Projecting the Atlanta Falcons Depth Chart After Peak of Free Agency
The Atlanta Falcons depth chart undertook some massive changes along the front lines this year due to free agency. They look to have a much more talented group up front than they had in 2013. This should allow Matt Ryan to stand up straight on offense and the defense to be more physical.
By adding Devin Hester and Javier Arenas to their already solid haul of Paul Soliai, Tyson Jackson and Jon Asamoah, the Falcons have some playmaking competition in their cornerback and receiving corps. The re-signings of Peria Jerry, Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux definitely helped as well.
Changes along the depth charts due to getting back guys from injury will also need to be taken into account. The Falcons do have a much better team now than they did just a few weeks ago. Let’s see who would be the starters and reserves at each level.
Starter: Matt Ryan
Backups: Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree
Obviously, Matt Ryan is going to be the starter in Atlanta. He’s the franchise player and was just given a massive contract to stay the franchise player. The question comes when trying to assess who his true backup is going to be.
Dominique Davis and Sean Renfree will compete for the top backup role. However, don’t be shocked if Atlanta spends a draft pick on a quarterback or brings in a veteran before camp. Atlanta could use a more reliable option behind its $100 million man.
Featured Starter: Steven Jackson
Change of Pace: Jacquizz Rodgers
Fullback: Patrick DiMarco
Reserves: Antone Smith, Josh Vaughan
Steven Jackson will get another chance as the starting running back this year. Jacquizz Rodgers still makes an excellent change-of-pace back. After them is where it gets a little dicey. There’s just two other running backs on the roster, and they have limited carries.
Antone Smith is a game-breaker if he gets the right opportunity. With Jason Snelling retired, the Falcons should have that for him. Adding another running back or two in the draft should definitely happen this offseason.
At fullback, the Falcons look like they want to go with Patrick DiMarco moving forward. Bringing in someone through the draft or undrafted free agency to compete with him would be a wise move, as it would allow the Falcons to have more competition there.
Slot: Harry Douglas
Reserves: Devin Hester, Drew Davis, Dominique Croom, Darius Johnson
Roddy White and Julio Jones, when fully healthy, are the best starting wide receiver combination in football. Harry Douglas isn’t half bad as a slot receiver either. Add in Devin Hester, and the four-deep is one of the better ones in the NFL.
The other three guys on the roster at receiver are all undrafted free agents with some talent, but they haven’t shown that they should be anything more than a No. 5 wide receiver on a depth chart. Adding another receiver through the draft for depth wouldn’t hurt.
In-Line: Levine Toilolo
Reserves: Mickey Shuler, Andrew Szczerba, Adam Nissley
In 2009-13, the Falcons used a joker-style tight end as the starter after they brought in the original—Tony Gonzalez. However, they don’t have a legitimate one on the roster right now. If they brought back Chase Coffman, the Falcons could duplicate some of the things Gonzalez did.
The other option is to stick with an in-line tight end as starter. That would mean Levine Toilolo is the No. 1 tight end on the roster at this point. The Falcons need to bring in at least one more option who can be a joker-style tight end in the offense.
Left Tackle: Sam Baker
Left Guard: Justin Blalock
Center: Joe Hawley
Right Guard: Jon Asamoah
Right Tackle: Lamar Holmes
Reserve Tackle/Guards: Mike Johnson, Ryan Schraeder, Gabe Carimi, Terren Jones
Reserve Center/Guards: Peter Konz, Harland Gunn
The starting offensive line is anything but set. While Joe Hawley and Lamar Holmes look like the early front-runners for right tackle and center, Peter Konz, Gabe Carimi and Mike Johnson will all be given a shot to earn a starting role this season.
Depthwise, Ryan Schraeder, Harland Gunn and Terren Jones will all get a shot to earn a roster spot. However, adding more depth through the draft and undrafted free agency could never hurt. But spending a high-round pick on the line looks very unlikely at this point.
Interior Defensive Linemen
4-3 Nose Tackle: Corey Peters
4-3 Under Tackle/3-4 Weak-side Defensive End: Jonathan Babineaux
3-4 Nose Tackle: Paul Soliai
3-4 Strong-side Defensive End: Tyson Jackson
Reserves: Peria Jerry, Travian Robertson, Adam Replogle, Cliff Matthews, Malliciah Goodman
As you can see, the Falcons run a hybrid defense. So figuring out who the best is for each role matters. Corey Peters, Paul Soliai, Jonathan Babineaux and Tyson Jackson will all get a ton of playing time as the interior defensive line rotation and should be very solid.
Malliciah Goodman will also get some exposure. Honestly, the talent level here looks like it’s ready to go for the season. Another late-round pick wouldn’t hurt for competition, but at this point, the defensive tackle and 3-4 defensive end rotation looks ready to go.
4-3 Strong-side End: Malliciah Goodman
4-3 Weak-side End: Osi Umenyiora
3-4 Strong Outside Linebacker: Kroy Biermann
3-4 Weak Outside Linebacker: Jonathan Massaquoi
Reserves: Stansly Maponga, Cliff Matthews, Joplo Bartu
This is the year that those mid-round defensive end prospects need to step up. Jonathan Massaquoi has the most potential out of all of them and should excel when the Falcons are in their 3-4 looks. Osi Umenyiora will rotate in as a four-man front pass-rusher.
Kroy Biermann is an ideal 3-4 strong outside linebacker. The real stud of this group could be Malliciah Goodman. He looks primed to break out with a full year under his belt. He’s very similar to Antonio Smith—formerly of the Cardinals and Texans.
Depth here is starting to get better as well. However, a truly excellent pass-rusher like Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr would only help this group out. The Falcons could make a big move to bring in Clowney, and it wouldn’t be shocking in any way.
4-3 Weak-side Linebacker/3-4 Weak Inside Linebacker: Sean Weatherspoon
4-3 Middle Linebacker/3-4 Strong Inside Linebacker: Paul Worrilow
4-3 Strong-side Linebacker: Kroy Biermann
Reserves: Joplo Bartu, Akeem Dent
In the 4-3, the Falcons could easily go with a starting group of Sean Weatherspoon, Paul Worrilow and Kroy Biermann or Joplo Bartu and have three talented, athletic linebackers on the field. It’s when they move to the 3-4 that there are some questions about fit.
Worrilow and Weatherspoon have some questions in relation to how they stack and shed blockers in the running game. However, the Falcons should be able to work with them on the proper techniques there to improve their abilities in that facet.
The real question comes to depth. Akeem Dent is a solid player, but adding another linebacker or two in the draft would never hurt. Especially if that player is an athletic coverage specialist who understands how to cover tight ends.
Left Cornerback: Robert Alford
Right Cornerback: Desmond Trufant
Nickel Cornerback: Robert McClain
Reserves: Javier Arenas, Saeed Lee, Jordan Mabin
Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant are the future and the now for the Falcons at cornerback. They are seen as a Lito Sheppard-Sheldon Brown-type combination for the long haul. Robert McClain has the slight edge in the nickel cornerback job right now due to scheme familiarity.
However, Javier Arenas will get a shot to compete for the nickel role. The Falcons could take a late-round cornerback to compete for the final roster spot as well. They could also bring back Dominique Franks on a very cheap deal if they don’t like anyone this year in the draft.
Strong Safety: William Moore
Free Safety: Vacant
Reserves: Kemal Ishmael, Zeke Motta, Sean Baker
It’s safe to say that the Falcons need a starting free safety in the worst way. In fact, it’s the only spot on the entire roster that there is a dire need for a starting talent. Outside of that, William Moore will reprise his role as the starting strong safety with his Pro Bowl-caliber play.
Depth also looks solid, as Kemal Ishmael and Zeke Motta just play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. The real issue comes in when either one has to start. The Falcons should look to the draft and free agency to address their starting needs at free safety.
Kicker: Matt Bryant
Punter: Matt Bosher
Kickoff Specialist: Matt Bosher
Long Snapper: Josh Harris
The Falcons kicking group should remain intact for their third straight year together. Considering Matt Bosher is one of the top five punters in the NFL and Matt Bryant is a clutch kicker, the Falcons don’t have any needs here. Josh Harris is also one of the best long snappers in the league.
Kick Returner: Devin Hester
Punt Returner: Devin Hester
Reserves: Javier Arenas, Robert McClain, Jacquizz Rodgers
Atlanta special teams hasn’t had a home run return threat in a long time. Eric Weems had the threat but rarely capitalized on it and hasn’t been in Atlanta in years. Devin Hester should be the guy to bring the explosive return back to the Falcons.
If he gets hurt, the Falcons can fall back on last year’s starting return men in Robert McClain and Jacquizz Rodgers. They could also look at Javier Arenas for depth. If they do happen to bring in a guy with return ability through the draft, it will only make this spot deeper.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and the NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.