Falcons Needs: Defensive TackleThe first decision the Falcons will have to make in regards to their defensive tackle position is whether or not to re-sign free agent Vance Walker. Walker has been a valuable role player for the Falcons over the years. For much of 2012, with Corey Peters out of the lineup due to injury, he was the team’s second best interior presence. He’s coming off his best season as a pass rusher, and has consistently been one of their best run defenders. But given their tight cap space, the team may not be able to afford a long-term deal that satisfies Walker. Coupled with the fact that the team has Travian Robertson and possibly Micanor Regis that could take his spot.
With Jonathan Babineaux spending much of his 2012 at defensive end rather than in the interior, the need some help inside. Especially considering that Babineaux, along with Peria Jerry and Corey Peters will all be hitting free agency following 2013. Given the likelihood that several (if not all) of those guys might not be on the team a year from now, the team will likely seek to draft a young defensive tackle that can join Robertson on the roster.
The Falcons also had issues with defending the run, so it’s likely the team could be looking for a wide-body especially if the team intends to move more towards a two-gap scheme. The Falcons featured a three defensive tackles-formation throughout the latter half of 2012, which could be potentially expanded into more two-gap concepts that are featured in the traditional 3-4 scheme. That scheme features a wide-body nose tackle that is responsible for securing both A gaps beside the opposing team’s center. While the Falcons have a few candidates already on the roster in Peters, Regis, and possibly Walker if retained, they might want to look into other options in free agency or the draft that have more experience there.
But the bigger issue facing the Falcons is improving their pass rush. Babineaux remains their best guy, but he’s beginning to slow down. Peters and Jerry, two players that were known for their disruptive abilities in college have not picked up the slack over the years. Robertson flashed quickness during the preseason to suggest he might have a future, but he’s still young and needs more time. So the Falcons could seek a pass rusher early in the draft to groom as a possible replacement for Babineaux in the near future. That player could also garner reps at defensive end similar to Babineaux, suggesting that the Falcons may be looking for a hybrid player that may be considered a 3-4 end by most. The best example of this type of player is Houston’s J.J. Watt. Now the Falcons won’t be able to find a player as good as Watt, but they could be happy with a poor man’s version of him. In Houston, Watt plays end in their base 3-man front, and then moves inside to tackle when they go to a 4-man look in their dime package (the Texans play very little nickel).
Mike Nolan’s scheme prefers versatility, and having such a presence on the defense capable of playing inside and outside, especially if they can get pressure at both positions, would be highly valuable. Such a player could supplant John Abraham at end on run downs, and then kick inside along with Babineaux on passing downs with Abe and Biermann likely lining up at end.