Breaking Down Atlanta Falcons' Roster After the 2014 NFL Draft
The Falcons roster took a huge turn for the better in the 2014 NFL draft. Taking Jake Matthews and Ra'Shede Hageman shows that the Falcons have adjusted their overall philosophy to one that states that trench warfare wins more games.
So they went through and got guys in the offseason that fit roles the Falcons lost throughout the years. They finally replaced Harvey Dahl with the Jon Asamoah signing. They finally replaced Grady Jackson with the Paul Soliai signing. And they will finally replace losing with winning after this offseason.
Starter: Matt Ryan
Backups: Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree, Jeff Mathews
Additions: Jeff Mathews (college free agent)
Ryan is a franchise quarterback who is locked into the Falcons for the next five seasons. Davis and Renfree both have shown that they are nothing more than No. 3 quarterbacks masquerading as No. 2 quarterbacks. The Falcons need an upgrade there.
Signing Mathews is a unique fit, but it's unlikely for him to make the roster. If the Cornell product can somehow usurp Renfree and Davis, he would be the best option for the backup role. But Atlanta does need to go after a veteran backup.
Running Backs and Fullbacks
Starter: Steven Jackson
Change of Pace: Jacquizz Rodgers
Fullback: Patrick DiMarco
Reserves: Devonta Freeman, Antone Smith, Josh Vaughan, Jerome Smith, Roosevelt Nix, Maurice Hagens
Additions: Devonta Freeman (4th round), Jerome Smith (college free agent), Roosevelt Nix (college free agent), Maurice Hagens (college free agent)
Departures: Jason Snelling (retired), Bradie Ewing (cut)
Jackson will be returning after a season where he was banged up most of the year. Jason Snelling retired, but Freeman looks to be an upgrade over him long term. Vaughn and the Smiths will compete for at most two roster spots.
Fullback will be a winner takes all battle between Nix, DiMarco and Hagens. DiMarco has the upperhand as the incumbent. But the best overall athlete is easily Nix. The Falcons will need to see how he converts, but the backfield as a whole has more talent than it did last year.
Featured: Julio Jones
Possession: Roddy White
Slot: Harry Douglas
Reserves: Devin Hester, Drew Davis, Dominique Croom, Darius Johnson, Bernard Reedy, Geraldo Boldewijn, Tramaine Thompson, Julian Jones, Freddie Martino
Additions: Devin Hester (unrestricted free agent), Bernard Reedy (college free agent), Geraldo Boldewijn (college free agent), Tramaine Thompson (college free agent), Julian Jones (college free agent), Freddie Martino (college free agent)
Departures: Kevin Cone (non-tendered)
Getting back Jones and White from nagging injuries is huge. Douglas also proved last season that he's a capable third wide receiver. However, the Falcons needed another explosive element on offense, and Hester could provide that threat as a slot receiver.
The competition for the fifth and potentially sixth roster spots will all come down to which players the Falcons like through free agency or from last season's team. Johnson and Davis could wind up taking those spots again while the rest of the guys are pure camp bodies.
Starter: Levine Toilolo
Blocker: Bear Pascoe
Joker: Mickey Shuler
Reserves: Andrew Szczerba, Jacob Pedersen, Brian Wozniak
Additions: Bear Pascoe (free agent), Jacob Pedersen (college free agent), Brian Wozniak (college free agent)
Departures: Tony Gonzalez (retired), Chase Coffman (free agent), Adam Nissley (cut)
After losing Gonzalez to retirement, the Falcons should just look to redesign their offense around three wide receiver sets and fullback sets again. There just isn't the talent on the roster for a featured tight end the way Gonzalez was.
Pascoe is a great blocking tight end. Toilolo has a ton of potential as an in-line tight end and should be able to start and provide a lot in the red zone. But as a whole, the Falcons don't have the guys with the same skill sets that Gonzalez had. So they need to change the offense up.
Left Tackle: Sam Baker
Left Guard: Justin Blalock
Center: Joe Hawley
Right Guard: Jon Asamoah
Right Tackle: Jake Matthews
Swing Tackle: Lamar Holmes
Swing Guard/Center: Peter Konz
Reserves: Mike Johnson, Harland Gunn, Gabe Carimi, Terren Jones, Ryan Schraeder, James Stone
Additions: Jake Matthews (first round), Gabe Carimi (free agent), Jon Asamoah (free agent), James Stone (college free agent)
Departures: Garrett Reynolds (cut), Jeremy Trueblood (free agent), Sean Locklear (free agent)
This was the one unit in need of the biggest upgrade. The Falcons wound up signing a starting right guard and drafting the franchise piece to protect Matt Ryan. If Matthews winds up beating Baker for the starting left tackle job this year, Baker could slide over to right tackle.
This could prolong Baker's stay in Atlanta while also signifying the potential of a zone-blocking scheme. Atlanta's line is a bigger, stronger, meaner line than it was. However, since it averages 6'4" and 311 pounds, it's still not oversized for the zone-blocking scheme.
Front 7 Using 3-4/4-3 Positions
Strongside End: Tyson Jackson
Nose Tackle: Paul Soliai
Weakside End/Under Tackle: Rashede Hageman
Strong Outside Linebacker: Kroy Biermann
Strong Inside Linebacker/Middle Linebacker: Paul Worrilow
Weak Inside Linebacker/Weakside Linebacker: Sean Weatherspoon
Weak Outside Linebacker/Weakside End: Jonathan Massaquoi
Reserves: Jonathan Babineaux, Malliciah Goodman, Cliff Matthews, Travian Robertson, Corey Peters, Peria Jerry, Adam Replogle, Osi Umenyiora, Joplo Bartu, Akeem Dent, Stansly Maponga, Marquis Spruill, Prince Shembo, Tyler Starr, Yawin Smallwood, Donte Rumph, Nosa Eguae, Walker May, Jacques Smith, Brenden Daley
Additions: Paul Soliai (free agent), Tyson Jackson (free agent), Ra'Shede Hageman (second round), Prince Shembo (fourth round), Marquis Spruill (fifth round), Yawin Smallwood (seventh round), Tyler Starr (seventh round), Donte Rumph (college free agent), Nosa Eguae (college free agent), Walker May (college free agent), Jacques Smith (college free agent), Brenden Daley (college free agent)
Departures: Omar Gaither (free agent), Stephen Nicholas (cut)
If there's a defensive formation that can be used, coordinator Mike Nolan is going to use it. That's why guys are listed at multiple spots and not just a single area. The Falcons are going to be able to run both 3-4 and 4-3 looks with heavy rotations to keep guys fresh.
Additions of Soliai, Jackson and Hageman improve the size up front tremendously. At this point, there is still questionable pass rush for the Falcons. So they will have to manufacture a lot of pressure up front, but they should be able to do it.
There's some potential up front for the pass rush with Massaquoi, Starr, Biermann, Osi, Shembo and Maponga all competing for reps. But at this point, the Falcons will have to improve quite a bit and hope that the potential comes to fruition, or there won't be any pass rush.
Left Cornerback: Robert Alford
Right Cornerback: Desmond Trufant
Nickel Cornerback: Robert McClain
Reserves: Javier Arenas, Josh Wilson, Ricardo Allen, Jordan Mabin, Devonta Glover-Wright
Additions: Javier Arenas (free agent), Josh Wilson (free agent), Ricardo Allen (fifth Round), Devonta Glover-Wright (college free agent)
Departures: Dominique Franks (free agent), Asante Samuel (cut)
The Falcons already had their starting cornerbacks addressed from their 2013 draft pairing of Trufant and Alford. They also had a solid nickel corner in McClain if he can return to his 2012 form. However, if he's unable to return to that form, they addressed competition with Arenas, Wilson and Allen.
Losing Franks and Samuel wasn't ideal, but considering neither player is signed by any other team at this point, it's looking like the right move. Both players are at a point where they have maxed out their potential and are on the downslope of their careers.
Free Safety: Dwight Lowery
Strong Safety: William Moore
Reserves: Dezmen Southward, Kemal Ishmael, Zeke Motta, Sean Baker, Kimario McFadden
Additions: Dwight Lowery (free agent), Dezmen Southward (third round), Kimario McFadden (college free agent)
Departures: Thomas DeCoud (cut)
Lowery, if healthy, is the best fit for starting free safety on the roster. However, if Southward can live up to his ridiculously high potential, the Falcons could wind up with a steal in this year's draft. Southward was an average safety in college with great measurables.
Atlanta will continue to have Moore start on the strong side as he's still a Pro Bowl caliber safety. The Falcons need someone to live up to their potential at free safety or this could wind up being the top need for 2015's NFL draft.
Kicker: Matt Bryant
Punter/Kickoff Specialist: Matt Bosher
Long Snapper: Josh Harris
Punt Returner: Devin Hester
Kick Returner: Devin Hester
Reserves: Matt Yoklic
Additions: Devin Hester (free agent), Matt Yoklic (college free agent)
The Falcons needed an explosive return specialist this offseason to help with field position the same way Eric Weems used to in 2010 and 2011. They upgraded even from that by adding Hester from the Bears in one of their best signings of the offseason.
Bosher and Bryant are back again as the punter and kicker while Harris is back as the long snapper. The Falcons have good chemistry with the unit, but Bryant is nearing the end of his career. The Falcons have one of the best special teams units, and it just got better.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus' Premium Stats (subscription required), ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All combine and pro day info is courtesy NFL Draft Scout. All contract information is courtesy of Spotrac and Rotoworld.
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.