To say outside linebacker will be a critical position this season would be to understate the degree to which the Falcons will need production here. I outlined potential depth charts at defensive end and defensive tackle and came up with a total of 11.5 sacks along the defensive front, so there's an urgent need for more production elsewhere.
I'm fairly bullish on the linebackers' ability to get pressure, even if that pressure doesn't translate into the huge number of sacks we're hoping for. Whether Jonathan Massaquoi takes a flying leap forward or not will likely determine the success of the unit, but again, some cautious optimism may well be in order.
Let's break it down.
Projected 2014 Outside Linebacker Depth Chart
Kroy Biermann: 80 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 3 pass deflections
Jonathan Massaquoi: 70 tackles, 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 pass deflection
Osi Umenyiora: 20 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 interception
Stansly Maponga: 35 tackles, 2.5 sacks
Marquis Spruill: 10 tackles, 1 sack
Where's Tyler Starr? Potentially on the practice squad. I feel less confident in my projections at linebacker than anywhere else, so please bear that in mind as you savage me.
This unit will deliver, by this projection, 20 sacks. Add a handful from the secondary and inside linebacker and the team could approach 40 for the season. I think Biermann will be healthy and pile up plenty of tackles, Massaquoi will lead the team in sacks but won't quite hit double digits, and Osi and Maponga will find some success as rotational pass rushers. Spruill's there for special teams value and probably will only play sparingly in his rookie season.
Overall, this group will be more productive than in years past, but far short of elite. Hopefully it's enough to drag the Falcons' defense back up to respectability.
Project away, friends.