FanPost

Deeper roster analysis - and where our biggest needs are

As I've been recovering from the slaying our collective hearts took on Sunday (thank God for Glen Livet), I've been spending far more time on these boards. The more and more I read, the more I see varying thoughts on what positions we do or do not need to sure up in the off season. Given that, I've decided to take my own stab at each position to determine where our biggest weaknesses are - not only for the upcoming 2012 season, but beyond.



Offense:

Left Tackle:

Currently occupied by Will Svitek and Sam Baker

This one is almost offensively simple. We need a better option at this position. Although Svitek did an admirable job for most of the season, he should not be considered a long-term option. With a less-mobile pocket QB like Ryan, we need an absolute stud at this position.

Need level: Critical

Left Guard:

Currently occupied by Justin Blalock

For all the talk of how bad the line has been, Blalock quietly turned in a solid year. Considering he was surrounded by constant change on both sides, JB did a good job of keeping DTs from nailing Ryan through the middle on his side.

Need level: Low

Center:

Currently occupied by Todd McClure

McClure has been the anchor of this line for several years and he proved how important he is when he missed the first several games of the 2011 season. However, at age 34 McClure likely only has a year or two left. The initial thought was that Joe Hawley would eventually fill this position, but he had a rough start to the 2011 season. It's still too early to write off Hawley as a bust, but we need McClure's successor on the roster in 2012.

Need level: Moderate

Right Guard:

Currently occupied by Joe Hawley

Once Hawley moved to this position, the line started doing a bit better - especially after the disaster that was Garrett Reynolds. Hawley still isn't quite big enough to handle the elite DTs, but he's serviceable. Additionally, the preseason competition between Reynolds and Johnson was starting to lean towards MJ before he went down with a concussion. There are many who believe that MJ is still a solid option and should be given a shot. Either way, we have three guys on the roster who can fill this slot, if need be.

Need level: Low to moderate

Right Tackle:

Currently occupied by Tyson Clabo

Clabo has been a pretty steady presence at RT, though this was definitely not one of his best years. Part of the blame is certainly on Clabo, but the instability at right guard certainly did not help. Considering that Clabo was also recently signed to a long-term contract, the front-office is probably not looking to make a change at this position.

Need level: Low

Quarterback:

Currently occupied by Matt Ryan

I know there are some who still think Ryan is not the future, but I disagree. All he's done is give us four winning seasons and set all sorts of franchise records. He's also carrying a 2-1 TD to INT ratio for his career, which compares favorably with other top-tier QBs. The only question at this position would be at the backup. Chris Redman is serviceable, but aging quickly while JPW has shown nothing that would indicate he should be our #2. It may be time to try and find a better backup, though we hope we never need them.

Need level: Low

Running Back:

Currently occupied by Michael Turner

Our stalwart is quickly approaching the dreaded 30-wall. On top of that, Turner has been slowed at times with injuries and carrying the ball over 300 times in 3 of 4 seasons has certainly taken its toll. Jason Snelling is a decent option and a better receiving back, but he's 28 and will turn 29 during the 2012 season. He may be able to fill the need some next year, but we still need to think about a long-term option here. Jaquizz Rodgers is a great change of pace back with excellent hands out of the backfield, so we look to be set there for a while.

Need level: Moderate

Wide Receivers:

Currently occupied by Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas

This is the one position where we have some great starters and some good depth on the bench. Under-utilized guys like Kerry Meier could thrive under a more creative OC. And though Douglas is a free agent, if we can resign him, he's as good of a slot receiver as you can ask for. When you throw in developmental guys like Kevin Cone and Drew Davis, we have all the depth we need at this position.

Need level: Low

Tight Ends:

Currently occupied by Tony Gonzalez

Even though we have Gonzo back for one more year, it's a matter of time before he hits the road for his first-ballot Hall of Fame induction. If the Falcons are going to run a modern NFL offense, we need a solid TE that can exploit the middle of the field. Michael Palmer has shown some flashes of being a decent TE, but he is not a Gonzo replacement. We need to start thinking about the long-term for this position, though we can probably wait one more year before addressing the position.

Need level: Low to moderate

Defense:

Defensive End:

Currently occupied by John Abraham and Ray Edwards

To say that Edwards season was disappointing would be an understatement. Registering under 6 sacks, Edwards was excellent in run stopping, but failed to be the complement to Abe that we all hoped he would be. However, Edwards was plagued by a knee injury for most of the season, so I'm not yet ready to write him off. The hope is a healthy knee will return Edwards to the 8-10 sack DE we know he's capable of being. With Abe being a free-agent, and also in his mid-30s, it's time for the Falcons to start thinking long-term at this position as well. Our depth guys - Bierrman, Sidbury and Matthews - all appear to have good potential, but more as rotational guys. None of them are a dominating force.

If we're going to compete against the Brees and Rodgers of the NFL, we need a dominating DE to be able to bring them down.

Need level: High

Defensive Tackle:

Currently occupied by Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters

While the USS Babs did not have as good of a season as we would have liked, he's still a solid - and sometimes dominating DT. Corey Peters had a nice year, showing he can be counted on not just for the run, but also for QB pressure. The biggest disappointment here has been first rounder Peria Jerry. Two years removed from knee surgery, Jerry could not make the impact we all had hoped for. I expect 2012 to be the last year of the Jerry experiment. Our depth at this position - with Jerry and Vance Walker - is decent, but not overwhelmingly so.

Need level: Low

Linebackers:

Currently occupied by Curtis Lofton, Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas

This is probably one of the strongest LB units in the league, with Lofton and 'Spoon being the anchors. The 2011 season was a breakout for 'Spoon and Lofton continued to spend time at the top of the tackles list for the league. Nicholas, though not a dominating OLB, is a very respectable player with decent speed and good awareness. So long as we get Lofton secured for the long-term, we look to be set at this position.

Need level: Low

Strong Safety:

Currently occupied by William Moore

Moore has been - at times - a wonder to watch. He has good speed and hits like a truck, while also improving his field awareness this season. However, he's also spent a good bit of time watching others play while he sits due to injury. His potential is nearly unlimited, but unless he can get the injuries dialed-back, we may need to look elsewhere for the long-term. I think the front-office will give him 2012 to see if he can give us 16 games. If not, it may be time to make a move.

Need level: Low

Free Safety:

Currently occupied by Thomas DeCoud

Even though his stats may show he had an ok year, he fails my personal eye-ball test. I've seen way too many times where he whiffed on tackles or missed his angles. However, he may get one more year to prove he's worth keeping, as I don't think he will fetch enough on the open market to head out the door. If he does though, this will be a position we'll have to address, as our depth at this position is very weak.

Need level: Moderate

Cornerbacks:

Currently occupied by Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes

Though Dunta had a down season, many armchair analysts agree that DR was not utilized properly. He's a big, physical corner that should be bumping receivers at the line - not playing 10 yards off. Grimey - when he was healthy - showed that he is a great player with amazing athletic ability. The only concern is whether the Falcons can resign him. However, if we can't, this may be one position where we have some good depth. Chris Owens had a redeeming season - showing good man coverage skills and phenomenal speed. Likewise, Dominique Franks showed he has tremendous upside and is a solid coverage guy. Darrin Walls also impressed the coaching staff enough to put him on the roster. He has good size and speed and could be a great nickel option with a little more development.

Need level: Low

Special Teams:

Punter:

Currently occupied by Matt Bosher

After what was one of the worst starts to a rookie campaign, Bosher quietly came into his own and actually showed impressive strength - constantly booming punts for 50+ and doing a great job of pinning opponents inside their 20. He also settled down with kickoffs, though inexplicably, his powerful leg doesn't show up here nearly as often. Overall, this was a good pickup and we appear to be set for the next several years.

Need level: Low

Kicker:

Currently occupied by Matt Bryant

The very definition of "Monday", Bryant was a breath of fresh air on a consistently inconsistent team. If it was within 40, it was a given. At the age of 36, he's no spring chicken, but other kickers played well into their early 40s. We appear to be set, at least for the next couple of years.

Need level: Low

Return man:

Currently occupied by Eric Weems

Weems is a great special teams guy, but mainly for his coverage skills. He had a great 2010 campaign, but 2011 was a bit of a disappointment as a return guy. He's also a free agent, and it may be time to part ways. That said, we have a few other guys on the roster who look to be great return guys. Both Harry Douglas and Dominique Franks have returned punts and kicks before, and Franks in particular looks to have very explosive return capabilities. Regardless, we have other options here, so we should be set for 2012.

Need level: Low

So, even with the terrible post-season loss, it is apparent to me - at least - that our needs are not as drastic as some would believe. As you would expect, we have the most work to do on our offensive and defensive lines. I personally believe that TD and Smitty will be very busy this offseason making sure those gaps are filled.

What do you think? Have I overestimated the skills of some of our players - or did I discount some guys that may be diamonds in the rough?

<em>This FanPost was written by one of The Falcoholic's talented readers. It does not necessarily reflect the views of The Falcoholic.</em>

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