It's been a while since linebacker has been a strength for the Atlanta Falcons defense. Dan Quinn attempted to upgrade the unit through the draft this season — after trying the free agency route last year.
Will we see an improved linebacking corps in 2016?
Linebackers currently on roster
De'Vondre Campbell (R)
Torrey Green (R)
Deion Jones (R)
Ivan McLennan (R)
Vic Beasley's slated to have dual roles this upcoming season. On early downs, he'll slide in at the strongside linebacker position and back to defensive end in passing situations, giving him an opportunity to be a true impact player for the defense. Second-rounder Deion Jones will compete with veteran Paul Worrilow for starting gig in the middle, and the weakside spot will be manned by De'Vondre Campbell, Sean Weatherspoon, or Phillip Wheeler.
The Falcons tried to upgrade last season with the additions of Justin Durant and Brooks Reed but things didn't work as planned. Durant was unimpressive and subsequently released this offseason and Reed labored through injuries. However, things could be different this season as the team looks to be a lot faster on the second level of the defense.
If Jones manages to beat out Worrilow — and I think he will — it will give Atlanta a player in the middle who can keep up with both tight ends and running backs. But don't underestimate Worrilow's presence as a captain.
Campbell has the length and athleticism Quinn likes, making the fourth-rounder a dark horse candidate to start. Wheeler may have the inside track, as Campbell's football instincts apparently aren't the best. Weatherspoon will need to remain healthy to have a chance.
Courtney Upshaw is listed as a linebacker, but he'll likely see more time with his hands in the dirt. The same goes for Reed, who will get some pass rushing opportunities at the LEO position. Tyler Starr lined up on the strongside in OTAs, but it remains to be seen what impact he'll have if he makes the roster. The remaining players may not make the roster.
Will the linebackers be better, the same, or worse this season? I'm going with better, and that's admittedly partially by default as it will be difficult for this group to be worse than it was in 2015.
One thing's for certain: they'll be a hell of a lot faster.