For a long while, the Falcons have been a veteran team with one of the highest roster ages in the NFL. They’ve begun to chip away at that with the addition of a lot of young talent, but only a handful of positions are truly young, including running back, tackle, and increasingly cornerback.
Linebacker could be one of those. The Falcons have made linebacker a consistent, massive priority under Dan Quinn, sinking a second rounder, two third rounders, a fourth rounder, and a sixth rounder into it, as well as free agent dollars. Not every single one of those picks has worked out, but most have, and that leaves the Falcons with the enviable possibility of going into the year with one of the league’s youngest, most athletic corps.
How young? Let’s look. A quick note: No one seems to have Tre’ Crawford’s age, so we’ll go with “early 20s” until we get that clarification. Here are the current ages of everyone at the position.
Bruce Carter: 31
Kemal Ishmael: 28
De’Vondre Campbell: 25
Jermaine Grace: 25
Deion Jones: 24
Duke Riley: 24
Foye Oluokun: 23
Del’Shawn Phillips: 22
Tre’ Crawford: Early 20s
Yurik Bethune: Early 20s
If the Falcons elect to keep Crawford instead of Carter, they won’t have a single player over 30 at linebacker. That would leave Kemal Ishmael as the elder statesman of the group at 28, and not a single other player in the group is currently over the age of 25. The Falcons have done a consistently good job of adding young, athletic talent to linebacker, and that effort could bear further fruit in 2019 if the Falcons elect to embrace the youth movement fully. A group of Jones, Campbell, Oluokun, Riley, Crawford, and Ishmael would provide a nice blend of skills and special teams acumen, not to mention (relatively) fresh legs.
The only question marks around that group—besides what Riley can offer after two straight frustrating, enigmatic years—is how long the Falcons will be able to keep it together. Jones and Campbell are heading into free agency next spring, Ishmael is a one year deal, and Riley’s a free agent post-2020. Jones is a massive priority and the team would surely like to keep Campbell around, but unfortunately there are no guarantees beyond 2019.
None of that diminishes how exciting it would be to put a group this young and this talented on the field, and much will depend on how quickly Crawford can build on a strong rookie minicamp and push for a roster spot. I’ll look forward to seeing just how young and capable this group will be when the dust settles in September.