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Assessing the Quality of the Falcons Roster: Defense

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Let's take a look at the Falcons D starters to determine what kind of roster we truly have.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

I've heard a lot of talk about the Falcons roster this off-season. Some fans believe this roster is complete garbage minus a few key players, while others think we're only a few pieces away from being a playoff team again. Even though the team finished 6-10 last year, a strong argument can be made that they could easily have been 8-8 with better coaching, and maybe even better had they not experienced meltdowns in some games (Vikings anyone?) during the season. But the team did finish 6-10 with some ugly losses sprinkled in. With that said, I've decided to look at the roster to try and gauge what kind of quality we really have with our starters.

For this purpose, I'm going to use a simple scoring system as follows:

1 - Player is not starter material, should be replaced

2 - Player is a mediocre starter or has big question marks, replacement would be ideal

3 - Player is an average starter or has upside, replacement isn't necessary

4 - Player is a good starter or has great upside

5 - Player is a great starter, has Pro-Bowl potential

With that scoring system set, here's a breakdown of how I perceive the Falcons defense:

Defensive Tackles

Paul Soliai, Score: 3

While few people would defend the size of the contract that Soliai got last off-season, his play is good enough to warrant giving him another shot under Quinn. Paul was often used on three downs - which is not his forte - but as a true two-gap nose tackle, Soliai fits the bill. He may not be much more than average, but he's good enough to start.

Rashede Hageman, Score: 3

The second round pick of last year's draft - and draft lightning rod - Hageman showed flashes of the potential that everyone spoke of during the draft last year. When he gets going, Hageman can be as disruptive as any DT in the league. He has tremendous upside and flexibility. The big question is whether he can become consistent in that, which is what holds him back from being any higher than a 3 (for right now) in my eyes. I'm very curious to see what he'll look like in year 2.

Tyson Jackson, Score: 2

Probably the biggest bust of an off-season signing in a while, Tyson Jackson finds himself in an odd predicament. Originally a 3-4 DE, he's not a great fit as a DT in Dan Quinn's scheme. He's also not a great fit at DE. This poor scheme fit - and generally meh defensive play - makes me believe that Jackson is a mediocre starter and plans should be made to replace his position on the roster over the long haul.

Jonathan Babineaux, Score: 4

While he may not be a guy you want getting 80% of the snaps, there's little doubt that Babs is still a quality starter. If he's moved back to his more natural 3-tech spot on the line under Quinn, I believe Babs will bounce back to being a disruptor on the interior of the line. The Falcons may need to look for a long-term replacement soon, but Babs can still ball.

Defensive Ends

Adrian Clayborn, Score: 3

The oft-injured former first round draft pick is an intriguing option. We only have him on a one year contract, but if he can finally live up to his first round billing - and stay healthy - we could have a decent starter at DE. Clayborn is more of a power-rusher than a speed rusher, but has shown he can be disruptive in the past. I'm cautiously optimistic that he can give us a good season this year.

Maliciah Goodman, Score: 2/3

Goodman is an interesting case. He's already been told by Dan Quinn to cut his weight down into the 260s, while Smitty and Nolan had asked him to bulk up to the 290s last year. The thing to remember about Goodman is that coming out of college, he was known for his "violent hands" - something Quinn values in a defensive lineman. I think he has some upside, but he's still a huge question mark right now. He's another young player who could surprise us this year.

Outside Linebackers

O'Brien Schofield, Score: 2/3

Schofield is an intriguing option. He's familiar with Quinn and the LEO and DE positions, so he figures to contribute this year. But his time in the league indicates that he's more of a rotational player and not a true starter - which is fine. But that also means his score should reflect that. He has some potential to do well with more snaps, but he's probably not a long-term starter for the team.

Brooks Reed, Score: 3

Reed was a bit of a surprise signing, but a decent one. As a run stopper, he's good. He's not going to intimidate many offenses with his pass rush, but his value in setting the edge shouldn't be undersold. He's not likely going to be anything more than an average starter for the team, but he's a clear upgrade over what we had.

Justin Durant, Score: 3

While Durant has had some injury troubles in his career, there's little doubt that when he's healthy he can be a very good linebacker. He's a sideline-to-sideline type of linebacker who we can use in coverage. At his age, he's likely got a couple of good years before he sees any decline, so the biggest question is whether he can stay healthy. If he does, he's a quality starter that has also improved over what the team had just last year.

Inside Linebacker

Paul Worrilow, Score: 2/3

Talk about lightning rods. Few players on the defense generate as much talk as Worrilow. Some argue that he was our most consistent tackler and a worthy starter. Others argue that he struggled to shed blocks and was awful in coverage. I think both statements carry some truth. If his role is limited to two downs, and the guys around him play better, I do believe Worrilow can reach "average" starter material. But those are a lot of ifs. This could be a position the team looks to address early in the draft.

Free Safety

Charles Godfrey, Score: 2/3

For right now, Godfrey looks to be the starter at free safety, though Dezmen Southward could compete for that spot this year. Godfrey has decent speed and a centerfielder type of FS position may fit his skillset better. But any thought that he's anything more than an average starter should be put to rest. This is another position the Falcons may address early on in the draft this year. Godfrey might suffice for one year, but the team needs a better long-term plan for this key position.

Strong Safety

William Moore, Score: 4

WAR is a player who could truly benefit from the change in scheme that Dan Quinn looks to offer. While Moore is known as a tough-nosed box safety, he has good speed for the position and can be a very intimidating presence in the secondary. Though he has struggled with injuries, if Moore can stay healthy, he looks to be a key piece in rebuilding the defense. We likely still have a few good years left in Willy Mo, so the Falcons can hold off on finding a long-term replacement for now.

Cornerback

Desmond Trufant, Score: 5

Easily the best player on this defense, Trufant shined from day one. He won PFF defensive rookie of the year, and showed that it was no fluke in his sophomore season. Barring any unexpected setbacks, I fully expect Trufant to cement his name in the talk of the top corners in the league. Under Quinn, Tru may finally get the recognition he deserves and should be a potential pro-bowler for this Falcons D.

Robert Alford, Score: 3/4

Trufant's draft-mate is still a bit inconsistent at times, but he often shows his high potential as well. He's got better ball skills than Trufant, but is a bit more prone to mental lapses or getting penalized. But make no mistake, if Alford can really hone it in during his third year, he has tremendous potential. I'm optimistic about his ability to take a big step forward this year.

Conclusion

If you were of the opinion that the Falcons roster-woes lay primarily with the defense, I'd tend to agree. Free safety, inside linebacker - and most importantly, pass rusher - are all huge needs for this defense. The overall defense does seem to be "average" as a whole, though a defense is more than just a sum of it's parts. I fully expect the Falcons to attack two to three of these positions during the draft, with the first round pick being most likely spent on that needed pass rusher. That said, the quality of the defensive roster will likely need more than one off-season to improve, as evidenced by these somewhat underwhelming scores overall.