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Falcons midseason grades, defensive edition

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The Falcons' defense is far from a finished product, but it has been extremely impressive thus far in 2015.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive ends

C+

Kroy Biermann has been solid, Adrian Clayborn has flashed (though he's admittedly playing some nickel defensive tackle, as well), Vic Beasley has been better than anticipated against the run even if he's not living up to his promise as a pass rusher just yet, and when O'Brien Schofield has mixed in at end he's fared pretty well. We'll be hoping for much more out of Beasley in the second half of the season, but there's upside here.

Defensive tackles

A-

Stellar group thus far, and the key to the team's fortunes against the run. Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai have been monsters against the ground game, particularly Soliai, and Jonathan Babineaux has been one of the team's best pass rusher for like the 10th year in a row. Ra'Shede Hageman is coming along and has had a quality play or two in nearly every game, while rookie Grady Jarrett is coming on strong and should step into a larger role in the second half. I've been extremely pleased with the group, and the only reason they're getting an A- is because I think we could see better from Hageman and Jarrett ahead.

Linebackers

C

Justin Durant has been the team's best linebacker, but has still had hiccups in coverage and tackling. Paul Worrilow continues to show flashes as a pass rusher and in run support, but has been extremely hit-or-miss in coverage, as usual. Brooks Reed is coming along and looked pretty good last week, but we haven't seen enough yet to know how much of an asset he'll be. Nate Stupar has been surprisingly solid when he's mixed into the lineup and has authored a couple of big plays, O'Brien Schofield has been mostly terrific, and Joplo Bartu can step in and play at a reasonably high level. Look for Philip Wheeler to gain a larger role in the second half, but this is a group that needs continued improvement from Worrilow and a healthy Brooks Reed to be more than just average.

Cornerbacks

A-

Absolutely a stellar group. Desmond Trufant is a true shutdown cornerback who opposing quarterbacks avoid studiously, Robert Alford is an excellent athlete whose coverage has gotten significantly better in 2015, Jalen Collins stepped into the lineup the last couple of weeks and impressed the hell out of me, and Phillip Adams is a perfectly solid option as a fourth cornerback and occasional nickel play. The only scary thing is the depth if Trufant and Alford's injuries linger, because Dezmen Southward still doesn't look ready and the Falcons will have to take a hard look at signing someone or promoting practice squad player Akeem King.

Again, I'm giving the minus primarily because I think we're going to see more from Jalen Collins in the second half, and those concerns about depth.

Safeties

B

This is probably a bit of a harsh grade, but bear with me. Ricardo Allen has been mostly terrific as an aggressive, physical free safety, but he has the occasional coverage communication issue and has missed a few tackles along the way. William Moore has been injured (which is sadly the norm) and has mixed big plays with missed tacklse and blown coverage, making his future with the team more than a little bit cloudy. Robenson Therezie looks promising but has scuffled a bit in extended exposure (huge interception aside), while Kemal Ishmael looks better than a year ago but remains a limited player in coverage. Allen, Therezie and Ishmael should lift this grade as they continue to improve, but Moore's status remains a concern and trouble spot unless Ishmael or Therezie is ready to step into a full-time role.

Overall

B

The defense has benefited from a few big plays, lucky breaks in terms of who their opponents have been playing, but this has been a remarkable half-season for a unit that regularly faces poor field position and is working with a very limited pass rush. They'll need to get more pressure on quarterbacks going forward and need more from their ends and linebackers to thrive against terrific offenses, but the arrow is pointing up, the run defense is elite, and I've been very pleasantly surprised thus far.

How about you?