Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai were much-maligned after 2014, and with good reason. Both were well paid, and despite their presence in the middle of the Falcons' defensive line, Atlanta still had one of the worst run defenses in football. While Jackson's 2015 prospects with the Falcons are certainly up for debate, Soliai's are not.
Why? Simply put, the veteran defensive tackle does one thing well, and he wasn't necessarily any less effective at that than usual in 2014. Soliai was more of a victim of the Falcons' poor defense around him than the reverse, and it's why I fully anticipate the Falcons penciling him in for a fairly major role in 2015.
This is initially confusing on a couple of levels. First of all, the Falcons just added Grady Jarrett, Ra'Shede Hageman looks ready to break out and Jonathan Babineaux is still around, ready to wreak his casual brand of havoc. That would seem to leave less opportunities for Soliai, but Soliai does have one advantage over all of these players, at least for 2015.
Simply put, Soliai is the best run stopper at the position, and the closest thing to a pure, old school nose tackle the Falcons have. He's not going to get a plurality of the snaps because he's a classic two-down player, but Quinn knows the importance of stopping the run, especially with ground games slowly making a comeback across the NFL. Setting Soliai next to Hageman or Babineaux allows those players to be more aggressive while the former eats blocks, and given my expectations for Hageman's production this season, freeing him up will be critical.
It's not a glamorous role by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not difficult to understand why the Falcons wanted Soliai a year ago. Giant dudes with the ability to engage a pair of blockers and provide a stout, run-stopping presence up front are almost always necessary, after all, even if they don't come with the price tags Soliai has.
All bets are off after 2015, because Soliai has a large contract and the Falcons will continue to remake their defense as they see fit. Expect Soliai to chip in while not filling up the stat sheet this year, however.