Atlanta Falcons, Def, Falcons
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2015 Outlook: Do Not DraftLast updated on Aug-20-2015 by Shawn Childs
Atlanta will face five teams with above-average rushing attacks: the 49ers, Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, and the Carolina Panthers twice. They'll face two teams with weak rushing offenses: the Titans, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers twice. The Falcons have six games versus teams with strong passing attacks: the Eagles, Redskins, Giants, Colts and Saints (twice). They will have eight matchups against weak aerial offenses as well.
The Falcons finished 21st against the run. They allowed 4.2 yards per carry, which was just above the league average, but they allowed a league-high 21 rushing TDs. Atlanta had only 22 sacks, tied for the second-fewest in the league. This played a large role in the team giving up the most passing yards (279.9 per game) and the most yards per attempt (8.2). As bad as they looked in pass coverage, the Falcons gave up only 20 passing TDs and grabbed 16 INTs. Their secondary tightened up in the red zone, so opponents just ran the ball over the goal line.
There isn't a lot of excitement on Atlanta's defensive line. Defensive end Tyson Jackson, a 2009 first-round pick of the Chiefs, didn't get a single sack in 16 games last year, including nine starts. Outside of 2013, Tyson hasn't had any value as a run defender. Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux had only two sacks in 2014 and delivered losing value against the run. At age 33, Babineaux doesn't belong in the starting lineup. DE Adrian Clayborn missed all but one game with the Buccaneers in 2014 due to a torn biceps. He flashed high upside during his 2011 rookie season after being selected in the first round; Adrian had 7.5 sacks, 10 QB hits and 32 QB hurries that season but was a disaster versus the run. A torn ACL in his right knee also cost him most of the 2012 season. DT Ra'Shede Hageman delivered minimal value in his rookie season as a part-time player. Hageman has plus strength and an explosive first step that allows him to disrupt the passing lanes. He is talented but raw and needs to show more motivation to produce on every down. Rookie DT Grady Jarrett may work well as a rotational run defender.
Linebacker Brooks Reed has been slowed this spring by a groin injury. His best season came when he was a rookie in 2011 When he had six sacks, 45 tackles and recovered two fumbles. He also played well against the run that year. In 2014, Reed was only a league-average player with some value stopping the run, two sacks, six QB hits and 26 QB hurries. LB Joplo Bartu played at a high level in 2013 against the run and picked up five sacks. But he was a below-league-average player for his position last season. LB Paul Worrilow has been a huge liability in all areas through his two seasons in the league. Vic Beasley will instantly upgrade the pass rush and also help in pass coverage.
Cornerback Desmond Trufant was the only elite player on this defense in 2014. He finished 11th coverage ratings, according to Pro Football Focus, and also chipped in against the run. CB Robert Alford's season was ended by a broken wrist in Week 11. Through his two seasons, Alford has yet to prove he can handle being an NFL starter. In 2014, he allowed 32 catches on 52 targets for 547 yards and six TDs. I expect him to lose his starting job to rookie Jalen Collins in the near future. Collins should play well against wideout with deep speed. His lack of experience will lead to him playing in nickel and dime coverages this year.
Atlanta doesn't have a ton of talent at the safety positions. William Moore has only been a league-average player in his career against the run and the pass. Last year, he allowed 27 catches on 39 attempts for 337 yards and two touchdowns. He also grabbed three interceptions. Kemal Ishmael was a neutral run defender in his first season as a starter while showing weakness in coverage (27 catches on 38 attempts for 516 yards and four TDs with four INTs).
This defense is still loaded with problems at the first and second levels. Hopefully Beasley can add value to the pass rush. Atlanta has to dump the veteran dead weight and use some fresh legs. With a better rotation on the defensive line, this defense should be at least league average against the run. With Trufant and a couple of the other corners, they have a good amount of talent at CB. Opponents will look to expose their safeties' weaknesses in coverage. I expect some improvement, but this defense will be a tough ride in the Fantasy world.
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