Offseason Atlanta Falcons Player Power Rankings
The best way to improve the depth on a roster is to improve the starters and push last year's starters into reserve roles. The Atlanta Falcons attempted to do that this season, and seven members of these power rankings either were drafted or signed this offseason.
In doing these rankings, we included the projected starters for the entire Falcons offense and defense. We also went with a couple of other key spots on the team to round these rankings out to the top 30 players on the Falcons.
Follow along as we count down who the top Atlanta Falcons are.
30. FS Dezmen Southward or FS Dwight Lowery
The worst projected starter for the Falcons will be either Dwight Lowery or Dezmen Southward at free safety. Both men are going into their first season under Mike Nolan and will be competing for the job there.
The issue here isn’t that either guy is bad. It’s that both players are completely unproven both in scheme and in NFL talent at this point. Lowery is coming off a concussion that sidelined him for an entire season.
And Southward is a rookie who is extremely raw. The Falcons love his abilities as a free safety long term, but he needs to develop technically. Southward has the right coaches to develop him properly, but it’s unlikely that they can have him ready before the season.
29. P Matt Bosher
Matt Bosher is a top-five punter in the NFL and has shown that he’s a great kickoff specialist on top of that. He also has great chemistry with both long snapper Josh Harris and place-kicker Matt Bryant. Yet, as good as Bosher is as a punter, he’s still a punter. It’s a low-value position.
It’s tough to find a good one when you don’t have one though. The Falcons are glad to have a good punter, but it’d be very unlikely for them to value him more than multiple different starters throughout the team. At his best, 29 is being fair due to the low amount of value punters have.
28. LB Joplo Bartu
When it comes to the best linebacker depth player on the roster, Joplo Bartu has to be the first one mentioned. He can play anywhere in the 3-4 or in the 4-3 at linebacker due to his excellent skill set and natural abilities as a pass-rusher, coverage defender and run-stuffer.
In 2013, he was third on the team in tackles with 85, tied for fourth in sacks with 3.5 and even knocked away a pass when he was in coverage. That was as a rookie undrafted free agent who had to fight for a roster spot in training camp with multiple veterans.
If Kroy Biermann happens to go down again, Bartu should be the first one in line for that same spot. In the end, the Falcons should be hoping for Bartu to beat out Biermann at strong-side linebacker, though. If Bartu does this, the Falcons will have a more athletic player starting at the spot.
27. DL Corey Peters
The Falcons got great production out of Corey Peters in 2013. However, in 2014, the Falcons shouldn’t expect much from him right away, as he’s recovering from an Achilles injury he spent the entire offseason recovering from.
Peters had a career year as a 1-technique defensive tackle for the Falcons. He played primarily in base sets as the nose tackle eating double-teams. He won’t have to do that as much this year with Paul Soliai on the roster, and when he does, they will be beat down a bit more than they were versus Jerry.
Because of this, Peters could have a scary-good season if he’s healthy. He’s a dark-horse candidate for sack leader on the Falcons. When he was able to go against worn-down guards and centers in 2013, he created much more pressure. He just has to be 100 percent healthy before he can impact.
26. RB Jacquizz Rodgers
Jacquizz Rodgers could see his playing time start to dwindle in 2014 despite doing nothing wrong. Steven Jackson is returning after an injury-plagued 2013 season and the Falcons drafting his potential replacement in Devonta Freeman out of Florida State.
In addition to that, the Falcons brought in Devin Hester to take over the returning duties that Rodgers used to have on kickoffs. The Falcons made a concerted effort to improve in places they felt they were lacking in 2013, and Rodgers looks to be one of those spots.
Nonetheless, Rodgers has proven more during his three-year NFL career than Freeman has, so he’ll be the primary change-of-pace back until Freeman can show that he’s able to beat him out. Rodgers is entering the final year of his contract, so he will have to show he’s a dynamic threat, or this could be his last in red and black.
25. K Matt Bryant
Matt Bryant is arguably the most clutch kicker in the game today. However, he’s 39 years old, and he’s a place-kicker. The value there isn’t one that makes him worth a ginormous contract or even more valuable than some of the rotational players at other positions.
Even still, Bryant is a key component for the Falcons, and if kickers in general were valued higher, he would easily be put into the top 10. The Falcons need him to be at his best this year, or they could wind up with another season like 2009 when Jason Elam lost a few games for the Falcons at the end.
24. DL Jonathan Babineaux
Jonathan Babineaux could very well be out of a starting job in 2014 with the signing of Tyson Jackson at one defensive end spot and the selection of Ra’Shede Hageman to man the other defensive end spot in 3-4 alignments—especially now that the Falcons have more of a 3-4 base look.
Expect Babineaux to still see a lot of time with the sub-package defense as a designated pass-rusher. However, his role as the starting defensive tackle or even defensive end will be coming to a close sooner rather than later, as he should become more of a designated interior pass-rusher.
The Falcons got a lot deeper on the interior of their defensive line this season by keeping Babineaux but moving him to more of a rotational role. They will only continue to improve as the talent they have continues to gain chemistry.
23. TE Levine Toilolo
With the Falcons running more and more three- and four-wide receiver sets, having a receiving tight end makes less and less sense. Levine Toilolo is an in-line blocker who will fit in well as a receiver in the red zone due to his 6’7" frame and long arms.
The Falcons need to make sure Toilolo works on his hands and blocking so that he can be the ideal asset as the in-line tight end. Without signing or drafting any legitimate competition for Toilolo, it’s pretty much guaranteed that he’ll be the starter.
The expectations need to be lowered when it comes to him though. He’s not an 80-catch, 850-yard, 12-touchdown guy the way Tony Gonzalez was. At his absolute best, the Falcons should be happy if he gives them 45 catches, 500 yards and seven touchdowns this year.
22. DE/OLB Osi Umenyiora
The Falcons will be using Osi Umenyiora in a designated pass-rusher role this season. That’s a very important role, as Umenyiora will be expected to get at least the same sack total he had last year of 7.5 sacks. But it means he isn’t going to start or play the run very much.
That will be left to Jonathan Massaquoi as the starting weak-outside linebacker or weak-side end depending on the alignment. Umenyiora will be relied on as the primary pass-rusher coming on for sub-packages and should be an ideal fit for Nolan’s variable nickel looks.
The fact that he’s being relegated to the role of third-best edge player is why he ranks so low. But if he can match or beat his sack total from a year ago and the Falcons get more than just four sacks from Massaquoi, this partnership on the weak side could be one of the best in football.
21. WR Harry Douglas
More multiple wide receiver sets because of Tony Gonzalez’s retirement means that Harry Douglas will get a lot more looks than he did in 2011 and 2012. Having a health Roddy White and Julio Jones means that he will get a lot less looks than he did in 2013.
Douglas is an ideal slot receiver in the Dirk Koetter sets. Koetter will be able to run more of his normal offense that he has run for years instead of scheming Gonzalez into it like a round peg in a square hole. He’ll be able to scheme more vertical routes stretching defenses.
Because of that, Douglas will get a lot of looks on skinny post routes and go routes that attack the safeties and the seams. It should up his value, but he’s still the fourth- or fifth-best option in the passing offense. And that’s OK. Douglas’ value comes from his ability to allow White or Jones to play in the slot while he aligns outside.
20. DE/OLB Kroy Biermann
After he tore his Achilles tendon in the second game of the 2013 season, Kroy Biermann will have to show he's healthy and ready to take over as the starting strong-outside linebacker this season. If he's not healthy, rotating with Joplo Bartu wouldn't be a bad way to go.
Biermann has shown a leadership the Falcons need off the field and in the locker room. With Biermann on the strong side, the Falcons have someone who can get after the quarterback, cover a tight end in short and intermediate ranges and play the run well off the edge.
The biggest issue Biermann has is coming back from that Achilles injury. He's going to have to show he's at 100 percent health, or it will be a long season for him again. On the bright side, if Biermann does have to come back slowly, Atlanta at least has some talent behind him this year.
19. WR/RS Devin Hester
With all the focus on the lines this offseason, it seems like people forget that Devin Hester chose to come to Atlanta to help the Falcons special teams units add an explosive element that's been missing since the loss of Eric Weems to, ironically, the Chicago Bears.
Hester is a huge upgrade over the combination of Robert McClain, Harry Douglas and Robert Alford at punt returner and Jacquizz Rodgers as a kick returner. Hester is just two returned kicks or punts for a touchdown away from setting the all-time record.
Atlanta hopes he breaks the record this year—especially with just how much it is paying him to be the dynamic punt and kick returner that he is. On top of that, Hester should also have some plays designed to go to him in the offense like screens and go routes. The Falcons might even throw in a reverse or two.
18. LT Sam Baker
The Falcons are 13-3 in each of the two seasons that Sam Baker has been both 100 percent healthy and played every snap at left tackle. In every other season, they haven't been able to win more than 11 games—two of those times just nine or less.
That's not a good omen considering he is recovering from knee surgery that ended his season last year. Then again, the Falcons did draft Jake Matthews from Texas A&M this past offseason. That lessens the impact of losing Baker.
Should Baker go down again, the Falcons can just move Matthews over to left tackle and put in Lamar Holmes on the right side. However, if Baker is 100 percent healthy, it could make more sense to play him on the right side as it would allow him to take on worse pass-rushers and extend his career.
17. C Joe Hawley
Todd McClure was an underrated center for the Falcons for years. He played with a grit, determination, toughness and intelligence that was lacking from the Falcons offensive line for the first half of the 2013 season with Peter Konz starting at center.
McClure's understudy, Joe Hawley, stepped right in to show that he's the true successor to the longtime starter. Much like McClure, the Falcons will get someone who can lead the offensive line for years in Hawley. They also get someone who fans may not truly believe in until he has the right talent around him.
Hawley does have that requisite nastiness that has been missing on the offensive line since the loss of Mud Duck McClure after the 2012 season. With Jon Asamoah, Jake Matthews and Justin Blalock surrounding him on the offensive line, the Falcons are in potentially the best shape they have been in on the offensive line since 2010.
16. DE/OLB Jonathan Massaquoi
Jonathan Massaquoi is the man who has the best chance of breaking out this season. He's a shockingly good pass-rusher when given a chance to get after the quarterback as a full-time guy. If the Falcons have a 10-sack guy on the roster for 2014, it's going to be him.
Massaquoi is the perfect fit for weak-outside linebacker in Mike Nolan's 3-4 defense. He's quick off the snap, can play short zone coverages and, most of all, can blitz effectively off the weak side and can line up all over the formation and blitz from anywhere.
Massaquoi will finally get the expanded role he needed to truly develop. This placement is based more on projection than current talent. But he's going to show quite a bit more on the field than people expect him to now that he finally has the chance to start.
15. DL Ra'Shede Hageman
The Falcons needed some better interior push with their expanded usage of the 3-4 alignments in 2014. They first needed to make sure they had some talent on the edges that could rotate at both the 5-technique defensive end role and the 3-technique defensive tackle role.
Ra’Shede Hageman does one better than that. He can line up anywhere from the 1-technique to the 6-technique in coordinator Mike Nolan’s defense. His ideal role is as a 5-technique in the base packages and then sliding inside to either 3- or 1-technique in pass-rushing situations.
He can eat double-teams effectively while setting the edge well against the run. Ideally, he’ll develop into a guy like Richard Seymour. But for now, he’s going to be a key rotational guy along the front of the defense with designs to have him destroy offenses from the inside-out.
14. CB Robert Alford
When the Falcons drafted Robert Alford in 2013, the goal was obviously to play him as the fourth corner for most of his rookie year and then bring him up to be the Robin to Desmond Trufant's Batman. Unfortunately, he was forced into more action than he should have seen due to injuries.
It could be a blessing in disguise, though. The Falcons are going to try and match up their corners more with the team's best receivers in 2014. This should allow Alford to get more favorable matchups than what he saw in 2013 lining up at the left cornerback spot.
If Trufant can continue to progress on the same learning curve that makes him look like one of the best up-and-coming cornerbacks in the NFL, Alford should have a shot at being the playmaking complement to the shutdown guy—essentially what Alterraun Verner has been for Jason McCourty in Tennessee.
13. DL Tyson Jackson
The Falcons needed someone to help keep the linebackers clean in 2014. In 2013, Jonathan Babineaux was miscast as the starting left defensive end for most of the year. Atlanta continually playing 3-4 sets and having Babineaux on essentially the wrong side of the field hurt a lot.
That's where bringing in Tyson Jackson helps. He's an experienced left defensive end in the 3-4 fronts and should see at least 40-45 percent of the snaps on defense as that base end. He's got great length, but the biggest thing he does well is eat double-teams.
Babineaux could not do that in 2013. With the second level of defense staying cleaner, expect the Falcons to get not only better against the run, but cleaner lanes for the blitz. Jackson may not be Justin Smith as far as pass rush is concerned, but he can at least force a team to have two bodies occupy him inside.
12. LB Sean Weatherspoon
Sean Weatherspoon is the heart and soul of the Falcons defense. However, he's had a lot of injuries throughout his career, especially during the past two seasons. In 2013, Spoon missed half the season with a foot injury that allowed Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow to emerge in his absence.
Then he missed the final two games with a knee injury that apparently has lingered throughout the offseason. In his career, Spoon has been able to stay healthy for all 16 games just one time—the 2011 season when he looked like a Pro Bowl player.
If he's unable to stay healthy again in 2014, the Falcons should be able to replace him easily with one of their four linebacker draft picks or with Bartu. Unfortunately, this would mean letting a fan favorite leave after just his rookie deal. If he can stay healthy, the Falcons have a top-level linebacker here in Spoon.
11. NT Paul Soliai
The Falcons haven't had a defensive tackle over 320 pounds who was worth his salt since getting rid of Grady Jackson back in 2009. That's way too long to go without a true nose tackle in the middle of a defense. That's why they signed Paul Soliai.
Soliai is experienced in both the 3-4 and 4-3 defense and has played in coordinator Mike Nolan's scheme before. He's someone who can instantly upgrade the beef on the inside for the Falcons for over 40 percent of the snaps on defense.
Soliai will help keep inside linebackers Paul Worrilow and Sean Weatherspoon clean during the season. If he can be the same kind of space-eater in Atlanta that he was in Miami, the Falcons should have a pillar of their defense for a good portion of his five-year contract.
10. LB Paul Worrilow
Paul Worrilow is the third-highest ranked defender. No, that isn't a misranking. No, that isn't me fluffing him up as better than he really is. Worrilow showed in a short amount of time that he's going to not only be a key cog for the team for a long time, but a competent linebacker and leader on the roster.
He's very similar to Keith Brooking in a lot of ways. He's got a similar build, similar flow to the ball and a similar athletic set of skills. However, his football skill set is a good bit different. Worrilow understands how to blitz and attack a quarterback in the passing game where Brooking never excelled there.
However, Worrilow is average at best in coverage right now where Brooking was always one of the best in the league there. The Falcons know what they have in Worrilow, though. And if they allow him to be the primary inside linebacker in the defense, Atlanta's defense will be maximized.
9. RB Steven Jackson
The Falcons' fortunes in 2014 will rely more on the run game than they have in years. And because of that, Steven Jackson is one of the most important players on the roster. He needs to stay healthy in 2014 because his lack of health in 2013 didn't allow Atlanta to fully establish a counterbalance for Matt Ryan.
With the new additions to the offensive line and Sam Baker finally getting healthy, it wouldn't be surprising to see Jackson get one final 1,000-yard season now that he's healthy. Jackson is a grinder in the backfield and should provide the offset needed for Ryan's passing talent.
But he has to stay healthy. And at 31 years old in July, the Falcons are putting a lot of faith into an old running back and hoping that he won't decline. Luckily, they have a much better backup plan than they did in 2013, as they took Devonta Freeman in the fourth round this year.
8. RG Jon Asamoah
The Falcons offensive line was horrible in 2013 because it could never truly get the right guard situation 100 percent settled. Jon Asamoah was a big-money free-agent signing because the Falcons feel like he can provide what they were missing in 2013 from the spot—competence.
Asamoah has a nasty streak the Falcons have been missing since Harvey Dahl left in 2011. Bringing back an element that was key to early success will only help the Falcons turn their fortunes around in 2014. A huge hole on the line is tough to fix without epic talent around it.
Asamoah will be able to help solidify the Falcons offensive line and give them a long-term starting option that will be able to set the depth of the pocket with Joe Hawley and Justin Blalock. They should finally give Matt Ryan a pocket to step up into once again.
7. OT Jake Matthews
When you take a guy with the sixth overall pick in the draft, you expect him to be an instant starter his rookie year and a franchise pillar for a decade or more. The Falcons got a good one in Jake Matthews and should have at the very least a solid right tackle now and a franchise left tackle in the future.
For now, the Falcons' improvement on the right side was drastic enough to completely change the complexion of the entire line. After starting three different right guards and four different right tackles in 2013, they hope to have just one of each in 2014.
Matthews is an important part of making that happen. As long as he stays healthy, the Falcons could have one of the best pass-blocking offensive lines in the NFL. In the long term, Matthews is the ideal blindside protector for the franchise and could see that move happen sooner rather than later.
6. SS William Moore
After releasing Thomas DeCoud and drafting a ton of young defenders this past season, William Moore is one of the oldest members of what's now an extremely young defense. Moore will have to get the secondary all on the same page in 2014, or miscommunications could cause some missteps.
Moore's role will be looked on to set the tone for the whole defense. If he has an off day or doesn't look like the tough-guy enforcer that he is, the defense won't be able to show the same kind of toughness it needs to show to improve.
Then, the idea of fixing the defensive line will all be for naught. Moore's attitude will have to be infectious. Hopefully, the defense takes on the same take-no-prisoners-style attitude that led him to give a St. Louis Rams tight end a spinebuster during a 2013 game.
5. CB Desmond Trufant
Speaking of key defensive cogs, Desmond Trufant is the highest-rated one on this list. And for good reason. Not only is the position of No. 1 cornerback the most important position when it comes to stopping the pass in the NFL, but the attitude Trufant brings needs to be infectious as well.
After a season where the defense looked mediocre at best and the team could easily continue to stay down in the dumps, Trufant's swagger needs to rub off on the rest of the defense. It's the same kind of swagger that led the defense to be an opportunistic one in 2012.
The Falcons defense might bend a lot in 2014, but it needs to be opportunistic and not break to allow a lot of touchdowns. The way it does that is by playing with the same kind of heart and confidence that Trufant showed even in the worst season of the Falcons' past six years.
4. LG Justin Blalock
The best offensive lineman on the team is Justin Blalock. He's the rock who hasn't been replaced since the Mike Smith-Thomas Dimitroff contingent came to Atlanta. He's the only one who has played every single game since that pairing came to town.
And every season, Blalock has shown to be an above-average NFL left guard. With a good right side of the line in 2014 on paper, Blalock will be asked to do a lot less than he was asked to do in 2013. He won't have to cover for a center's mistakes as often and should see more help on double-teams.
He should be able to pull and drive down on defensive players now that he has competence around him once again. And he should finally have some better running backs dashing past him as he tries to give them the biggest hole he possibly can.
3. WR Roddy White
He's an emotional leader. He's the best wide receiver in franchise history. He's the longest-tenured Falcon on the team and is entering his 10th season in Atlanta. He's also entering his eighth year as the Falcons' starting wide receiver after gaining over 1,100 yards in six of the past seven seasons.
When he's healthy, White is one of the top 15 wide receivers in the NFL. He can still go with the best of them and can still block like he used to when he was a fresh rookie. But can he stay healthy for a full season in 2014 and give Atlanta the production it needs?
IF he can, the Falcons will be able to have at least one great option in their passing game for Matt Ryan. The loss of Tony Gonzalez needs to be accounted for, and White seeing more interior passing routes will be the start of the replacement plan.
2. WR Julio Jones
The argument could be made that the Falcons' season needs Julio Jones to be completely healthy after his foot injury to even come close to having another winning season. He's easily the best receiver on the roster and is arguably a top-five wide receiver in the NFL.
He's got all the tools to lead the league in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. The only question he has had since he was drafted is his overall health. The Falcons will need to make sure they continue to feature him in the offense.
But most of all, the Falcons need to make sure he's up to speed when the season starts. If he is healthy for all 16 games, Falcons records could be shattered and an NFL single-season record could be in danger. If he isn't healthy, Atlanta will have to rely on its run game a lot more.
1. QB Matt Ryan
When a team's franchise quarterback is also its best player, that's a good thing. Matt Ryan showed last season that the Falcons have one of the best quarterbacks in the league at their disposal regardless of whether he has top options or not.
However, last year also showed that Ryan needs as much protection as he can get. The Falcons quarterback isn't exactly known for being mobile or the best in a muddled pocket. But he improved in both areas in 2013 and could use that experience to his advantage in 2014.
The Falcons did give him some help in the form of another receiver by the name of Devin Hester and by improving the line right in front of him with No. 6 overall pick Jake Matthews and a good-value free agent in Jon Asamoah. Now it's time for him to go earn the contract extension that kicks in this year.
All stats used are from Pro Football Focus' Premium Stats (subscription required), ESPN.com, CFBStats or NFL.com. All combine and pro-day info is courtesy of NFLDraftScout.com. 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, the NFL and the NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.