There are weeks to Atlanta’s new league year, and the list goes on and on. The 2022 NFL draft will significantly change the outlook of this group, they are making some differences — hell, even the deepest depth is welcome — but the Falcons took real steps last month to shape their in-depth chart through the free agency.
In its light – and signed by Rashan Evans the day before yesterday – it seemed like a good time to take a deep breath, step back and see where the deep chart stands on both sides of the ball in less than a month. Go up to the draft. None of the following is official or close to the end – the Falcons still have more than 20 roster spots open – but the team will tell us where to add and where to add credibility. Options for a defense that needs help.
Tomorrow we will get down to crime, but today, let’s talk about security.
DL Grady Jared
DL Anthony Rush
DL Ta’Quon Graham
DL Marlon Davidson
DL Nick Thurman
Assuming the Falcons will not trade Jart, every statement indicates that they are trying to extend him — he will be a part of this lineup for the eighth consecutive season. He’s one of the best in the business and the only star in the front seven in the Falcons, so I hope he’s come after Jared and wreak havoc.
Graham played quietly on the defensive line for the third highest snap totals a year ago, and I think he’s a player the coaching staff loves and a player who has the potential to be a starter. If Atlanta doesn’t add an obvious upgrade, write him in the starting lineup and I wish he had a chance to improve a little in his second season.
Atlanta wants to add extra options to this defensive line, but for 30-40% of defensive snaps the rush has to be done with things like tackling the team’s nose. He was solid in that role when he entered the lineup last year, and the Falcons will feel better about a player who is comfortable with them after receiving Tyler Davison and cycling options early in the 2021 season.
The depth here is thin, though it does not last as long as the draft in the corner. I hope Davidson will prove to be a force to be reckoned with, and this defense will greatly benefit if he has at least a high-level balance. Thurman will get a spot this summer, especially if the team does not add much talent.
OLB Lorenzo Carter
OLB Adetogunbo Okuntage
OLB James Waters
OLB John Kominski
OLB Quinton Bell
OLB Jordan Brailleford
Atlanta need the ability to transform a game here, but if they could add a player to that kind of inversion, this team would become really enjoyable.
Carter took all his excuses at the end of the 2021 season, but he’s 26 years old, he’s a great athlete, and he’s stepping into a defense with no snoops or chances. Ogundeji is a player the Falcons have been talking to relentlessly since last summer, and under his belt for a year he hopes to add a pass rusher to his product. Carter, Okuntaji and an early round rookie are just the beginning of something, and if he exits Carter in 2022 there will be hat space for the Falcons to keep him around.
Waters played well in his 2021 chances and is the best depth for this team. After the team effectively confronts Kaminski and transfers him back to the outfield linebacker, he will start the spring locked in that position. He is still 26 years old and hopes to be a contributor to 15-20 snaps per game. Training team slots, depending on whether Bell and Brailleford will compete for a spot or add Falcons to the squad.
ILB Dion Jones
ILB Rashan Evans
ILB Mykal Walker
ILB Dorian Etheridge
ILB Rashad Smith
I fully expect Evans to start, but since I’m not 100% sure that Jones will be on this list at the start of the season, I really do not know how this will work. Walker and Evans will provide a bigger, more physical starter for the team, which seems to be the direction the team is moving. We’ll see what this looks like after the draft.
If Jones is here, mixing the recently signed, hard-hitting Evans with the range and speed of the Falcons Depot, Walker will serve as the team’s best reserve in that space. The hope in that scenario is that Jones will return to the climax of the big jump again, giving Atlanta an efficient option to cover tight ends and run out of the backcourt. Evans will deliver big, reliable wins and has been at least half capable of covering for the past two years.
Instead if the Falcons add Walker to the starting line – or pass a little run with Evans – they will pick someone who has proven aggressive and consistent coverage. The last two seasons. Until the team adds another player, Etheridge will surround the team as a special team and a deep presence.
The uncertainty around Jones creates uncertainty around the whole situation, but apparently if he stays back and retreats a bit, it looks like a very solid group. If they move him, it’s important to add more talent to the team behind Evans and Walker.
CB AJ Terrell
CB Casey Howard
CB Isaiah Oliver
CB Darren Hall
CB DeAundre Alford
CB Avery Williams
CB Kendall Sheffield
CB Lafayette Bits
CB Cornell Armstrong
CB Cory Ballantine
This is the best level group on the roster, and I do not think it’s particularly close.
If Terrell is able to keep up the pace from his breakout season, he is one of the best cornerbacks in football and an amazing starter. Aging to Howard, but still fantastic in coverage and a reliable second cornerback against Terrell. Oliver was handsome before last year’s injury, and if he’s healthy, he should step back as a reliable nickel for Dean Piece and this defense.
That is, on paper, the strongest group of starting players. Depth quality, Hall has done well in his limited 2021 prospects, Allford is deeply interested in jumping out of the CFL, and Williams is still young and more talented than he did in his limited prospects in 2021. Sheffield has not landed much on the field, but still has solid size and excellent speed to build, while Pitts, Armstrong and Ballantine can still reliably compete for two training team positions to deliver on-foot depth.
It is always foolish to assume that everything will go as planned, but on paper this is a very good and deep team. I’m legally excited to see how it trembles this summer.
S. Richie Grant
S. Jailin Hawkins
S. Eric Harris
S. Dean Marlowe
S / Cb Tees Tabor
S. Luther Kirk
Kyle Hamilton feels the possibility of being selected at No. 8 is reasonable, so it is difficult to pencil any of these players. While there is significant uncertainty about who will start this team, the Falcons have done a good job. Giving themselves options on a budget.
My guess is, Grant is stepping into the starting lineup. The 2021 second-round pick didn’t get a ton of runs on defense last season, but the Falcons went and got him because they loved his playmaking ability, and he has a year to learn and adjust to the NFL game. It would be sad if he didn’t get the first crack in a big role in 2022, and I still hope he excels at this opportunity.
Hawkins should be lightly penciled. He took a real run earlier this year, but in the end he didn’t play much, and it’s not entirely clear whether it was the coaches ’choice or behind the injury. He’s a physical game maker in production, and despite making some very visible mistakes along the way I would love to see him get a real shot in an entire season in a year where the Falcons have to be ready. Throw objects on the wall and see if they stick.
Harris started most games until he was injured just over a year ago, and if he is positioned in a deep role, he has a very strong balance, so that if anyone gets injured or stumbles, the Falcons player can reliably enter and deliver spot starts. Like his leadership. Marlowe started nine games for the Lions a year ago, and he’s awkward — you don’t want him to be targeted for coverage, but he’s a reliable tackle — but brings significant experience and solid talent to the table as a reserve. Tabor goes around things with diversity — he played in both defense and cornerback — and the value of special teams.
Bees wants to mix more than two defenses, so you’ll see Harris and Marlow even if they do not start. It may not be a great group until Grant and / or Hawkins blossom (or, of course, if they include someone like Hamilton), but it is solid and very deep.
The Falcons have not obviously added this defense — they have more than 20 listing places and the draft has not yet taken place — but you can see this side of the ball starting to take shape. What positions do you hope the team will add in the coming weeks?