Atlanta Doesn't Have Enough Space to Keep All of Its Talented Linebackers

Scott Carasik@ScottCarasikContributor IIAugust 11, 2013

Paul Worrilow looked to earn a roster spot with his performance Thursday night.
Paul Worrilow looked to earn a roster spot with his performance Thursday night.Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

And right now, the Falcons have the good problem of having too many talented linebackers and not enough spots to keep all of them.

Even if they do decide to keep six linebackers on the 53-man roster and one on the practice squad for the 2013 season, they will still end up losing a pair of talented players for their future and their depth.

That's tough for a team who is heading into the 2013 season going after its second Super Bowl appearance. The Falcons want as much depth as possible and want to create the best possible team in doing so.

Depth is Excellent Despite Not Having Draft Status

When looking at the Falcons linebackers, everyone loves to point to the starting group that will include Sean Weatherspoon, Akeem Dent and either Stephen Nicholas or Kroy Biermann (a battle which we will look at later). However, the Falcons' true strength could be in their depth.

The six backups—Nick Clancy, Paul Worrilow, Pat Schiller, Robert James, Joplo Bartu and Brian Banks—all have their own unique story and talents.

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Lumping them together, Clancy, Worrilow and Bartu are all senior captains from their college teams and tackling machines with solid coverage ability. James and Schiller have spent time on the Falcons practice squad and understand the scheme already. And Banks is a unique story in and of himself.

However, outside of James, who was a 2008 fifth-round pick, none of the current Falcons backups were drafted. They are all making a case as to why they should have been—especially guys like Schiller and Worrilow after their performances Thursday night where Worrilow had 12 tackles and Schiller had five.

The Falcons have proven that you can find good linebackers regardless of needing to draft them or not. And who knows? Maybe a starter will come out of this crop of talent.

The Kroy Biermann/Stephen Nicholas Conundrum

At strong-side linebacker this year, the Falcons have Kroy Biermann and Stephen Nicholas competing for the starting job, according to John Manasso of Fox Sports South. In the first preseason game, Biermann played a bunch of snaps both at linebacker and defensive end.

The role was very similar to Von Miller's in Denver. He was playing primarily a pass-rushing role. However, he was much better in coverage than Nicholas was during the game. He only got beat once, and it was for just five yards.

Nicholas, on the other hand, could be easily cut to save a ton of cap space—$2.5 million in 2013, $2.0 million in 2014 and $5.5 million in 2015. He's also replaceable by a combination of Biermann and giving Robert James more playing time. 

The Falcons could also look to give one of the rookie undrafted free agents like Paul Worrilow more playing time because he has stood out to help replace the declining Nicholas. At this point, Nicholas looks like he is replaceable with current personnel.

The Brian Banks Question

Brian Banks has spent the last 10 years in some sort of legal trouble despite being 100 percent innocent. However, that means he hasn't been playing football over the past 10 years, and because of that he showed notable rust against the Bengals.

However, despite his lack of experience over the past 10 years, Banks has size that can't be taught at 6'2", 250 pounds, and he looks the part of an NFL linebacker on the field. He needs much more experience than he has. 

And due to that, it would not shock to see him cut at the first cut downs to 75 players per roster. On the bright side, if he can make it through to final cuts, the Falcons will be able to get him enough snaps to get a proper evaluation.

But Banks just needs more time to get used to the NFL lifestyle and playing against pro athletes. And honestly, he should have seen if he could have gone to college for a season or two once he got exonerated.

Final Predicton

Last season the Falcons went with five linebackers on the 53-man roster to go along with one on the practice squad.  This season, there will be six linebackers on the 53-man roster.

One of the six will also be playing defensive end, but because of scheme versatility, he will hold more value than the starter he will be replacing while also saving a roster spot.

There will also be one practice squad linebacker, and out of the current Falcons depth, it wouldn't be surprising as to who it will end up being. The linebacker who doesn't make the 53-man roster but showed enough to earn a spot will be the one who takes the practice squad role.

Sean Weatherspoon

Weatherspoon is guaranteed a roster spot and starting spot. He's the one linebacker who the Falcons have invested the most in, and he's the true leader of the defense. The Falcons love their defensive captain, and Weatherspoon is a top three 4-3 outside linebacker today.

Akeem Dent

Last year's starting middle linebacker should be back in the same role he was in. He could also end up taking more snaps on third downs as he looks much improved in coverage this season. If Atlanta cuts Stephen Nicholas as expected, then he will be the new three-down linebacker.

Kroy Biermann

Say hello to the reason why Stephen Nicholas could be completely replaced. Biermann can provide more pass rush or coverage than Nicholas has in the past few years. Biermann also does better against the run on the edge, and that could be the biggest reason why Biermann wins the starting spot.

Pat Schiller

After spending a year on the practice squad, Schiller looks like he has earned the roster spot vacated by Mike Peterson's retirement. Schiller can play inside or outside linebacker and is an excellent special teams player. He's also got leadership among a young group.

Robert James

Robert James can play inside or outside as well, and the versatility to play multiple spots in the duplicitous scheme will earn him points with the coaching staff. Combine that with his team lead in special teams tackles in 2012, and he's all but locked up a roster spot.

Paul Worrilow

The former Delaware standout was excellent in the first preseason game registering 12 tackles, showing excellent coverage and also providing special teams talent. He played both inside and outside for Delaware and will be able to develop into a three-down linebacker in the Falcons' scheme.

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.

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