Atlanta Falcons 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

Positions of Need

Defensive End

Kroy Biermann, Malliciah Goodman, and Osi Umenyiora were their primary edge rushers last season and only Umenyiora graded out above average on Pro Football Focus and he did so on just 347 snaps. Now he’s a free agent going into his age 34 season. Biermann is a free agent as well and Goodman, the only one under contract, was their worst last season, grading out 54th out of 59 eligible 4-3 defensive ends. New Head Coach Dan Quinn has coached guys up before, but he’s not a miracle worker. Tyson Jackson will fit the Red Bryant run stopping defensive end role well in their new Seattle style front, but they need to add at least one, if not two new edge rushers this off-season because they don’t have anyone who can get to the passer from the outside. The Falcons reportedly love Shane Ray, who could be available 8th overall. He’d fit in well.

Tight End

The Falcons used two tight ends less frequently than any other team in the league last year. #2 tight end Bear Pascoe played on just 148 snaps. Levine Toilolo started 16 games and played 958 snaps, but he was one of the worst tight ends in the NFL who played a significant amount of time. He was Pro Football Focus’ 4th worst ranked tight end, catching 31 passes for 238 yards and 2 touchdowns on 457 routes run and struggling as a run blocker. The 2013 4th round pick is a #2 tight end at best. They need a starting caliber tight end who can give them a big receiving threat over the middle. This could be somewhere they look in round 2.

Running Back

Steven Jackson is about done. He’s going into his age 32 season with 2743 career carries. He had a great career, but those are serious red flags, as is the fact that he’s averaged just 3.60 YPC (1250 yards on 347 carries) in 2 seasons in Atlanta. Owed a non-guaranteed 3.75 million in 2015, I don’t expect the Falcons to bring him back and he might just opt to retire. They drafted Devonta Freeman in the 4th round in 2014, but he didn’t show much as a rookie, rushing for 248 yards on 65 carries (3.82 YPC). Jacquizz Rodgers was third on the team in carries, but he’s a free agent with a 3.66 career average. There’s not really a starting caliber back here so this is somewhere else they could target on day 2.

Middle Linebacker

The old regime really liked Paul Worrilow, but it’s unclear what the new regime will think of him. After all, he went undrafted in 2013 and has largely struggled on the field over the past 2 seasons. He was Pro Football Focus’ 45th ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible in 2013 and in 2014 he was even worse, grading out 2nd worst at his position, thanks in large part to 21 missed tackles, tied for 2nd most in the NFL regardless of position. They could easily bring in some competition for him this off-season.

Center

The Falcons signed Joe Hawley to a 2-year, 6 million dollar deal last off-season to be their center of the future, but he played just 4 games before tearing his ACL and he graded out below average in the limited action he did see. Prior to 2014, he was a decent, but unspectacular player, grading out below average in 2011 and above average in 2013, while seeing little action in 2010 and 2013. He’s owed a non-guaranteed 3 million in 2015 and might not be brought back. Even if he is brought back for his contract year, they need competition for him because James Stone was horrible in his absence. Stone was Pro Football Focus’ 34th ranked center out of 41 eligible.

Cornerback

The Falcons have a keeper in Desmond Trufant, who has graded out 7th and 6th in 2013 and 2014 respectively since the Falcons drafted him in the first round in 2013. He’s been one of the few bright spots for this team over the past 2 seasons. However, their depth after him is pretty shaky. Robert McClain, Robert Alford, and Josh Wilson were 2nd, 3rd, and 4th on the team in snaps played at cornerback and all 3 graded out below average. McClain and Wilson are free agents anyway. Alford was a 2013 2nd round pick so he still has some potential, but he’s struggled so far in the NFL and even if he develops into a starter, they need depth behind him.

Key Free Agents

S Dwight Lowery

Dwight Lowery has always been a solid starting safety when healthy. The Falcons signed Lowery cheap last off-season and there was a reason he was available so cheap, even though he graded out above average in every season from 2008-2012, including 18th among safeties in 2012. Lowery missed 20 games in 2012-2013 combined and he hadn’t played all 16 games since his rookie year in 2008. Lowery proved to be a smart signing by the Falcons, as he graded out above average again and, more important, made all 16 starts. He’s worth a multi-year deal on the open market, but his injury history can’t be ignored.

DE Kroy Biermann

Biermann, a 2008 5th round pick, started his career well, grading out above average in each of his first 3 seasons in the league, including Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2009 and their 19th ranked in 2010. However, he graded out 57th out of 67 eligible in 2011, below average again in 2012, was limited to 2 games by a torn Achilles in 2013, and then graded out below average again in 2014. Now Biermann heads into free agency, going into his age 30 season. He’s still capable of a significant role, but he’s an unspectacular player and won’t draw a significant deal on the open market.

DT Corey Peters

Peters tore his Achilles in 2013 at the worst possible time, in a meaningless week 16 game, just before he was set to hit free agency. Peters was forced to settle for a cheap one year deal back in Atlanta in an attempt to rehab his value and he did a decent job. He played 15 games (except week 1 when he was kept out for precautionary reasons) and graded out about average on 535 snaps. Other than that Achilles tear, he doesn’t have a significant injury history, as he’s missed just 9 games in 5 seasons combined since the Falcons drafted him in the 3rd round in 2010. Peters struggled in the first 3 seasons of his career, grading out below average in all 3 seasons, including a 2010 season in which he graded out 62nd out of 76 eligible and a 2012 season in which he graded out 83rd out of 85 eligible, but he’s graded out right about average in each of the last 2 seasons. Only going into his age 27 season, he could get a multi-year deal this off-season.

CB Josh Wilson

It’s hard to believe that Josh Wilson was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked cornerback in 2010. Wilson has never done anything like that other than that season, but he did grade out above average in each of the first 6 seasons of his career, from 2007-2012. However, he’s graded out below average in each of the last 2 seasons and is arguably coming off of the worst season of his career in 2014, as he played just 458 snaps, 4th among Falcon cornerbacks. Going into his age 30 season, he’s purely a depth cornerback on the open market, but he should draw interest.

OLB Sean Weatherspoon

It’s been a steep drop off for Weatherspoon since he was Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in his 2nd year in the league in 2011 after being drafted in the 1st round in 2010. He’s played in just 20 of 48 games combined over the past 3 seasons, grading out below average in 2012 and 2013 and missing all of 2014 with a torn Achilles. 2011 remains the only season in his career that he’s played all 16 games and the only season in his career that he graded out above average as he missed 5 games as a rookie and graded out below average when on the field. He’s missed 33 games in 5 seasons. Now going into free agency, he’ll have to settle for a one-year prove it deal.

DE Osi Umenyiora

Umenyiora graded out above average last season, but on only 347 snaps and now he heads into free agency going into his age 34 season. He graded out below average in both 2012 and 2013 and the last time he played more than 500 snaps in a season and graded out above average was 2010. He’s close to the end of the line, but he might have one more season left in him as a reserve on a one-year minimum deal.

CB Robert McClain

Robert McClain had a breakout year in 2012, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked cornerback, but he proved to be a one year wonder (the 2010 7th round pick played a combined 134 snaps in 2010-2011). He graded out below average in both 2013 and 2014, with his worst season coming in 2014, when he graded out 90th out of 108 eligible cornerbacks. He won’t draw much interest on the open market.

RB Jacquizz Rodgers

Rodgers has seen a decent amount of action in 4 years with the Falcons since they drafted him in the 5th round in 2011, carrying the ball 305 times, but that’s more out of need than anything and he’s averaged just 3.66 yards per carry. He was a young rookie so he’s only going into his age 25 season and he provides value as a pass catcher, catching 155 passes in 63 career games in 4 seasons, but he’s nothing more than a backup at best.

OT Gabe Carimi

Carimi was a massive bust as a 2011 1st round pick. He played just 2 games as a rookie thanks to a massive knee injury and was never the same. He was Pro Football Focus’ 72nd ranked offensive tackle out of 80 eligible in 2012, leading to the Bears letting him go for a 6th rounder after just 2 seasons. In Tampa Bay in 2013, he played just 218 snaps at left and right guard and was promptly released after the season. Last year in Atlanta, he played left tackle, left guard, right guard, and right tackle and generally struggled, particularly at tackle, where he was 59th out of 84 eligible offensive tackles on 425 snaps. Heading to free agency again, Carimi is probably going to be limited to minimum deals.

Cap Casualty Candidates

RB Steven Jackson

Of the top-25 all-time leading rushers who have played in the last decade, the average one has his last 1000 yard season in his age 30 season at 2602 carrier carries. The Falcons probably should have paid attention to that stat before giving Steven Jackson a 3-year, 12 million dollar deal 2 off-seasons ago, coming off a 1000+ yard year with the Rams, but going into his age 30 with 2396 career carries. Jackson has rushed for 1250 yards on 347 carries (3.60 YPC) in 2 seasons with the Falcons and is fully expected to be released this off-season, owed a non-guaranteed 3.75 million in 2015. He’ll have a hard time finding takers on the open market and might just opt to retire. 16th all-time in rushing yards, only three players all-time have more rushing yards than him and aren’t in the Hall of Fame. Two of those three aren’t Hall eligible yet, while the 3rd (Jerome Bettis) is expected to be enshrined very soon, possibly this year.

C Joe Hawley

The Falcons re-signed Joe Hawley to a 2-year, 6 million dollar deal last off-season. Hawley, 2010 4th round pick, played 40 snaps in 2010 and 2012 combined, but he played 876 snaps in 2011 and 553 snaps in 2013, splitting time at right guard and center in both seasons. In 2011, he struggled mightily at center, grading out as Pro Football Focus 6th worst center despite playing just 230 snaps there, with no one playing fewer snaps and grading out worse. He then moved to right guard, where he graded out slightly above average. In 2013, he also graded out below average at center and among above at right guard. In 2014, he graded out slightly below average at center through 4 games before tearing his ACL. Owed a non-guaranteed 3 million in 2015, there’s a chance the Falcons move on from him.

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