After the info dump we received from Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn on Wednesday, there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding the future of the Falcons roster. Speaking at the NFL Combine, Dimitroff confirmed that the Falcons would be moving on from DT Dontari Poe, WR Taylor Gabriel, and LB Kemal Ishmael. Each of those players will test free agency—where, in the case of Poe and maybe Gabriel, they will likely see substantial money.
With two starters and one contributor leaving for 2018, what will the Falcons do to replace the three players? Let’s take a closer look at some of the options available in free agency and the draft that could assume similar roles.
Free Agent Options: Muhammad Wilkerson, DaQuan Jones, Haloti Ngata, Bennie Logan, Chris Baker
There are a lot of free agent options out there at defensive tackle, but finding someone of Poe’s caliber at an affordable price point will be a difficult proposition. Muhammad Wilkerson was just released by the Jets. He’s extremely talented...if you can get him to focus. DaQuan Jones is an interesting sleeper option—at 320 pounds, he’s a dominant force against the run that also had 3.5 sacks in 2017. Ngata is 34, but he was still a good run defender before suffering a season-ending injury.
Bennie Logan signed a 1-year “prove-it” deal with the Chiefs, and had a middling season. If he’s willing to take an affordable contract with Atlanta, he could be an interesting option. Chris Baker was just cut by the Bucs after signing a 3-year, $15.75M deal in 2017. He didn’t pan out in Tampa, but he’s very talented—and might be willing to take less money to show he’s still got it.
Draft Options: DT prospect preview
I just wrote up a lengthy breakdown of the DTs that might be fits for the Falcons in the 2018 NFL Draft. In the first round—which seems to be the favorite choice for Atlanta at the moment—some names to watch are Taven Bryan, Maurice Hurst, Da’Ron Payne, and Vita Vea. Later in the draft, guys like Tim Settle, Derrick Nnadi, and Nathan Shepherd could be interesting options.
Verdict: I believe the hole left by Dontari Poe might be best filled by adding two players, and I think Atlanta could get one each from free agency and the draft. Adding a mid-level free agent like DaQuan Jones—a NT that is proven against the run and can contribute a little to the pass rush—could free up the Falcons to simply take their favorite DT prospect in the draft. That could mean a pass rush specialist like Hurst, or a more well-rounded player like Payne—whoever Atlanta prefers and is available.
Free Agent Options: Terrelle Pryor, Jordan Matthews, Marqise Lee, Paul Richardson, Donte Moncrief
The cupboard in free agency is pretty bare at WR once you get past Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson, but the Falcons are realistically only looking for a WR3. In that range, there are some potential boom-bust options and quality contributors available. Terrelle Pryor had a terrible year in Washington, but I’m not sure that wasn’t the fault of the coaching staff. If he can reclaim his 2016 glory, he’d make a fantastic compliment to Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu—if the price was reasonable. Jordan Matthews was a productive slot receiver for the Eagles for several seasons before heading to Buffalo in 2017, where his numbers tanked.
Marqise Lee struggled with injuries early in his career, but was a productive WR3 for the Jaguars over the past two seasons. Paul Richardson never got much volume in Seattle’s offense, but has a knack for making big plays and spectacular catches. Donte Moncrief looked like the next great red-zone WR before Andrew Luck’s injury—without Luck, his numbers have been abysmal, but there could be potential there.
Draft Options: WR prospect preview
There are plenty of intriguing options available in this year’s draft class. The Falcons seem most likely to target a WR in the late Day 2-early Day 3 range, and I profiled some potential candidates in the above preview. Some names to watch on Day 2: Deon Cain, Christian Kirk, Anthony Miller, D.J. Moore, and Dante Pettis. Later in the draft, players like Tre’Quan Smith, Marcell Ateman, Keke Coutee, and Daesean Hamilton could be in consideration.
Verdict: Due to the relatively limited number of options in free agency and the Falcons tight cap situation, adding a new WR3 in the mid-rounds of the draft makes a lot of sense. Luckily, the value in the 2nd-4th round range is excellent, with a lot of high-potential prospects floating around. It just depends on when the Falcons feel comfortable pulling the trigger.
Free Agent Options: Jerrell Freeman, Derrick Johnson, Preston Brown
The Falcons have their starters set at LB, and Ishmael was primarily a back-up and rotational player in Atlanta’s defense. There are a bunch of low-level depth players out there who are available for the veteran minimum, but here are some of the more interesting ones. Atlanta was rumored to have interest in Jerrell Freeman back in 2015, but since then he’s been suspended twice and suffered a season-ending injury. If he’s willing to take a reasonable deal as veteran depth, he’ll fit right in with Quinn’s defense.
Derrick Johnson has had a long and distinguished career, but he’s now 36 and was simply overpaid in Kansas City. If he’s willing to sign a reasonable contract, Johnson could be valuable and dependable veteran depth for a young LB corps. Preston Brown has been a tackling machine for the Bills, but he’s not really spectacular in any part of his game. As a 3rd or 4th LB on the roster, Brown could be a fit—he’s also only 25 heading into 2018.
Draft Options: LB prospect preview
There are a ton of quality options at LB in all levels of the draft, which gives the Falcons flexibility in where they can add someone. It’s not the biggest need for the team, but they could start considering players that fit their scheme on Day 2. In the mid rounds, look for players like Jerome Baker, Shaquem Griffin, Malik Jefferson, and Josey Jewell. Later on, keep an eye on Oren Burks, Dorian O’Daniel, Tegray Scales, and Kenny Young.
Verdict: With the top 3 LBs on the roster virtually settled, now is an ideal time for the Falcons to add another young, developmental player to the rotation via the draft. Early on Day 3 seems to be the sweet spot for talent and value, and I’d expect the Falcons to pick up at least one contributor before the draft is complete.
What are your thoughts on the departures of Poe, Gabriel, and Ishmael? Do you think the Falcons will address those vacancies via the draft, free agency, or both? Who are some of your top choices to replace those players in 2018?