Continuing the countdown of the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, let’s break down the 15th best player in defensive tackle Paul Soliai.
To read about the methodology in how these rankings came about, you can click here.
Total Score: 61/100
Last year’s rank: 11th
Player Grade: 59/100
Teams he is starter: 20 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 3 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +1
Positional Bonus: +3
Soliai was the team’s biggest free-agent signee a year ago. In conjunction with Tyson Jackson, Soliai was supposed to beef up the Falcons run defense, which ranked an abysmal 31st in the league in 2013.
Soliai did help improve the Falcons run defense to the 21st ranked unit in the NFL a year ago, but it appeared that whatever improvements that were made there were lost in the pass defense. The 2013 Falcons defense ranked 21st against the pass but fell to 32nd in 2014.
The team found itself in a situation where they essentially robbed Peter to pay Paul. Investing $57 million in combined contracts to Soliai and Jackson was a lot of money not spent to upgrade their pass defense and the team paid accordingly for it.
Soliai returns to Atlanta with considerably less fanfare in 2015. He is not hyped as some part of a defensive revamping by the new coaching staff helmed by Dan Quinn. Instead, he’s essentially a holdover from the previous regime that due to the massive size of his contract, the new staff was forced to inherit.
But despite not being one of their chosen pieces that Quinn sought to invest in, Soliai can still fulfill an important role for the Falcons in 2015.
He’ll play the nose tackle position, where he’ll be asked to do what he’s done for most of his career: man two gaps and plug the run. He’ll be important to shielding linebackers from blockers, allowing them to flow freely to the ball and make plays.
Soliai was asked to do much of the same last year, but didn’t quite do it to the level that the Falcons paid for. But with the more energetic coaching staff, it’s likely that Soliai too will be energized. In a more attacking scheme, the team is hopeful that Soliai will be more effective throwing around his considerable girth.
Soliai may not be in a position where he’s expected to live up to his considerable contract, but that won’t stop him from being an effective role player in his own right. At this point, that’s really all the Falcons can ask for.