Three summers ago, I made predictions about what the Atlanta Falcons roster might look like in 2015. Recently, I revisited those predictions to discover just how oddly accurate and wildly inaccurate they were in most cases.
But in so doing, it got the creative juices flowing once more to try and do it again, this time predicting what the Falcons roster might look like three years from now in 2018. As I did then, I will break down each position group with the goal of examining a pathway that the Falcons roster could go down.
Earlier today I broke down the offensive line, so let’s switch to the other side of the ball and look at the defensive line…
The Falcons continue to invest in their front four as we enter 2018 with a good mix of established veterans and young up-and-comers to provide them with one of the better pass rushes in the NFL.
That veteran presence comes from the pair in nose tackle Brandon Mebane and edge-rusher Cameron Wake. Mebane is signed by the team in 2016, replacing Paul Soliai. Mebane is still around in 2018 despite being 33 years old, thanks to the value he brings on early downs as a run-plugger.
The same can be said of Wake, who is 36 years old entering the 2018 season. But despite his advanced age, Wake still brings a lot to the table as a situational pass-rusher off the edge. The Falcons add him in 2017 via free agency to help take their pass rush to the next level.
Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen is the team’s top selection in 2017, with the expectations that he will come in and fill the “Michael Bennett” role up front, playing end as well as kicking inside to defensive tackle in the nickel sub-package. By 2018, expectations are high that he’ll be able to take that next step to become the every-down difference-maker.
Another new face to the group is 2018 first-round pick Marquis Haynes, who hails from Ole Miss. Today Haynes stands a puny 220 pounds, but by 2018 has added considerable bulk to his frame. Haynes is destined to be the team’s every-down option at LEO, but for the time being is being slowly mixed into the rotation with Wake and outside linebacker Vic Beasley on passing downs. Wake is expected to call it quits after 2018 and the plan is for Haynes to slide into his vacated spot opposite Beasley, giving the Falcons one of the most formidable pass rushes in the NFL for years to come.
Silverberry Mouhon, who is a sixth-round pick out of Cincinnati in 2016 is also a new face in the rotation. Despite having a name fresh out of a Key & Peele sketch, Mouhon is valuable backup and rotational player that can also stand up and play linebacker.
The Falcons also use a late-round pick in 2017 on Toledo nose tackle Derrick Calloway. The team hopes that Calloway can be the heir apparent to Mebane down the road, but for the time being the team is happy with his production initially in the rotation.
Despite all the new faces, the Falcons still have some of the “old guard” at the position. Ra’Shede Hageman earns a four-year contract extension in the offseason prior to 2018, having carved out a nice home as a disruptive defensive tackle that also plays some defensive end on occasion. Hageman earns the bulk of his pay check plugging the run, but he certainly is still able to put pressure on the quarterback at various time. Playing beside him is 2015 draft pick Grady Jarrett, who spends his first three years in the NFL rotating off the bench primarily on passing downs. Jarrett replaces Jonathan Babineaux as the team’s favored penetrator in the middle after the latter’s retirement after the 2016 season.
But now that 2018 has hit and Mebane is also slowing down, Jarrett is also finally getting the chance to be an every-down starter at nose tackle. Jarrett’s versatility and ability to flop between the one and three-techniques has made him a favorite for Dan Quinn’s coaching staff and despite lacking gaudy sack numbers, one of the team’s most valuable defenders.
Also in the mix is Cliff Matthews, who has carved out a nice niche as a reserve, special teams player and run-defender at defensive end. Matthews’ effort and physicality has earned him a long-term depth role with the team.
Malliciah Goodman manages to play with the Falcons through his rookie contract, but is not re-signed in 2017. The Falcons also part ways with defensive ends Tyson Jackson and Kroy Biermann in 2016.