Welcome to another edition of our Atlanta Falcons 2017 Roster Review. Today’s piece is covering the linebacker corps—one of the strongest starting groups on the roster with questionable depth sitting behind them. If you missed any of the previous roster review pieces, you can find them here:
Let’s take a look at the Falcons’ LBs in 2017, and the potential outlook for the unit heading into 2018.
2017 Stats: 138 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 3 INT, 9 PD
One of the best young LBs in the league and perhaps the best example of the new breed of LBs that are taking the NFL by storm, Deion Jones has been a phenomenal player for the Falcons. He’s an every down starter for Atlanta who might be the best coverage LB in the league. What he lacks in size, Jones more than makes up for with speed. He’s a strong tackler and a playmaker at both MLB and WLB, and the Falcons are incredibly lucky to have him. Plus, he always seems to play his best games against the Saints.
2017 Stats: 92 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 4 PD
De’Vondre Campbell was widely viewed as a project when the Falcons drafted him in 2016, but he’s quickly proven himself as a capable starter. A more traditionally-sized LB, Campbell looked at his best when playing the SLB role—rushing the passer and stuffing the run close to the line of scrimmage. Campbell is also solid when playing inside at MLB or WLB, but his instincts are still developing there. He’s a good all-around LB with the athleticism and size to match-up with TEs in the passing game.
2017 Stats: 30 tackles
The Falcons’ third-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, Duke Riley was expected to come in and compete for the WLB role in camp—allowing De’Vondre Campbell to play the SLB role in base packages. Riley is very much a LB in the Deion Jones mold, and he has the athletic ability to have a similar level of success. However, Riley didn’t acclimate as quickly to the NFL game and was mostly confined to a reserve role this season. There is still plenty of room for Riley to grow and mature into a starting role in 2018, but he’s a question mark at this point in his career.
2017 Stats: 7 tackles
LaRoy Reynolds has been the Falcons’ primary back-up at LB and a special teams leader since joining the team in 2016. Unfortunately, Reynolds was injured in the preseason and was placed on short-term IR to begin the 2017 season. He was able to return in early November, but Reynolds didn’t make much of an impact on the field. Reynolds is still a quality special teamer and a solid depth piece, but he doesn’t offer much upside outside of that. He is a free agent in 2018.
2017 Stats: 1 tackle
The oft-injured Falcons’ legend returned to the team in late October of 2017 to provide depth after rookie Duke Riley underwent minor knee surgery. ‘Spoon didn’t make much of an impact for the team, however, as he appeared in only two games for Atlanta and made only one tackle. He’s on the wrong side of 30 now and clearly is just a low-level depth piece, but he knows the scheme and is a vocal locker room presence. Weatherspoon is a free agent in 2018.
The LB group is very top-heavy heading into the 2018 offseason. Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell form one of the NFL’s better LB duos, particularly in coverage, but there are a lot of question marks behind them. The only other LB under contract for 2018 outside of the starting group is Duke Riley, who will be entering his sophomore campaign with high expectations for improvement. Riley has plenty of potential and should be a natural fit in Quinn’s defense, but the Falcons are in need of other depth and special teams options behind him.
Whether those options come in the form of mid-to-late round draft picks or low-priced veteran free agents, Atlanta will be looking to fill at least two LB spots this offseason. Reynolds is a logical candidate to return, as he’s still young (27), has proven himself as a solid depth option, and shouldn’t command a large price tag. Weatherspoon is likely gone, and the Falcons could absolutely use a fifth LB that can play well on special teams and compete with Reynolds and Riley for a rotational role.
I’ve already profiled one potential candidate in UCF LB Shaquem Griffin, who could possibly be had early on Day 3. There are certainly other options out there that fit the scheme, could help out on special teams, and would be affordable options for years to come. Atlanta is in good shape with Jones and Campbell starting—but unless the depth is addressed in a meaningful way this offseason, the LB corps will be perilously thin behind them.
What do you think about the LB group heading into 2018? Are you confident in Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell as starters? Do you trust Duke Riley as the primary depth option? Who are some LBs you’d like to see the team add in the draft and/or free agency?