In the Falcons 4-3 Under defensive scheme, the linebacker position requires a distinctive skill set. One that fast, athletic, and applies precise instincts. Size is not a main requirement and that is evident with the current set of linebackers in Atlanta. In place now are a number of young, athletic linebackers that will be likely pillars of the future Falcons defenses.
At the midseason point of the 2017 season, it is time to review the linebacker play for the Falcons and how they have fared so far. Let's take a look.
The second-year middle linebacker is the center of the operations on defense for the Falcons. Last season, Jones started 13 games and played in 15 while also starting in each postseason game. His 75 solo tackles, three interceptions (two pick-6s), and 11 pass deflections established a playmaker. This season, he has shown the signs of proper development and the speedy, undersized defender is ascending as one of the better young linebackers in the NFL today.
Speaking of improvement, second-year linebacker De'Vondre Campbell has made considerable strides in his skill set. While, he was good as rookie in 2016, playing the weak side linebacker position was not an ideal spot for the 230 pounder. So the team decided to move Campbell to the "SAM" linebacker spot and it has began to pay dividends. Campbell is third on the team in solo tackles with 30 to go along with two sacks, and a forced fumble.
Vic Beasley Jr.
When the question of who is the best player on defense for Atlanta is raised, it is often met with Vic Beasley as the answer. So far this season, Beasley leads the team in sacks with four after leading the NFL last season with 15.5. He has missed two games this season due to injury but Beasley has played both the "SAM" spot as well as defensive end on passing downs. The sack numbers could be better but given the fact that he has been tasked to drop back in coverage a little more than recent seasons, it is completely understandable.
A few were surprised that the Falcons grabbed the former LSU Tiger in the third round of this year's NFL Draft. He was drafted to be inserted at the "WILL" linebacker spot next to Jones. So far, there has been more negatives than positives for Riley. Currently, Riley is shelved thanks to a meniscus tear but should be back in a few weeks. Riley has eight tackles on the season and has started five games but woes have been noticed. Riley has plenty of potential and can form a solid duo with his former college teammate in Jones. However, Riley must improve his tackling which has been a problem so far.
Ishmael has five seasons on the job in Atlanta and while he does not have a difference making skill set, Ishmael has proved to be a viable piece to the defense because of his versatility. Ishmael only have seven tackles on the season but he has played in all eight games and because of recent injuries to Riley and Beasley, proper adjustments to the roster resulted in Ishmael getting a boost in playing time. Ishmael is not a consistent playmaker but what he provides is the ability to be useful at linebacker, strong safety, as well as special teams kick coverage.