“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” - Winston Churchill
Mike Nolan's Swiss Army knife Kroy Biermann is out for the season with torn Achilles tendon as the Atlanta Falcons official website announced he and fullback Bradie Ewing will be placed on injured reserve. Without an opportunity to return, that means the Falcons have to lean on their depth.
Most fans see this as a difficulty in an opportunity. But the Falcons have a way of turning difficulties into opportunities. Much like Winston Churchill is saying above, Joplo Bartu, Jonathan Massaquoi and Jason Snelling need to see their opportunity in the team's difficulty here.
The biggest surprise of the year has been Joplo Bartu, someone who most—including myself—had completely written off as a training camp body. Now? He’s arguably the best coverage linebacker the Falcons have and Pro Football Focus would agree giving him the best coverage grade of any Falcons linebacker at plus-0.6 in 47 coverage snaps.
He's earned his way onto the roster with exceptional play at both linebacker and on special teams. And from that, he's earned a starting spot, with Stephen Nicholas playing just four snaps on the year so far, while he's seen 63.
And in his 63 snaps, he's the highest rated linebacker for the Falcons. But he is still a rookie so there's going to be questions on whether he can handle the load and the pressure. So far, he hasn't seen the pressure and deserves more playing time.
With his athleticism, there's no reason to not have him try and learn the Biermann-role long term and play his linebacker snaps for now. He's got the speed and agility to drop deep. He's got the blitzing ability to create some pressure off the edge and, most of all, he's an instinctual run defender who can set the edge effectively.
On the flip side, there's a question as to who will play the defensive end role that Biermann occupied. The best and most obvious choice is Jonathan Massaquoi. While Stansly Maponga is a good athlete who has played in the 4-3 and 3-4 in college, and Malliciah Goodman is that more traditional 4-3 defensive end, the Falcons need someone to play an Elvis Dumervil or Cameron Wake-style role now.
Massaquoi has all the tools to do this. He's a 6'2", 264-pound speed defensive end who can dominate in pass rushing if given the right opportunities. His run defense is also exceptional for a man his size, as he has earned a plus-1.5 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus in his limited run snaps this year.
For an undersized end, he's been doing extremely well this season against the run. And his pass rushing is only improving. Massaquoi is the man who will end up filling the role Biermann has occupied in the pass rush as either a guy standing and shifting or as a guy with his hand in the dirt.
As far as fullback goes, that's the easiest spot for Atlanta to fill. They don't need to sign anyone. They can even keep that roster spot on offense but move it to a more pressing need at blocking tight end. All Atlanta has to do to replace Bradie Ewing is move the always under-appreciated Jason Snelling into the role.
He's the best man for the job and understands the fullback role from not just the I-formations, but the shotgun and the pro set. The fact that he can do everything that Ewing could do while also being a starting fullback is only a bonus.
For a man on twitter who goes by the call-sign @WhoIsJoplo, Bartu has certainly answered that question this week with a great performance against the Rams. It's only a matter of time before Bartu is held in the same regard as his Pro Bowl caliber teammate Sean Weatherspoon.
And as far as Massaquoi goes, he's been an effective pass rusher off the bench. But he needs to step up and show that he can be the dominant edge rusher that he has the potential to be. If that can happen, the Falcons won't notice the loss of Biermann and might even have their own Cameron Wake in waiting.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats, ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy Spotrac. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.