The NFL is a game of inches and where once the Atlanta Falcons found them in their favor, they turned against them in 2013. A team famed for winning close games starting losing them and the outcome was a first losing season under Head Coach Mike Smith.
Was this an off-year caused by missed opportunities and injuries? Or perhaps something deeper in the organization where a failure to develop draft picks left them under skilled at a number of key positions. We turn our Projected Line Ups series to them to see what they’re walking into the offseason with.
– Player markers are colored per class on a six-step ‘Poor’ to ‘High Quality’ scale based on their overall performance and the league’s elite are marked separately in blue.
– Colored outlines suggest a potential change in class.
– Underlined players will be 30+ years old for the 2014 season.
– Red player names suggest injury risks.
– Click on the image to enlarge.
– The most glaring weakness right now is at defensive tackle. Travian Robertson and Adam Replogle lack experience, with the former just 126 snaps into his career and latter no regular season experience. You would expect one of Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters or Peria Jerry to return, but even accounting for that it’s an area that will need some attention in free agency or the draft.
– When you look at deals the franchise handed out to Justin Blalock and Sam Baker over the past few years, you get the impression the team has overvalued certain starters. Blalock has long been an average guard and little more, while Baker cashed in on his one good season in five before going back to the player he was in his first four years. The overinvestment there has left the right side of the line something of a nightmare, where the team will hope Lamarr Holmes and Peter Konz are much improved from horrible first years starting, and that they can find a solution at right guard. It’s a big area of concern right now.
– If nothing else, in 2013 Atlanta got some young guns some experience. Notably at linebacker where undrafted free agents Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu played well enough that the team could cut the Stephen Nicholas cord. Still Worrilow, who made a boatload of tackles, could only get a -13.7 grade while Bartu looked purely a two-down player. The team really needs Sean Weatherspoon to find some of his 2011 form. He’s been far too miss since then.
– The team is currently carrying two fullbacks so we’d expect one of them to go. Patrick DiMarco played well in his 196 snaps, but the team, having invested a 2012 fifth-round pick in him, will want Bradie Ewing (14 career snaps) to be the guy. Can he stay healthy?
2014 Cap Situation
Per www.spotrac.com the Falcons sit a very healthy $15.9m under the cap which would give them room to make some under the radar signings that might address the depth issues they’ve had recently.
Of course they might want to make a bigger splash, but to do so requires some creativity. Roddy White is a candidate for a restructure to lower his $5M cap hit, while the team might decide that Thomas Decoud (-21.0 grade since signing his new deal – which he earned) is $3M in savings they can make. Beyond that the team seems happy with Osi Umenyiora, but you question if they could get similar production for less than the $4.8M he’s going to cost against the cap, while if Garrett Reynolds isn’t the answer at right guard you simply can’t justify keeping him on the books for a $1.4M hit. There are savings to be made.
Opportunities from the Roster
The penciled-in starters at defensive end right now are Kroy Biermann and Umenyiora. Neither man should be considered safe, with the versatile Biermann even a candidate to start at strongside linebacker. That’s because they’ve invested in quantity at the position so that players like Malliciah Goodman, Stansly Maponga, Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews are all within a shout. Of them, Massaquoi, a 2012 fifth-rounder, is the furthest along in his development and played 540 snaps last year, earning a positive grade in run defense, but watch out for the more versatile Goodman who might be asked to play a tweener tackle/ end role.
With the roster spot of Decoud in jeopardy you might see Kemal Ishmael or Zeke Motta make a play for it, with Motta doing a decent enough job on his 158 snaps as a rookie. Lastly, at tackle, the team is high on preseason star Ryan Schraeder and in his 315 snaps he looked more polished than Holmes. If the team ignores tackle in the draft and free agency he’s legit competition for an injury-prone Baker and Holmes (if he doesn’t take a huge leap forward).
Projected lineups by team:
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