On paper, the Falcons are paper thin at linebacker. They’re essentially down to Deion Jones, Foye Oluokun, and a cast of backups with aspirations to be more that includes LaRoy Reynolds, recent XFL signing Edmond Robinson, and Ahmad Thomas. De’Vondre Campbell and Kemal Ishmael are gone.
That’s a problem the Falcons will likely address at some point in the draft, if not with a late summer free agent signing, but it’s not something the team sounds overly concerned about at the moment. Per Thomas Dimitroff, that has something to do with the belief in the coaching staff and something to do with a belief in the likely starters, Debo and Foye.
Dimitroff feels good about the linebacker situation despite the numbers. Counting on Debo, Foye. Calls linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich one of the best in the league.— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) April 7, 2020
Dan Quinn re-affirmed the on Wednesday that Oluokun is ready to be the starter, and the team is counting on him to make the necessary strides to be an effective starter.
Dan Quinn said Foye has made great progress and is ready to take that jump at linebacker. “We certainly are counting on him, for sure,’’ Quinn Said.— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) April 8, 2020
All of this makes sense. Jones is one of the league’s elite linebackers even if he didn’t always play up to that in 2019, and Oluokun has shown more than enough in his opportunities to think he can be a solid starter in this league. Robinson is an interesting player at worst and Reynolds is solid, as he showed during his previous stint in Atlanta. If this group is great it’ll be almost solely because of Debo, but they’re not dead in the water.
It’s also noteworthy that the team believes Oluokun has grown over the last two seasons—and remember, he was solid in 2018—and that Jeff Ulbrich is a universally respected coach who certainly knows a god linebacker when he sees one. It’s rare these days that I take the team’s word on anything, but if Ulbrich thinks Foye’s ready to step in as a starter, so do I.
Their only real recourse for getting an upgrade is the draft, given that they’re not going to have a ton of money at any point in this offseason and none of the veterans who shake loose in the summer are likely to be obviously and immediately better. I think the class is being underrated a bit, but the Falcons would like to have to sink a Day 1 or Day 2 pick when they have plenty of other needs, so I wouldn’t count on that outcome.
In other words, don’t be stunned if the Falcons do make linebacker a priority in the draft—they still don’t have a ton of bodies and there’s just no way to be sure an offhand compliment or two directed toward Oluokun in early April will translate into him being a lock as a starter—but it sounds like they’re more comfortable with what they have than I might’ve expected. As is always the case, I hope they’re right.