1 million, despite signing a six-year, $41.1 million deal. Clabo has been a staple for the Falcons, and is now the longest tenured member of the Falcons offensive line.
Backup: Lamar Holmes (2nd year)
Starters: Justin Blalock (7th year), Garrett Reynolds (5th year)
Outlook: Re-signing Reynolds was a bonus free-agent move for the Falcons. Reynolds was slated to start at right guard last year before he went down with a season-ending injury, which led to Peter Konz, the center in waiting, being thrown into the fire. Justin Blalock has been a solid guard for the Falcons since his arrival from Texas in the 2007 draft.
Backups: Mike Johnson (3rd year)
Starter: Peter Konz (2nd year)
Outlook: With the "Mud Duck," Todd McClure, retiring, the Falcons will hand the keys over to Konz. Konz played well at the guard position as a rookie.
Backup: Joe Hawley (4th year)
Starters: Osi Umenyiora (11th year), Kroy Biermann (6th year)
2012 Stats, Umenyiora:43 tackles, six sacks
2012 Stats, Biermann: 52 tackles, four sacks
Outlook: According to a report by the USA Today, Umenyiora met with the Falcons on Wednesday. Many guessed the veteran defensive end, who was a household, all-world name a few years ago, could land in Atlanta, where he has a home. This would be a curious addition, considering the Falcons surprisingly released John Abraham after a 10-sack season last year. Biermann has always been a great utility, but his ability as a full-time pass-rusher is still in question.
Backup: Cliff Matthews (3rd year)
Starters: Jonathan Babineaux (9th year), Corey Peters (4th year)
2012 Stats, Babineaux: 31 tackles, 3.5 sacks
2012 Stats, Peters: 15 tackles
Outlook: Atlanta got little impact-production from its platoon of Corey Peters, Vance Walker and Peria Jerry at the second defensive tackle position last season. Babineaux, who enters his ninth year with the Falcons, is a mainstay. With Walker moving on to Oakland, Atlanta will rely on Jerry to continue and develop, or will look to the draft to fill the position. With Mike Nolan liking a 4-3, 3-4 hybrid defense, it's likely the Falcons try to draft a space-plugging nose tackle. Look for local names like T.J. Barnes (Georgia Tech) or Kwame Geathers (Georgia) in the later rounds.
Backups: Travian Robertson (2nd year), *Possible draft pick
Starter: Jonathan Massaquoi (2nd year)
2012 Stats: Two tackles
Outlook: Biermann was Atlanta's 'amoeba' player in Nolan's first year in Atlanta, but with another offseason to tinker around that position could evolve more into a true rush end slot. Jonathan Massaquoi, a second-year man from Troy, is the best man for the job on roster. Massaquoi played in eight games last year as a special teamer. If the Falcons do agree to a deal with Umenyiora, expect a more versatile rush end or 3-4 linebacker to be taken to help solidify this position.
Backup: *Possible draft pick
Starters: Sean Weatherspoon (4th year), Stephen Nicholas (7th year)
2012 Stats, Weatherspoon: 95 tackles, three sacks, one interception, four passes defended
2012 Stats, Nicholas: 97 tackles, two sacks, one interception, four passes defended
Outlook: While many are upset with the way Nicholas was victimized in the playoffs against spread offenses, there's reason to believe that was a result of scheme, rather than talent. After all, Nicholas led the Falcons in tackles last season, which was a performance years in the making considering how many years he flashed starting potential as a special teamer behind veteran linebackers. An improved pass rush could also help fix the problems the Falcons had with covering tight ends. Don't expect the base linebacker positions to change at all.
Backup: Akeem Dent (3rd year)
Starters: Asante Samuel (11th year), *Possible draft pick
2012 Stats: 36 tackles, five interceptions, 19 passes defended
Outlook: It's unclear whether the Falcons will be able to re-sign Brent Grimes, which means, after the release of Dunta Robinson, that the corner position opposite of Samuel is up for grabs. Chris Owens would be the next man on line in roster, but Owens may not be what the Falcons want in a starting corner. It's very likely the Falcons will draft a cornerback in the first, second or third round. There's plenty of talent at that position in the draft.
Backups: Chris Owens (5th year), Dominique Franks (4th year)
Starter: Robert McClain (4th year)
2012 Stats: 61 tackles, one interception, 10 passes defended
Outlook: 'Bobby Mac' impressed everyone with his play the nickel position last season, becoming a huge improvement over Owens. It's unclear whether the coaches would like him as a candidate at the starting position, which means he's considered the top player in the slot for now.
Starters: William Moore (3rd year), Thomas DeCoud (6th year)
2012 Stats, Moore: 75 tackles, two forced fumbles, one sack, four interceptions (12 games played)
2012 Stats, DeCoud: 76 tackles, six interceptions, one sack
Outlook: The Falcons undoubtedly have one of the best safety tandems in the league. Both DeCoud and Moore made the Pro Bowl last season, which was a feat considering Moore missed the final four games of the year with a hamstring injury. Moore was Atlanta's first big re-signing this offseason and should evolve into one of the top safeties in the league, if he's not regarded as so already. DeCoud is quite the playmaker when it comes to defending the pass, in fact he's great in that category, but an improvement in run-support and tackling would be nice.
Backups: Charles Mitchell (2nd year), Shann Schillinger (4th year)
Starters: Matt Bryant (kicker), Matt Bosher (punter), Harry Douglas (punt return)
Outlook: In this day in age, projecting a kick returner is pretty much useless. Some have offered the Falcons deliberately draft a guy who can return kicks, but it's probably more advised to take the best players for skill positions and find one out of the crop. Douglas was a wonderful punt returner in 2008, before suffering knee injuries, and he could become the top man for the punt return job this summer. Matt Bryant and Matt Bosher are locked up in the kicking game.