If there's a defensive unit that's slated to perform drastically better this upcoming season, it's the outside linebackers.
The Falcons significantly upgraded the positions via free agency and the draft.
The official roster lists seven outside linebackers. Candidates for the LEO position fall under that outside linebacker umbrella.
Let's take a closer look.
The Falcons' eighth overall pick — considered by some to be the best pass rusher coming out of the draft — has the speed, strength and explosiveness Dan Quinn wants in the LEO. Beasley will face competition from Biermann, Maponga and Schofield, but he should emerge as the starter once the regular season rolls around.
The mere mention of Biermann's name causes some Falcons fans to spiral into a fit of rage, and it came to a head once he was re-signed this offseason following a dismal 2014 outing. However, Quinn noted Biermann as one of the players that stood out on the first day of OTAs. Don't be surprised if the much-maligned player gets some defensive snaps.
While Durant has the versatility to play all three linebacker positions — and the Falcons have tried him in the middle — he should slide in as the starter on the weak side. He replaces Sean Weatherspoon, who signed with the Arizona Cardinals in free agency. Like his predecessor, Durant is a good starter who has had issues with injuries.
Maponga will also be in the competition for the LEO position. The third-year player has seen limited playing time in his previous two seasons with the team, and it's unlikely he'll receive a ton of snaps this year.
He's dealing with a groin injury, but Reed, who the Falcons signed to a five-year deal in free agency, will take over as the team's starting strongside linebacker. Reed established himself as an adept run defender during his four-year tenure with the Houston Texans. He hasn't been as effective when rushing the passer, but a change of a scenery could work wonders for him in that department.
Also in the mix for the LEO, Schofield should earn himself some pass rushing snaps. The versatile player was a member of the Seattle Seahawks for the past two seasons, so his familiarity with Quinn's scheme gives him a bit of a leg up.
Shembo was moved inside as a rookie for whatever reason, but the second-year linebacker will be working back outside this season. He's certainly capable of rushing the passer — he totaled 19.5 sacks while at Notre Dame — so the move back to his natural position should allow him contribute.
To repeat myself: No defensive unit will improve as much as the outside linebackers. They're certainly in position to become the defense's strength.
What are you expecting from the outside linebackers in 2015?