Now it’s time to break down a defensive lineman, starting with perhaps the Falcons most infamous player: Jamaal Anderson
Pros: Has good size and has the ability to get leverage vs. the run. Can make the stop at the point of attack. Shows some burst upfield, to press the pocket and make plays in the backfield. Showed more maturity and intensity as the 2009 season wore on. Has a nice motor. Can line up inside or outside. Does his best in the former when he plays in the 3-technique over the guard’s outside shoulder, which allows him to use his quickness better. When playing end, does a decent job holding the edge.
Cons: Doesn’t have good short-area burst or quickness to close on the ball and make plays as a pass rusher. Lacks flexibility, so he can whiff on some stops when he does manage to get penetration. Is lacking in terms of hand use and technique. Has trouble disengaging from blockers as a pass rusher and shows very few moves. Tends to rely on his quickness, which isn’t great. Too often gets a poor jump off the snap. That also causes him to lose some battles vs. the run and get pushed off the ball.
2010 Outlook: Anderson is a valuable member of the Falcons rotation because he can play the run, as well as take reps inside on. He has disappointed as a high first round draft pick, and isn’t likely to live up to those expectations. But he has the ability to prove himself a key role player in the Falcons front rotation.
Anderson will continue to be a starter at end in their base package. Which means mostly on first and second down (run situations) he’ll play outside at left defensive end. When the Falcons switch to their nickel package, usually on third downs or any other obvious passing situations, Anderson will be part of the mix and kick inside. He is a more effective pass rusher when he lines up inside since he is typically facing a less athletic blocker in an NFL guard. But he still isn’t a guy that is going to record many sacks.
Anderson and Chauncey Davis fill almost the exact same niche on the team. Anderson’s best value is that his ability to play the run on the outside, frees up the Falcons better pass rushers at end: John Abraham, Kroy Biermann, and potentially Lawrence Sidbury to play less on run downs, and more on passing downs. That allows those players to do what they do best and reduces wear and tear. It also means that Anderson is also put in a situation where he can do what he does best, which is play the run. He’s not a great run stopper, but certainly better at the point of attack than those previously mentioned ends.
Playing inside also keeps the Falcons interior rotation better rested as well. The team hopes that Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry, and potentially rookie Corey Peters will be able to provide the brunt of the pass rush from the inside. But Anderson can eat snaps, and that could be particularly important early in the year. With Babineaux suspended for the opener, Jerry still recovering from last year’s knee injury, and Peters being a rookie, Anderson’s value inside will likely be felt more in September than it will come December.
Anderson’s long-term future isn’t set in stone in Atlanta. The Falcons will likely on a yearly basis evaluate their defensive end position. Reports indicate that he has started to improve his hand use this summer, and he will need to improve in that area if he really wants a chance to stick long-term in Atlanta. That improved hand use will allow him to better disengage from blockers both as a pass rusher and run defender, allowing him to make more plays.
In Summary… Falcon fans tend to see Anderson for what he is not: which is an impact pass rusher that lives up to the billing of being a Top 10 draft pick three years ago. Anderson isn’t going to ever live up to expectations as a high draft pick, but he’s become a capable role player in Atlanta. His ability to play multiple positions gives the Falcons a bit more flexibility when dealing with injuries and other roster issues. And as a role player and rotational guy, he is effective if unspectacular.