The Falcons kicked off free agency with two signings that looked to immediately provide upgrades to a position of weakness on the team: linebacker. Brooks Reed is a versatile OLB who was going to move to ILB in Houston before Clowney went down for the season. Justin Durant is a talented, but oft-injured outside linebacker who is known for being a "sideline-to-sideline" player. He was off to a great start last season before going down in week 6. Several analysts - including Peter King - are saying Durant is the most underrated day 1 signing in free agency.
But with the Falcons signing two linebackers, what does this mean for the guys currently on the roster? Let's take a look at each, and the potential outcomes.
Worrilow has been a bit of a lightning rod for the fan-base. On the one hand, he's a hard-working team leader who has the respect of players in the locker room. On the other, he's a below-average LB whose struggles in coverage often drove fans mad. So what to make of our current starting middle linebacker?
First, I think Worrilow will be on the team in 2015. He's inexpensive, works hard and was a team captain last year - which is no small feat for a guy that came in as an un-drafted rookie the year before. But I do believe his role will change. I believe he'll end up as a backup at MLB (assuming Reed slides over to MLB) and will play primarily on special teams. Given Durant's injury history, it's possible we'll have to turn to Worrilow to start in spots - but I don't think he's going to be the long-term starter going forward.
Bartu is an interesting case. We often forget that he was starting before Worrilow (replacing Stephen Nicholas) and showed some great early potential. Unfortunately, his second season didn't build off of that, and his role on the team was reduced as the Falcons looked to use Shembo more.
What will happen with Joplo? I think he's on the bubble. As an UDFA, the Falcons don't have much money tied up in him nor does he have the benefit of having been a draft pick. Much will depend on how well he adapts to the new coaching staff, but right now - my guess is he'll be retained as a backup and play on special teams as well. However, that could easily change based on how well some of the following guys perform in camp.
Shembo was an interesting pick, not so much for the fact that he was picked - but in where the previous coaches used him. Quinn has already said he'd like to use Shembo in his more traditional pass rushing role from college (LEO), instead of the ILB role that Smitty and Nolan used him in.
As a fourth round pick, it's highly unlikely that the Falcons will want to part with Shembo after just one year. But if the Falcons draft someone like Gregory or Beasley, that player is likely going to get the majority of snaps at that LEO position. This would mean that Shembo is going to be relegated to being a backup/occasional contributor with his primary role being special teams as well. However, since he offers some potential value as a pass rusher, it's likely that he will be kept on the 53-man roster, if not the active game day roster.
Before he went down with an ACL tear in camp, Spruill was getting positive attention in camp. The 5th rounder out of Syracuse was proving to be a good special-teams player with the upside to potentially contribute as a LB in the long-term. He has the type of speed that Quinn is looking for.
Depending on how his recovery is coming, Spruill is one to watch. Right now, he's likely a practice squad candidate, but if he has a strong camp - he could be the player that pushes Bartu off the roster.
The 7th round rookie is a project. The fact that he made the 53-man roster last year was a shocker to some, even if he never saw a single snap during the season. He's an interesting prospect, but he's clearly not ready to contribute in anything more than a special teams capacity, if that.
Starr projects more as a practice squad candidate than anything else. I don't see him making the 53-man roster again and of all the guys listed here, he's the most likely to just be cut.
What do you think will happen with the new-look Falcons LB corps?