Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 27 Joplo BartuI’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 27th-ranked player: linebacker Joplo Bartu.
To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.
Total Score: 50/100
Last year’s rank: N/A
Player Grade: 52/100
Teams he is starter: 12 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 21 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +4
Positional Bonus: +3
Bartu essentially came from nowhere last season as an undrafted rookie who carved out a quick role in the team’s linebacker rotation, almost immediately stealing snaps in nickel situations from linebacker Stephen Nicholas.
And he wound up having a pretty solid rookie season in 2013 given his humble origins. But now, he will be asked to do a lot more given that Sean Weatherspoon is out for the season. Bartu is the main candidate currently on the roster expected to replace Weatherspoon and if he isn’t up to the task, the Falcons lack viable alternatives.
But there should be a great deal of confidence that Bartu will be ready. While Bartu lacks Weatherspoon’s natural gifts and experience, he is no slouch as the team’s second best athlete at linebacker. With capable hips and very good short-area closing speed, Bartu has what it takes to be an effective two-way linebacker versus both the run and pass. And given his history as a defensive end in college, there’s little doubt he can be an effective blitzer (3.5 sacks in 2013).
Bartu had some early growing pains last year, notably a breakdown in coverage against the Miami Dolphins that was arguably the back-breaking play for the Falcons in the final minutes. But as the season wore on, his play improved to the point that over the final few games when Weatherspoon was officially out for the season, Bartu was arguably the team’s best linebacker.
Bartu will carry a heavy burden in 2014, but it will be his opportunity to show that he has the potential to be a long-term fixture in the Falcons starting lineup.
It’s not to say that he’s expected to take his rightful place among the league’s best linebackers in 2014, but if he can build off a solid rookie year while showing improvement and eliminating some mistakes, then there’s a lot of promise that Bartu will become a familiar name to Falcons fans for years to come.