The Atlanta Falcons have locked down right defensive end with Osi Umenyiora, and Jonathan Massaquoi seems likely to pull reps behind him when needed. It's left defensive end that promises to the be interesting.
The Falcons have three serious contenders for the starting job, and only two of them could be considered likely starters at the moment. One is the most versatile man on the roster, a defensive end, special teamer and kicker who has surprised everyone during his five years on the roster. The other is a physically gifted rookie whose Native American name would be "Violent Hands."
Let's break down the battle, folks.
Bio: 27 years old, 5 years as a Falcon, roughly three years as a starter
Biermann is kind of a fascinating player. He was the team's second-leading sack artist a year ago, he once handled kickoffs, he's been a core special teamer and he's married to a Real Housewife. You don't expect any of those things from a fifth-round pick out of Montana, but Duff Man has truly exceeded expectations.
Ironically, it may be his versatility that damages his case for a starting job. There's no doubt that Biermann can give you decent run defense and some pass rushing chops, but the Falcons are pretty weak at linebacker and it's possible that Kroy could be an asset there. If that's the case, he may shuttle back and forth between the two positions, given that Mike Nolan is married to versatility. They have two beautiful children.
Still, given his veteran advantage and his track record of being a mighty useful player, don't be surprised if Biermann opens the season opposite Umenyiora.
Bio: 23 years old, 2 years as a Falcon, backup last year
It's easy to forget that Matthews is just 23 years old and has proven to be a stout run defender who isn't a total slacker as a pass rusher. I just don't think he's in line to be a starter.
Matthews is too valuable as a special teamer and rotational piece, and the Falcons just added two more-heralded defensive end prospects. There's a crowd here, and while Matthews deserves playing time, he may find himself squeezed out. It would be a shame, because he's a useful player.
Bio: 23 years old, Rookie Falcon, started for Clemson a year ago
Out of all the rookie defensive ends the Falcons have added over the years, Goodman might have the most physical talent. Given what we've seen over the years, though, harnessing that will be the challenge.
Goodman could be the guy who breaks the trend of middling Falcons defensive ends, or he could be the latest in the line. Early results look promising, with Goodman's freakishly long arms, plus athleticism and work ethic shining. If he can sustain that through pre-season, he's got a real shot at taking the starting job.
In many ways, this would be the best case scenario, assuming Goodman's good enough off the bat to earn it. It would free up Biermann for part-time duty, let Stansly Maponga and Jonathan Massaquoi ply their trade as young backups with upside and allow Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters to occasionally kick outside when Goodman needs a break or struggles. His potential could make him a game-changer.
Bio: 22 years old, Rookie Falcon, started for TCU a year ago
Maponga is a deeply intriguing prospect, someone who propped open a few eyelids with his pass rushing acumen two years ago. Unfortunately, a lingering injury issue sapped his effectiveness in 2012, and it appears he's recovering from off-season surgery right now.
That's likely enough to knock him out of consideration for a starting job, but if he shows healthy down the line, don't be surprised to see him get significant snaps as part of a rotation in real need of pass-rushing juice.
Bio: 25 years old, 2 years as a Falcon, backup last year
I like Massaquoi, but he'll be a rotational guy who can hopefully put it together and turn into a useful pass rusher for this football team.
Your thoughts on the battle?