2016 Team Needs

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2016 Team Needs

Postby Pudge » Mon Feb 15, 2016 5:29 pm

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2016 Team Needs: Falcons Still Have Lingering Questions At Backup Quarterback

TOPICS:DraftFree AgencyNeedsRenfree
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Sean Renfree
POSTED BY: AARON FREEMAN FEBRUARY 15, 2016
Despite the struggles of starter Matt Ryan in 2015, the Atlanta Falcons’ primary concern heading into this year’s offseason remains at addressing who is the backup at quarterback.

Last year the Falcons kept Sean Renfree at the spot after he won the training-camp competition against veteran T.J. Yates. Yates returned to Houston, where he was able to help guide the Texans to a trio of wins, aiding their late-season playoff push.

Unfortunately Yates never was able to do that in his brief time in Atlanta after the team snagged him via trade in June 2014. But the Falcons hope that whomever is their backup in 2016 could potentially pull off that same feat if they find themselves missing Ryan for a considerable amount of time in the future.

Questions remain if Renfree is that guy. Despite beating Yates in a fair and open competition this past summer, Renfree has done little in three summers with the Falcons to indicate that he’s destined to be the type of backup quarterback that can help salvage a season for a playoff-bound team.

It was telling how little confidence the Falcons had in Renfree heading into the 2015 season when they briefly dabbled with Rex Grossman as a contender for the backup spot.

It remains to be seen if Renfree did anything over the past six months to garner more confidence from the Falcons coaching staff. He saw brief action in a pair of blowouts this past year (against Houston and the Carolina Panthers). It was telling when the play-calling for Renfree when he got his only real action as a passer against the Panthers late in the year featured a number of short, high-percentage passes, indicative that the coaching staff still has some concerns about Renfree’s grasp of the system.

However it should be noted that Renfree wasn’t the only player that wasn’t super keen “mastering” the system last year. That likely means that if the Falcons are going to attempt to make an upgrade, they’re most likely to target a free agent that has experience playing for Shanahan.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Schaub
The most prominent of the free agents that fit that requirement is Matt Schaub, who the Falcons showed interest in last offseason. Schaub ultimately landed with the Baltimore Ravens and was looked competent in one of his two starts for them in 2015.

Schaub turns 35 in June and still is intent on continuing his NFL career. With the Ravens not expected to re-sign him, the Falcons should have a fairly good shot of attracting the quarterback they originally selected in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft.

However the Falcons could also opt to go younger at the position. While Renfree does give them one developmental passer already on the roster, an upgrade via the draft could also be an enticing option.

The 2016 quarterback draft class looks much more promising than last year’s group, and Ryan’s struggles this past year does raise some concerns about his long-term staying power in Atlanta.

Ryan’s contract doesn’t run out until after the 2018 season and drafting a rookie now could give them three years of development as a potential replacement down the road.

However the limited number of picks the Falcons currently possess coupled with a wealth of other more pressing needs all across the roster makes spending a mid or late-round pick on another developmental quarterback more of a luxury than a necessity.

Yet it’s unlikely that the Falcons will be content to just bring back Renfree and practice squad member Matt Simms to camp this summer without added competition. Whether it’s a veteran free agent or a developmental prospect in the draft, the Falcons seem poised to make at least one significant addition at quarterback in 2016.

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Re: 2016 Team Needs

Postby Pudge » Sat Feb 20, 2016 4:23 pm

http://falcfans.com/2016-team-needs-fal ... back-22663

2016 Team Needs: Falcons Looking To Add Depth At Running Back

TOPICS:ColemanDraftFree AgencyFreemanNeedsWard
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Tevin Coleman
POSTED BY: AARON FREEMAN FEBRUARY 16, 2016
The Atlanta Falcons got strong production from Devonta Freeman in 2015, centering the need at running back on their desire to improve depth.

Freeman had a brilliant first half in 2015, producing an extraordinary 956 total yards and nine touchdowns during his first six starts from Weeks Three through Eight. The next best running back, Le’Veon Bell, produced 692 total yards during that same stretch of games.

However that production dipped thereafter when Freeman totaled 572 yards and four touchdowns in his final seven games in 2015. That figure was much closer to the middle of the pack among NFL running backs with 11 other backs topping his per-game average during that nine-week stretch.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Devonta Freeman
Freeman also missed a game and the majority of another with a concussion. It all raises some questions about which stretch of games were more representative of Freeman’s value moving forward as well as whether he’s ideally suited to hold up to the immense workload he saw in 2015. Last year, Freeman’s 338 offensive touches ranked second in the league behind only Adrian Peterson (357). That’s a lot for a 206-pound running back, with the Falcons likely wanting to reduce his workload in the ground game while still maximizing his impact in the passing game.

That concern over durability and the need to lighten Freeman’s load is why it’s important moving forward that the Falcons have trustworthy depth. Right now that may not be the case with Tevin Coleman coming off a disappointing rookie season.

After opening the season as the starter, Coleman suffered his a rib injury in Week Two against the New York Giants, and thereafter only provided flashes of promise rather than substantial production. The biggest concern surrounding Coleman was his ball security as the rookie running back lost three fumbles over a six-game stretch that saw him touch the ball just 47 times.

Expectations are high that Coleman will make a significant jump going into his second NFL season, similar to what Freeman did this past year. Coleman will have to improve his ball security and become a bigger factor in the passing game if he is expected to be considered a reliable replacement for Freeman, should the latter find himself out of the lineup once again.

Once Freeman took over the starting job, Coleman was too often an afterthought in the offensive game plan, touching the ball more than four times only twice after his return from injury in Week Five. Those two games were the same ones where Freeman was unavailable due to his concussion. At the very least, Coleman needs to improve in order to carve out a bigger role as a complementary and change-of-pace back for the Falcons in 2016.

But despite his first-year struggles, there’s little reason for the Falcons to give up yet on Coleman. They’ll likely allow him ample opportunity to grow and develop heading into this season, which likely means that they won’t prioritize bringing in either a veteran or rookie that will push him for playing time.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Terron Ward
Instead the Falcons will likely only focus on upgrading the competition for the third running back on the roster, which is the spot that former undrafted rookie Terron Ward currently holds. Ward impressed the team during training camp, but did little to translate that either preseason or regular-season games. He remains a work in progress but as is the case with Coleman, the Falcons are expected to give him the opportunity to show growth going into his second NFL season.

Given the youth of the position group, the Falcons could try and pick up a low-level veteran in free agency that could add value on third downs, which was the primary role that Ward filled when he saw action in 2015.

But more than likely with the desire to invest funds in other more pertinent positions of need, the Falcons might wind up settling for bringing in more undrafted competition to push Ward this summer. Successes with Ward and Antone Smith in recent memory suggest that it’s a relatively reliable option when looking for third-string runners.

Freeman is firmly entrenched as the starter, but the Falcons are looking for added production from their reserves at running back this season. That means the team will seek to bolster competition this summer but given the presence of the young and developing Coleman, there is no need for significant investment this offseason.

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Re: 2016 Team Needs

Postby Pudge » Sat Feb 20, 2016 4:23 pm

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2016 Team Needs: Falcons Likely To Stand Pat With Pro Bowl Fullback

TOPICS:DiMarcoDraftFree AgencyMooneyNeeds
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Patrick DiMarco (42)
POSTED BY: AARON FREEMAN FEBRUARY 16, 2016
The Atlanta Falcons got a genuine surprise in 2015 given the production of Pro Bowler Patrick DiMarco, likely prompting the team to stand pat the fullback position.

DiMarco entered training camp in an open and fierce competition with Collin Mooney, and frankly until Mooney suffered a season-ending arm injury in the team’s preseason finale, had done little up to that point to clearly win the gig.

However DiMarco was able to erase any concerns that lingered at the end of the summer with his play during the regular season, helping lead the way for the stellar production that running back Devonta Freeman saw through a large portion of 2015. DiMarco’s play led to him being voted onto the All-Pro team as well as being named to the Pro Bowl as an alternate.

DiMarco is entering a contract year with the Falcons and his play in 2015 could at least open the possibilities of the Falcons signing him to an extension. The potential of that possibility only increased when the Falcons opted to waive Mooney yesterday.

With Mooney’s exit, the Falcons will certainly bring in some added competition in training camp to push DiMarco. But in all likelihood it will be undrafted rookie or a street free agent, that will be hard-pressed to unseat the Pro Bowler.

The presences of DiMarco means that the Falcons should be content with their starting spot and only seek to add mild competition heading into this summer’s training camp. Ultimately DiMarco’s grip on a roster likely indicates that any additions here will be little more than camp bodies.

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Re: 2016 Team Needs

Postby Pudge » Sat Feb 20, 2016 4:24 pm

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2016 Team Needs: Falcons Might Overhaul Wide Receiver Corps

TOPICS:DraftFree AgencyHankersonHardyHesterJonesNeedsNick WilliamsSalary CapWeemsWhite
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Roddy White (left) and Julio Jones
POSTED BY: AARON FREEMAN FEBRUARY 17, 2016
The Atlanta Falcons could begin the overhaul of their wide receiver position, making supplementing this group one of their bigger priorities on offense this offseason.

The Falcons have historically neglected drafting a wide receiver under general manager Thomas Dimitroff, with only three picks spent on the position from 2008 to 2014, the lowest total in the league over that span. The average for the other 31 NFL team during that span was to use 7.1 picks on the position. That neglect has put the Falcons behind the eight ball when it comes to securing young, developmental talent at the position.

Things started to take a turn when the Falcons drafted Justin Hardy in the fourth round of last year’s draft and it’s likely that 2016 will bring on a second consecutive year of utilizing a pick at the position. The Falcons simply need to get younger and more explosive at this position, as veteran Julio Jones spent too much of 2015 trying to carry the rest of the group.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Justin Hardy
Hardy should find a home in the slot in 2016, having spent the majority of his time over the second half of 2015 playing that role. It’s a role ideally suited for the young receiver, who is neither the biggest nor fastest option out there. But he has good hands and showed a knack for getting open on short and intermediate option routes over the middle.

Jones still will remain the team’s primary weapon, being moved all over the field as a dynamic chess piece for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. But Jones battled through injuries during the middle part of 2015, and not coincidentally that was at the same time that the offense’s overall production started to take a dip. The Falcons are still too much of a “one-man team” in the passing game and it’s imperative that they start to correct that by getting more playmakers to complement Jones.

Beyond Hardy and Jones, nobody else currently on the roster is guaranteed to be there when the regular season opens up seven months from now. The team already parted ways with impending free agent Leonard Hankerson, when he pushed for his release less than two weeks after he was placed on injured reserve in December. Hankerson wasn’t part of the team’s future plans according to head coach Dan Quinn and that may also apply to other veterans currently on the roster.

That includes Roddy White, Devin Hester and Eric Weems, who are all on the wrong side of 30 years of age. White was extremely underwhelming as a starter in 2015 and his relatively high cap hit of roughly $6.14 million might be too rich for the Falcons to carry given his lack of production. White’s ability moving forward is likely catered towards being a slot receiver, which is the role that Hardy is destined to fill. It’s a clash that should prompt White’s release before the start of free agency.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Devin Hester
Hester missed most of 2015 with a toe injury, and is expected to miss a significant chunk of the offseason after having surgery on that toe last month. The Falcons could part ways, figuring that the 33-year old receiver is not worth the $3.83 million he is slated to count towards their cap this year, particularly since his role seems exclusively as a return threat under Shanahan. The Falcons could try and add a younger return specialist or go into next season with either Weems or Nick Williams in the role.

Weems served as a competent return specialist for much of 2015 with Hester out of the lineup, and has always been an excellent performer on special-teams coverage. But the 30-year old’s cap hit of nearly $1.15 million might be a little pricey for a role player that offers little value on offense. They could purge most of it by releasing him this offseason.

Thus Williams might become the de facto third receiver heading into the offseason, a status that probably won’t last long. While Williams has value on special teams and can add depth as a slot receiver, he’s not talented enough to be much more than a fifth option on most NFL teams’ depth charts.

That could mean that the Falcons are looking to add at least two receivers this offseason to fill the various voids should they cut bait with multiple veterans this offseason. Ideally one will come in free agency and the other in the draft. Even if the team manages to keep or more veterans, they are best served trying to upgrade with multiple additions this spring.

The free-agent pool isn’t particularly exciting. While Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery is the biggest name, he’s almost a certainty to receive the franchise tag should he not get extended before March. That leaves players like Marvin Jones, Rishard Matthews, Travis Benjamin and Jermaine Kearse as some of the next best options potentially available. None are standouts, but could add value as secondary options opposite Jones.

Benjamin has experience playing for Shanahan during their shared stay in Cleveland in 2014, while Kearse is also a known commodity to head coach Dan Quinn from his stint in Seattle. Both players offer vertical capabilities on the oustide that are currently lacking at the No. 2 receiver position.

Jones and Matthews are probably better described as “possession” receivers, fitting the mold of player that the Falcons likely hoped White would be this past year as a reliable option on third downs and in the red zone.

If the Falcons are unable to land one of those four players or an unspecified veteran that gets cut by another team this offseason, the pickings appear slim. Thus why it’s even more likely that the Falcons will at least try and supplement their wide receiver corps with a relatively high draft pick later this offseason, where they won’t be handcuffed by a modest talent pool.

Historically speaking, both Kyle Shanahan and his father Mike have preferred No. 2 outside receivers with size and speed. It’s likely that will be the type of young receiver the Falcons will target. It’s highly unlikely the Falcons will use their first-round pick on that position given other more pressing needs on defense and along the offensive line, but there’s a high probability that at some point betweens Rounds Two and Four, a wide receiver could come off the board for the Falcons.

As mentioned earlier, youth and explosiveness are keys for the Falcons to focus on this offseason, whether in the draft or free agency. While free agency offers less of those two traits, it’d be smart for the Falcons to add at least one or two veterans this offseason to not only bolster competition but also to give them a more known commodity. Rookie receivers are notorious erratic when it comes to how much production can be expected of them early in their careers. Hardy is a prime example of this, as he was inactive for the first seven games of the year. It would be hard for the Falcons to rely on a rookie to replace a player like White if need be in 2016.

The Falcons may opt to play it safe and not dump all the veterans with the expectation of making a complete overhaul this offseason. But they will certainly take the first few steps with the expectation that there will be multiple additions this offseason at wide receiver.

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Re: 2016 Team Needs

Postby Pudge » Sat Feb 20, 2016 4:24 pm

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2016 Team Needs: Upgrade Expected For Falcons At Tight End

TOPICS:DraftFree AgencyMoeakiNeedsTammeToilolo
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Jacob Tamme
POSTED BY: AARON FREEMAN FEBRUARY 17, 2016
The Atlanta Falcons made a concerted effort last offseason to try and bolster the tight end position with a couple of stopgaps, but might decide to take further steps this year to acquire more permanent fixtures.

The team added veteran free agents Jacob Tamme and Tony Moeaki last March in the hopes that they would provide a short-term salve for the gaping wound that had emerged at tight end the year before. The Falcons tried to proceed with Levine Toilolo as their starter in 2014, but he proved to be a non-factor at best and a liability at worst.

Tamme became the team’s de facto second option for quarterback Matt Ryan throughout the second half of the season once Leonard Hankerson was sidelined and eventually cut. But Tamme struggled to impact down the stretch after having an impressive “second quarter” during the middle portion of the 2015 season.

While Tamme proved to be a functional starter and producer in the passing game, he was unable to provide the caliber of player that could reliably impact and impose fear into opposing defenses. Not to mention, Tamme’s struggles as a blocker were readily apparent throughout the season.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Logan Paulsen
Toilolo wound up functioning as the team’s primary blocking tight end after Moeaki failed to meet those initial expectations. Moeaki is now an unrestricted free agent and probably won’t be back unless the team is unable to find to find an upgrade this offseason.

That shouldn’t be a difficult task as a player like Logan Paulsen, who played under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan while the two were in Washington, could easily slide into that role. Paulsen missed all of 2015 with a turf toe injury, but was a functional injury replacement as a fill-in starter for the Redskins in 2012 and 2013. But Paulsen’s role ideally will be primarily as a blocker and No. 3 tight end, likely pushing Toilolo, who is going likely to enter training camp on the roster bubble.

That leaves the potential for the Falcons to add a true No. 1 option, since Tamme is probably best suited as a reserve H-back rather than an every-down starter. Where the Falcons find such a player remains to be seen as they will have options in both free agency and the draft. This year’s draft class isn’t particularly strong, the Falcons could still find some viable targets on the second day of the draft if they are so inclined.

The weakness of the 2016 draft class could also push the Falcons to look harder at other free agents besides a player like Paulsen. There are a number of younger tight ends with starting potential that simply only need the opportunity that an offense like the one in Atlanta could provide. Indianapolis Colts’ Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener along with San Diego Chargers tight end Ladarius Green highlight the impending free-agent group. The Falcons could also look at players like Jordan Cameron (Miami Dolphins), Jared Cook (Los Angeles Rams) and Martellus Bennett (Chicago Bears) should any of them be released as many suspect this offseason.

None of those potential free-agent signings are certifiable home runs, but all certainly offer upgrade potential over Tamme and help the team get one step closer to securing a long-term solution at the position.

Ideally the Falcons will be able to find a starting-caliber tight end that not only can provide a more dynamic threat in the passing game, but also be a functional-to-good run blocker. If the team cannot find such an upgrade in one player, they could just as easily resort to adding multiple players as they did a year ago.

While getting a young tight end that they can develop for the future might be desired, the limited crop of talent in the draft might make free agency a more viable option this offseason for the Falcons to find any upgrades. But there should be little doubt that the Falcons are going to supplement this position before the offseason is up.

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Re: 2016 Team Needs

Postby Pudge » Sat Feb 20, 2016 4:24 pm

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2016 Team Needs: Falcons Looking For Depth And Insurance At Offensive Tackle

TOPICS:Bryce HarrisDraftFree AgencyLongMatthewsNeedsSchraeder
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Schraeder
POSTED BY: AARON FREEMAN FEBRUARY 18, 2016
The Atlanta Falcons head into 2016 with relative stability at the offensive tackle position, but could easily look to supplement and bolster their depth.

A year ago at this time, left tackle Jake Matthews was coming off an underwhelming rookie season and right tackle Ryan Schraeder was a promising, but still unproven starter. Fast forward to today and Matthews was one of the team’s most improved players in 2015 and Schraeder is fresh off a second consecutive solid year that saw him earn high honors from some observers. The pair give the team a promising set of bookend tackles that they can continue to grow with in the future.

Matthews still struggles at times in pass protection against power, but his athleticism and mobility were a major asset in the team’s much-improved ground attack.

Schraeder is not quite on par athletically, but his toughness and physicality made him a capable two-way player that was effective both in pass protection and run blocking.

However despite the solid year, the Falcons do have to be somewhat concerned about the pair heading into 2016. After all, they will both see a considerable uptick in the quality of opposition.

While quality edge-rushers like Everson Griffen and Ryan Kerrigan were on the team’s schedule this past year, others like Whitney Mercilus and Robert Ayers don’t quite inspire the fear that names such as Justin Houston, Khalil Mack, Von Miller and Michael Bennett inspire. Those latter guys will be on the team’s schedule in 2016 and will test Matthews and Schraeder potentially to their limits.

It remains to be seen if the optimism that currently surrounds the Falcons’ pair of starting tackles will exist a year from now. But the team is in no rush to replace either player and thus their attention this offseason will turn to bolstering depth.

The Falcons can certainly count their blessings that neither Matthews nor Schraeder missed significant time in 2015, which has been a relatively rare feat historically for the franchise. Only three times (2006, 2010, and 2012) since 2000 has the team had a single pair start every game at left and right tackle.

That will put pressure on the Falcons to find a capable swing tackle that can stand up against the elevated quality of pass-rushers the team is expected to see in 2016. It is really unknown if that player is currently on the roster with backups Jake Long and Bryce Harris set to hit free agency.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Jake Long
Long has an extensive history starting in this league, but whether or not he wants to return to Atlanta for a mere reserve spot remains to be seen. Even though injuries have taken their toll on the 30-year old Long, it’s still possible that he could go elsewhere and have a greater possibility to start.

That probably means that Harris the likelier of the two to return. Harris saw almost no action with the Falcons in 2015 after being picked up by the team during final cuts from the New Orleans Saints. Harris has shown himself to be an occasionally competent fill-in with the ability to play either tackle spot, making him a relatively easy player to re-sign. But it’s likely that the Falcons could potentially do better.

But without a plethora of draft picks, it might be difficult for the team to pull the trigger on a rookie that has very limited potential to be a starter. Unless the Falcons can trade back and pick up more picks in the middle or later portion of the draft, adding a rookie that can provide the desired depth is unlikely.

That likely means that the Falcons could scour free agency looking for another veteran that could prove an upgrade over Harris. No obvious candidate immediately jumps out from the crop of players set to hit the market, but it won’t stop the Falcons from looking.

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Re: 2016 Team Needs

Postby Pudge » Sat Feb 20, 2016 4:25 pm

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2016 Team Needs: Upgrades On Interior Offensive Line Likely A Falcons Priority

TOPICS:ChesterDraftFree AgencyGradkowskiLevitreNeedsPersonStone
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Person
POSTED BY: AARON FREEMAN FEBRUARY 18, 2016
Besides the wide receiver position, probably the most glaring need along the Atlanta Falcons offense is their weak interior offensive line play, an deficiency the team is likely eager to supplement this offseason.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Andy Levitre
The team tried to cobble together a unit at the last possible moment last year after placing right guard Jon Asamoah on injured reserve and cutting center Joe Hawley. Andy Levitre was acquired via a September trade and Mike Person was plugged into the starting lineup at center, a fairly brand new position for the former college tackle turned pro guard. Even Asamoah’s replacement in Chris Chester was only picked up after the draft last May.

Things started fairly well for the group, outperforming expectations early in the season when the team started the year 5-0, but things turned more problematic with each passing week. Person was never the same after suffering an ankle injury in Week Six. Levitre was plagued with penalties, finishing the year with 11, nearly matching the total of the other four starters (14) combined.

Compared to the other two, Chester was relatively stable for the entire year. But he’s now a free agent and turned 33 years old in January, putting his future with the Falcons in doubt. Chester expressed his desire to return to Atlanta after the season, but has also undergone shoulder surgery that may make the team hesitant to re-sign him, especially if they can potentially upgrade this offseason.

That is certainly something that the Falcons are likely to attempt and it would be surprising to see the team not exit free agency at the end of March without making at least one major addition to the starting lineup. That could come at any of the three positions, but probably the most glaring spot is center.

Person looked overmatched too often and his routine struggles with snapping and handing blitz calls made him the biggest liability among the three interior starters by year’s end. He is probably better suited to playing guard, where he spent the bulk of the offseason and a good chunk of training camp working at. The Falcons probably plan to kick him over to either one of the guard spots, knowing that he can be a functional starter. Ideally, Person will be slated to be the team’s utility reserve that can back up all three interior spots, but could easily be in the mix for a starting position if there is a competition to be had this summer.

In his absence, the Falcons need to find a starting center. While drafting a young center that can develop long-term is a tempting possibility, the team’s struggles at the position in 2015 might call for a more experienced set of hands to take over in 2016.

That is unlikely to be either Gino Gradkowski or James Stone. Gradkowski is set to be a free agent this year and while the team might desire to bring him back, he’s better suited for depth than being a starter. Stone seemed to lose favor towards the end of the season, but at least offers the versatility to add depth at either guard or center. At this point neither player can be seen as anything more than quality backups with some starting experience. The same can be said of guards Ben Garland and Adam Replogle, who might become nothing more than camp bodies this summer if the Falcons are successful at upgrading this unit in the offseason.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Mack
Should he opt out of his contract like most expected, Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack becomes an obvious target for the Falcons on the open market. Mack played under Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in 2014 and is one of the league’s best centers. But even at age 30, Mack won’t come cheap and it remains to be seen if the Falcons intend to be active in the potential bidding war for the three-time Pro Bowler.

Not only will the team look at prospective free agents at center, but also at guard, where Levitre’s status remains unclear. The Falcons redid Levitre’s contract last September after shipping two late-round picks to the Tennessee Titans via trade. But that restructuring won’t guarantee Levitre safe passage and the team might opt to part ways with him this offseason.

However if they do, it will create another potential void at the guard position that the team might not be able to afford. The Falcons may be better served biting the bullet, keeping Levitre and hoping that they can bolster competition in camp to elevate his play in 2016.

There are a number of free-agent guards the Falcons could target this offseason regardless of Levitre’s future. Kelechi Osemele (Baltimore Ravens), Brandon Brooks (Texans) and Evan Mathis (Denver Broncos) are some of the top free agents that are experienced in the zone-blocking scheme. But Osemele and Brooks offer more size than what Shanahan-led offenses have traditionally preferred at the position, and the Falcons passed on picking up Mathis last summer. It’s doubtful that the Falcons are going to be more willing to add Mathis now that he’s turned 34 years of age.

That would leave second-tier free agents like Jeff Allen (Kansas City Chiefs), Shelley Smith (Miami Dolphins) and J.R. Sweezy (Seattle Seahawks) as candidates that could at least bolster competition at either guard position. Smith was a player the Falcons explored signing last offseason and Sweezy is a known commodity to coaches like Dan Quinn and Chris Morgan.

If the Falcons are unable to land one of the more expensive bigger name free agents like Mack, Osemele or Brooks, they might be best served signing one of the lesser free agents like Smith or Sweezy, and hope that in conjunction with Person, Levitre and/or Chester, a three or four-way competition for either guard spot will allow two capable starters to emerge.

Even if the Falcons do keep either Levitre or Chester, neither player will be seen as anything more than one-year stopgaps. Eventually one or both players will need to be replaced, which is why bolstering this position via the draft will also be a key this offseason.

Whichever position (center or guard) the Falcons don’t address in free agency will likely get towards the middle rounds of this year’s draft. If the Falcons sign a bonafide upgrade at center in free agency, they’ll likely target a developmental guard that could potentially step into a starting role next season. If the team targets a free-agent guard, then they will likely prioritize drafting a center that has the potential to step into the starting lineup sooner rather than later.

The Falcons definitely need to upgrade their interior offensive line play given the need for quarterback Matt Ryan to have a clean pocket to step up in. Given that Ryan isn’t known neither his mobility nor arm strength, being able to slide within a clean pocket as well as step into his throws is critical.

However the Falcons proceed, the interior of their offensive line is set for a shakeup. The team could opt to bring back both Levitre and Chester or just as easily move on from both this offseason. But there’s a near certainty that you’ll see at least one, if not two new starters heading into 2016 at either center or guard.

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Re: 2016 Team Needs

Postby Pudge » Sat Feb 20, 2016 4:25 pm

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2016 Team Needs: Falcons Could Bolster Non-Pressing Issues At Defensive Tackle

TOPICS:BabineauxClaybornDraftFree AgencyHagemanJarrettMbuNeedsSalary CapSoliai
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Paul Soliai
POSTED BY: AARON FREEMAN FEBRUARY 20, 2016
Although defensive tackle probably won’t be as big a priority of other spots across the roster, the presence of older veterans could prompt the Atlanta Falcons to address this position in the offseason.

First and foremost, the Falcons will have to resolve the status of nose tackle Paul Soliai, who the team has reportedly approached to restructure his contract. The 32-year old veteran carries a cap hit of roughly $6.84 million in 2016, which might be too pricey for a player that only played in about 41 percent of the defensive snaps through the 13 games he was healthy in during 2015. The Falcons could save about $2.64 million against the cap by cutting the veteran.

Some reports indicate that Soliai is unlikely to take a pay cut given that could still potentially earn a comparable amount to his 2016 base salary of $5 million in guaranteed money on the open market, but it’s likely the Soliai’s representatives and the team will meet during the annual Scouting Combine next week in Indianapolis to really discuss things in earnest. Any decisions by either side probably won’t happen for at least a week or two.

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Grady Jarrett
Even if the Falcons do part ways with Soliai, they won’t be devoid of bodies at defensive tackle. Ra’Shede Hageman was a fixture for the team in their base defense beside Soliai.

Grady Jarrett is likely to see increased reps in 2016 in the team’s nickel sub-packages. Down the stretch the team played Adrian Clayborn more at defensive end after beginning the season playing exclusively beside Jonathan Babineauxat defensive tackle in the nickel. Given that Clayborn is an impending free agent and proved more productive at end likely creates a void that Jarrett could easily slide into this upcoming season.

Babineaux entering his contract year also bears mentioning. While it’s possible the Falcons could look to move on from the 34-year old veteran this offseason, it’s unlikely given how valuable his pass-rushing ability proved last season. For a team that collected a league-low 19 sacks in 2015, departing with one of their two or three best pass-rushers doesn’t sound like a recipe for success.

After being overworked by the previous coaching staff, Dan Quinn seemed to settle on him being used primarily as a situational player. Babineaux is now ideally suited to help mentor Jarrett alongside defensive line coach Bryan Cox as the second-year stud attempts to hone his pass-rushing ability on the inside.

Jarrett is likely being groomed to replace Babineaux long-term as the team’s primary pass-rusher on the inside starting in 2017 when the latter might opt to retire. It’s also possible that the Falcons convince Babineaux to come back on what could be comparable to the year-to-year status that tight end Tony Gonzalez obtained at the end of his career.

Yet the chief concern remains replacing Soliai at nose tackle in the team’s base defense. The team was able to get something out of undrafted rookie Joey Mbu late in the year but it would be an extremely tall order for Mbu to go from being practice squad player to a 16-game starter in 2016.

The Falcons can allay those concerns by signing a veteran nose tackle, giving Mbu more time to develop down the road. One potential target could be Brandon Mebane, who excelled in Soliai’s role for years under Quinn’s guidance for four seasons with the Seattle Seahawks.

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Brandon Mebane
The 31-year old Mebane isn’t quite the player he once was but he is still an effective run-defender that could be a worthwhile addition, especially if the Falcons can get can him at a significantly lower price than what they are set to give Soliai over the next few years.

Soliai’s combined cap hits over the next two years approaches $14 million and eclipses $22 million through three years, giving the Falcons a solid bench mark for what could be considered a bargain for Mebane.

If the Falcons are looking to go younger at nose tackle and are willing to pay for it, they could add another former Quinn protege in Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Jaye Howard. The 27-year old free agent is coming off a strong season with the Chiefs and played for Quinn both at the University of Florida and in Seattle in 2012.

Howard filled in for nose tackle Dontari Poe during this past spring and summer when the latter was sidelined with a back injury. Poe was able to return for the start of the regular season, allowing Howard to return to his more natural 3-4 defensive end spot. But that versatility coupled with his ability to impact both as a pass-rusher and run-stopper could make him a potential long-term solution at nose tackle rather than a one or two-year stopgap like Mebane.

The Falcons could also draft a nose tackle towards the latter part of the draft as well, but given other more pressing needs and already having a developmental option like Mbu on the roster, it could be considered more of a luxury pick at this point.

If the Falcons do address the interior of their defensive line in the draft, instead they will likely focus on adding another pass-rusher given the previously mentioned issues there. A player that could supplant Babineaux in their sub-packages as early as 2017 would be an ideal addition, especially given questions over whether Hageman is going to take the next step in becoming a player deserving a consistent role in the nickel.

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Ra’Shede Hageman
Hageman flashes potential where his power and burst off the line can overwhelm unprepared guards, but those moments have been too few and far between for the young defensive tackle. The Falcons could try and draft a more polished player in this draft. That would add insurance in case Hageman doesn’t take that next step and give them another candidate to look at next season if/when Babineaux and the team decide to part ways.

The Falcons need to make a decision on Soliai’s future and if they do decide to move on, will likely try and secure a veteran to fill any emerging hole at nose tackle. The draft will likely be looked upon to develop future assets as the team continues to get younger and add more pass-rush help on their defensive interior.

Defensive tackle isn’t a pressing need given that the Falcons have the ability to stand pat with their current roster and be fine for 2016, but it’s likely one that will involve some roster shakeup as they try to get better.

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Re: 2016 Team Needs

Postby Pudge » Sat Feb 20, 2016 4:26 pm

http://falcfans.com/2016-team-needs-fal ... -end-22738

016 Team Needs: Falcons Likely To Make Big Splash At Defensive End

TOPICS:BeasleyBiermannClaybornDraftFree AgencyGoodmanNeedsSchofieldTyson Jackson
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Jackson
POSTED BY: AARON FREEMAN FEBRUARY 20, 2016
Addressing their pass rush will certainly be a priority for the Atlanta Falcons this offseason, yet they could also have other potential issues at defensive end.

One of those will be determining if veteran Tyson Jackson will return in 2016. Between him and fellow 2014 signee Paul Soliai, it seems that Jackson is less likely to be retained by the Falcons this offseason. Yet the team has already approached Soliai about restructuring his contract, with no word has emerged about Jackson’s future status.

That could be interpreted one of two ways: (1) either that Jackson is a sure-fire goner and the Falcons have no intention of bringing him back even at a lower salary or (2) that they’ve already decided to keep him at his current price tag.

It’s unlikely to be the latter given that his $6.35 million cap hit in 2016 looks too high for a two-down, rotational player. Jackson simply doesn’t provide enough as a pass-rusher, likely justifying the Falcons’ inevitable decision to reap the modest $1.55 million in cap savings by releasing him in the coming days or weeks.

If the Falcons do dump Jackson, it’ll create a void at the strong-side (or five-technique) defensive end spot in the base defense. The best in-house candidates to replace Jackson are Ra’Shede Hageman and Malliciah Goodman. Hageman is likely to remain inside at defensive tackle, leaving Goodman, who saw very limited action last year as a healthy scratch for most of the season, as their best option.

Goodman was on the bubble entering the final weeks of training camp, so it would be a fairly big leap to go from his limited role in 2015 to being a starter in 2016. Yet he’ll still be in the mix for an increase role in the rotation this summer, marking what is likely his last opportunity to impress Dan Quinn’s coaching staff since he is on the verge of hitting free agent a year from now.

Instead the Falcons could use Jackson’s potential absence as a catalyst to overhaul the entire conception behind their defensive line’s rotation. This past season the Falcons utilized a strict dichotomy between their lines in the base defense and nickel sub-package, borrowing from Quinn’s days in Seattle as defensive coordinator in 2013. However since then, especially this past year given Quinn’s departure, the Seahawks’ line evolved into a more blended unit between their base and nickel units.

If the Falcons adopt a similar approach, they could try and add someone that is sturdy enough to hold up against the run on base downs and also provide pressure in passing situations in the nickel. Michael Bennett filled that role the past few years in Seattle, often kicking inside to defensive tackle in nickel situations as well.

The Falcons could opt against copying that if they intend to deploy Grady Jarrett and Jonathan Babineaux together inside at defensive tackle in their nickel defense this season. Yet if they do borrow a page from the Seahawks, a free agent like Malik Jackson could be a worthwhile, albeit expensive addition this offseason.

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Malik Jackson
Jackson already played that dual inside-outside role throughout his stint with the Denver Broncos, especially when they utilized a 4-3 scheme from 2012 to 2014 before switching to the 3-4 this past season. Jackson proved an adept five-technique defensive end this past year under Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, while also providing steady pressure on the interior when the team utilized four-man fronts on passing downs.

Signing Jackson might prove pricey, but bringing that “Bennett-esque” element to a defense as pass-rush needy as the Falcons can’t be overlooked or disregarded.

If the Falcons are more inclined to look at a cheaper alternative to Jackson, they could add his former Broncos teammate in Robert Ayers, who has been effective playing a similar inside-outside role with the New York Giants the past two years.

Ayers will turn 31 when the 2016 season starts, but was productive down the stretch for the Giants, tallying eight of his nine sacks over the second half of this past season when the team welcomed back Jason Pierre-Paul from injury. It’s notable since Vic Beasley could form a similar tag team with Ayers in Atlanta.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Vic Beasley
Beasley’s role with the Falcons in the future is a bit undetermined as of today. Beasley started his rookie year off as a “LEO” defensive end, but the team seemed less attached to him in that role as 2015 wore on.

Beasley made the shift to playing almost exclusively on the left side of the defensive line in the second half of the year. That will likely continue since his speed and first-step quickness proved far more troublesome for right tackles than it did for left tackles earlier in the season.

The Falcons could also tinker with the idea of moving Beasley from “LEO” to strong-side linebacker in the future. Such a permanent move is unlikely to occur in 2016, but the team could experiment more with it this upcoming season with an eye towards 2017 for the complete transition to occur. By then, current incumbent strong-side linebacker Brooks Reed is likely to be gone, assuming the Falcons don’t cut bait with him this offseason.

Should Beasley move to linebacker, he’d be employed in a role similar to how the Seahawks used Bruce Irvin when Quinn coordinated that defense. As a rookie in 2012, Irvin was an effective situational pass-rusher but struggled versus the run down the stretch as a “LEO” when his reps increased. He moved to linebacker the following year and began to put his hand in the dirt as a defensive end more often in the nickel starting in 2014. Beasley could be utilized in that same capacity, although again, it’s unlikely any firm decisions have been made just yet.

If that is the prospective plan for Beasley, then it might prompt the Falcons to look for a more permanent replacement at “LEO” in addition to the strong-side defender. That is unlikely to be either of the team’s impending free agents in Kroy Biermann or Adrian Clayborn, as both appear to be more akin to stopgaps moving forward.

Biermann played mostly at “LEO” in the base package this past season and continued to showcase himself as an effective run-defender. The team could bring him back for that very same role again in 2016, but it appears unlikely given their expected desire to add more pass-rushers on the field in their base defense.

One option there could be O’Brien Schofield, another impending unrestricted free agent. Schofield has the versatility to play either defensive end or outside linebacker, making him a strong bet to be retained by the Falcons. The team probably sees him primarily as a backup but his ability to fit a variety of roles, including Biermann’s, makes the latter more expendable.

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Adrian Clayborn
Clayborn is likely to be another player the Falcons try to keep but it might be harder given he’s likely to draw more interest from other teams on the open market. The 27-year old is coming off a resurgent year after missing nearly all of 2014 with an arm injury. He started this past season playing exclusively at defensive tackle in the nickel defense but the Falcons moved him to defensive end in December, where he seemed to adjust well to the new role and made more impact plays.

Clayborn has never been a gifted run-defender throughout his NFL career, thus replacing Biermann at “LEO” in the base defense is less than ideal. But the Falcons might be willing to trade off a decline versus the run if it came increase pass-rushing productivity on run downs.

Pierre-Paul, Irvin, Olivier Vernon (Miami Dolphins), Chris Long (Los Angles Rams) and the expected-to-be-released Mario Williams (Buffalo Bills) are some of the more prominent edge-rushers that could be available when free agency begins on March 9. Signing any one of those players might prompt the Falcons to pass on retaining Clayborn or any of their other free agents.

The same could be said if the Falcons decide to target a pass-rusher early in the draft. It’s certainly a possibility with their top selection with many mock drafts projecting Beasley and Jarrett’s former Clemson teammate, Shaq Lawson as a potential target in the middle of the first round.

Regardless of whether it comes via free agency or the draft, one can expect the Falcons to prioritize making at least one major addition at defensive end to help improve their underwhelming pass rush.


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