Kevin C. Cox
Walker was an efficient pass rusher a year ago and solid against the run, serving as a capable backup. With Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters in front of him, he was probably never going to be a starter in Atlanta, but he was mighty useful to have around. While the defensive tackle position is still relatively deep without him there, it's not exactly populated with pass rushers...that we know of. More on that in a second.
Regardless of how you or I feel about Walker moving on, it's time to examine the depth chart in the cold light of day. If we turn an analytical eye on who is left, we find that the Falcons have solid but not extraordinary defensive tackles, with one untapped source of potential.
Let's dive in.
Still the top dog, Babineaux had a quality year in 2012 but was underrated all along the way. His ability to kick outside in Mike Nolan's defense makes him valuable, but Babs can still get after the passer a bit. He's never been the team's best run-stopper, but he's solid enough in that area.
Overall, Babs is a good all-around player whose versatility should ensure him a ton of snaps. It's probably safe to say his best years are behind him. This may be his last year with the team.
Two years ago, Peters had three sacks, three pass deflections and a forced fumble in 15 games, eerily similar to the numbers Walker put up in 2012. Then he got hurt.
In 2013, Peters was clearly a limited player when he did play, but he remains an intriguing player. He'll be 25 in June, can get after the passer a bit and is inarguably the team's best run-stopper at the position when healthy. If he has a full off-season of work and is healthy, Peters is a starter on this defense, and he should do well.
Look, ultimately I don't believe Jerry's status with the team made or broke them retaining Walker. That doesn't mean I'm any less baffled by Jerry's staying power.
Jerry had a ton of promise once, but his injuries seem to have sapped him of his athleticism and burst, leaving him as little more than a solid rotational guy. This season will likely be his last in Atlanta, and for the low, low price of $900,000, he'll continue to add a tiny bit of pass-rushing acumen, a little more run-stopping and not much else.
He's a bust, yes, but still an average defensive tackle and a known quantity.
This is where things get interesting. Robertson has a lot of promise, a lot of athleticism and a lot of strength. He also has no track record and very few snaps to look closely at, so promise is what he's trading on.
If anyone's going to make a leap out of this group, it would be Robertson. Mike Nolan is apparently high on him and the Falcons have just four defensive tackles under contract at this point, so he's going to get his shot. His upside could be Vance Walker, it could be higher or he may turn out to be little more than the last man in the rotation. Ah, the great unknown.
The Falcons will undoubtedly add at least one more piece to the rotation here. If they're looking to give more 3-4 looks, they'll probably address the position fairly early with a space-clogging big nose tackle. If they're keeping their looks mixed, they could add an NT and a DE/DT hybrid to the mix in the draft, too. Richard Seymour remains a possibility, if he's willing to take a small contract.
That's where it stands today. What are your thoughts?