Earlier today, I argued that embracing young players on defense might be a wise move for the Falcons going forward, as they attempt to infuse athleticism and energy into the unit. What I didn't mention is which young players might make a splash.
We've spent a lot of time talking about Travian Robertson and Jonathan Massaquoi already, so let's spend time with three young defenders who haven't popped up much in our discussions, but could be at least valuable reserves in 2013.
Full steam ahead!
I can't start a list of dudes flying under the radar without mentioning Schiller, my favorite UDFA of last year's class, the guy who sat silently in all those D-Block videos and a young linebacker in a corps with barely any young reserve options.
Schiller is more athletic than he's given credit for, and he served as a tackling machine for Northern Illinois in college. Whether his pass-rushing and run-stopping abilities will play the same in the pros or not, it's worth noting that he piled up ten tackles for loss in his senior season, including a pair of sacks. The biggest question with him is probably how he'll fare in coverage and whether he'll be a playmaker on a defense in need of them.
Honestly, though, there's little in his way. Mike Peterson is a shell of his former self, as much as I love the man, and Robert James has never contributed as a reserve linebacker. That's basically it. Even if the Falcons draft linebacker—and they should—Schiller's got a year under his belt and is by all accounts a quick learner. I think he carves out playing time.
I'm not saying Schiller's going to be a starter this year. He may never be one, though I think he has the tools to eventually become one if things break right. But the Falcons have a dearth of capable options there, and Schiller looks like a guy who could be at least a solid reserve and chip in on special teams. This team needs that.
You don't find Brent Grimes and Robert McClains every day, but the fact that the Falcons have now managed to dig up two of them suggests they may occasionally find a few diamonds in the rough at the position. Peyton Thompson could be the next one.
Thompson is a 5'11", 180 pound cornerback, which means he's about the same size as yours truly but in much better shape. Just 22, Thompson has nice speed, played pretty well in the pre-season a year ago and was an above average coverage guy in college.
The Falcons right now have one guy who can start (Asante Samuel), one who might be able to (Robert McClain), and a bunch of backup options (Dominique Franks, Terrance Johnson). The team will probably still add talent to the position, but Thompson's got a real shot to hang on because Franks and Johnson have been around a little while and haven't proved a whole lot.
Thompson's youth is working in his favor, and he's now been around for a year. He could latch on as the team's fifth cornerback pretty easily, especially if he can prove his worth on special teams.
If the Falcons wind up signing another defensive end or two, and potentially drafting another, Matthews becomes the low man on the totem pole more or less by default. He's perhaps the least likely of these three guys to carve out a role, if that's the case.
Still, Matthews proved to be a solid run defender in his limited number of snaps in 2012, and he did manage to get after Colin Kaepernick a couple of times. He projects as a long-term reserve, but his special teams value and potential to have a nice all-around game should make him a part of this team's future. He's still just 23 years old, too.
Matthews may get lost in the shuffle a little bit, especially in 2013, but there's upside here that's worth thinking about.
What do you think of these three young players?