Pat Kiwan over at CBS Sports recently gave 13 critiera for helping teams determine how much depth they actually have. I thought it would be instructive to answer those questions for the Atlanta Falcons.
Obviously, this is far from the be-all, end-all for depth debates, but I figured we could kickstart a good discussion, either way.
1. Do you have a good backup QB? I don't know about good, but the Falcons now have a 27-year-old T.J. Yates, who has some mobility, a decent arm and starting experience in the regular season and playoffs. We'll go with yes.
2. Does your team have a real swing offensive tackle, a guy that can play left or right tackle and has experience? Lamar Holmes is that guy, but it's fair to wonder how effective he'll be. If he takes a step forward this year, or Ryan Schraeder surpasses him, the Falcons may well have one. I'll call this a maybe.
3. Does your team have a solid inside offensive lineman that can play guard or center? You're looking at Peter Konz, Mike Johnson (if he even makes the roster) and...maybe Harland Gunn? All relative unknowns except Konz, who hasn't been good, so we'll say no.
4. Is there a quality second running back that can deliver a 100-yard rushing day if he had to start? I think so. Devonta Freeman looks like he'll be an asset sooner rather than later, and with the volume, I think he can get there. Jacquizz Rodgers does not have a 100 yard game in his career thus far. Yes.
5. Is there a good second tight end on the roster? Depends? If you're looking for a blocker, Bear Pascoe's excellent. If you're looking for a receiver, not really. We'll call this one no.
6. Can the third wide receiver step up and start in the two-WR packages if a starter went down? We already know the answer to this one because Harry Douglas did a year ago. Yes.
7. Does your team have a designated pass-rush specialist who could play the early downs if need be? The specialists on this roster would be, in no particular order, Osi Umenyiora, Stansly Maponga and perhaps someone like Tyler Starr. Osi and Maponga could potentially take over on early downs, even if the results wouldn't necessarily be what the Falcons would like. Osi just did it a year ago, so yes.
8. Is there a third defensive tackle that not only plays in a rotation but could play the whole game if need be? This doesn't technically apply since the Falcons will be using these guys chiefly as defensive ends, but they'll be hoping Ra'Shede Hageman is that player. With Tyson Jackson, Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux available, though, you'd have to say yes.
9. Is there a quality nickel corner on the roster, since most teams are at least 50 percent sub defenses? Yes. Robert McClain scuffled a year ago, but he's still a solid player and the Falcons have legitimate competition for the job.
10. Is there a fourth corner for dime packages? Yes. Javier Arenas, Josh Wilson or Ricardo Allen should be able to step in and deliver.
11. Is there a third safety for big nickel defenses? We have to see more of Dezmen Southward before we declare this, so I'll go with maybe.
12. Is there a return specialist that can either handle both punt and kick returns or contribute as a real position player? Devin Hester can handle both and should get a handful of receptions, so yes.
13. Does your team have a special-teams linebacker that leads the specials and can play inside linebacker in a pinch? That'd be Tim Dobbins or, if all goes really well, Marquis Spruill. So yes.
I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the Falcons are going to be a demonstrably better team than they were just a year ago, but it's hard not to look at the moves they've made this offseason without seeing a concentrated effort at improving the team's depth. There are question marks here, but if the Falcons can answer 10 of these questions in the affirmative, they'll be in pretty good shape.