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Atlanta Falcons Offseason Team Needs – TSJ Sports

Atlanta Falcons Offseason Team Needs - Thomas Dimitroff at the podium Atlanta Falcons via Flickr.com

NFL

Falcons Offseason Team Needs – Bouncing Back

The Atlanta Falcons head into the offseason with a single goal for next season – win the Super Bowl. Losing Kyle Shanahan, the mastermind behind the team’s high scoring offense, will hurt. Steve Sarkisian won’t make major changes. Sarkisian favors a zone blocking scheme similar to the one that Atlanta has been operating and this was crucial in his appointment.

The Falcons defense was torn apart in the 2nd half of the Super Bowl by a ruthless Tom Brady. The defense was able to put pressure on him until the volume of plays caught up on them. The defense grew as they gained experience and the season progressed. Quinn’s vision is to play fast and physical and many of the pieces are in place. The team will use the offseason to plug the remaining gaps.

Defensive Tackle

Playing in a division with Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston, generating interior pressure will be huge for the Falcons’ chances of returning to the playoffs.

Grady Jarrett is the team’s best defensive tackle, showing his potential with 3 sacks in the Super Bowl. He would benefit hugely from a player alongside him who allowed him to avoid double teams. Jonathan Babineaux’s career could be over, leaving Ra’Shede Hageman and Courtney Upshaw to make up the group. Hageman finally started showing some of the ability that had scouts salivating over him in the pre-draft process. Upshaw looked to be settling in to his new role. Despite this, relying on the group for a whole season would be optimistic.

Kawann Short headlines an early list of free agents, allowing Thomas Dimitroff the option of immediately upgrading the position. Pro Football Focus listed Short as the season’s 4th best interior defender, excelling both against the run and pass. If his contract demands are too steep then Johnathan Hankins, Dontari Poe and Brandon Williams are options. Bennie Logan, Nick Fairley and Sylvester Williams could hit the market in a deep class. They would offer upgrades. Dominique Easley played at Florida while Quinn and Bryant Young were coaching there and could be considered.

Caleb Brantley out of Florida would be a logical choice if the Falcons look to the draft. Brantley’s athleticism and versatility would be perfect for the Falcons defense. Elsewhere, Iowa’s Jaleel Johnson would be an excellent addition to the group and may not require a 1st round pick. Johnson is powerful and disruptive. Jaleel showed the ability to make plays against both the run and the pass.

Defensive End

Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks, but the lack of a pass rusher on the other side following Adrian Clayborn’s injury allowed teams to shift protection to him. It helped contribute to his quiet postseason. Dwight Freeney showed flashes of the ability that could see him end up in the Hall of Fame. But his age looked to catch up with him. Freeney was unable to generate consistent pressure throughout the season. His plans for the future are uncertain. Dan Quinn has preferred rushing 4 players against the pass. Thus, the team will likely look to add to the position.

Jason Pierre-Paul and Calais Campbell could be available. The Falcons will likely be looking at cheaper alternatives, as they did when they signed Brooks Reed previously. Chris Baker and Jack Crawford have the versatility and team-first mentality that Quinn values. The team also got a good look at Jabaal Sheard in the Super Bowl. Dolphins linebacker Dion Jordan’s status should be monitored. His athletic profile would fit the defensive scheme if he could sort his off-field issues.

The draft has one of the best defensive end classes in years. Missouri’s Charles Harris has the burst and speed to cause problems. Harris paired with Vic Beasley could prove too much for offensive tackles if they both rush at the same time. Tim Williams and Takk McKinley would excel in the LEO role, but could be limited early in their careers. Auburn’s Carl Lawson has the physicality to hold up against the run but has struggled with injuries throughout his career.

Right Guard

The Falcons started the same five players on the offensive line in every game of the season. They could look to move on from right guard Chris Chester. He was a good run blocker who struggled in pass protection in his age 34 season. With his contract expiring, it looks as if the team will need to find his replacement sooner rather than later. 2016 pick Wes Schweitzer will compete, but didn’t play a snap last season and it is unlikely to start.

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A strong free agency class is headlined by Kevin Zeitler, Ronald Leary and TJ Lang. Alex Mack and Ryan Schraeder’s contracts mean they are unlikely to want to pay big money, though. Larry Warford and Chance Warmack are more suited to power blocking schemes. They will likely go elsewhere. Luke Joeckel and Patrick Omameh, both of the Jaguars, could be good choices. A former 2nd overall pick. Joeckel struggled to adapt to playing left tackle in the NFL. He was eventually moved inside and was replaced by Omameh following a knee injury.

Dan Feeney and Forrest Lamp are clearly the two top prospects at the position. Both are athletic enough to play in the Falcons scheme, but would likely require a 1st round pick.

Free Safety

Ricardo Allen started slowly in his 2nd season since converting from cornerback, but looked much more confident late in the year. Continuing to show the leadership that the team loves, he made big plays when needed. He doesn’t have the ideal speed for the position. He’s occasionally a step late to the ball, but a solid open field tackler and is quick to diagnose plays.

Unless the Falcons get Eric Berry, nobody in free agency would be an upgrade on the position. Unless It’s questionable whether the team would want to pay the money that Berry will want following successive All-Pro seasons.

Malik Hooker’s speed, range and ball skills would make him a perfect fit for the Falcons. Over 100 tackles last season came from the position and Hooker would need to prove he can replace that. Elsewhere, Budda Baker has the aggression and ball hawking ability of Allen, but is faster.

Outlook

The Falcons are in a great position to build upon their surprising success. The priority should be continuing to build the defense. This starts with getting tougher and more athletic across the defensive line. This will help out the promising, young secondary and linebacker corps. With the offense expected to take a step back, being able to restrict opposing offenses is crucial.