Atlanta’s inside linebacker position is far from settled. Troy Andersen may turn into a terrific starter and Mykal Walker may get another shot to prove he can be a high-end starter, but the depth beyond those two is scant and neither player is guaranteed anything in 2023. As is the case everywhere else on defense, the Falcons will had to add to the position group.
They may well do so again in free agency. Last year, the team scooped up Rashaan Evans and Nick Kwiatkoski, and the former became a solid full-time starter while the latter was a core special teamer. If the Falcons aren’t sold on Andersen and Walker and want competition or to replace one of them entirely as a starter, there will be options and plenty of them on the open market.
Let’s look at some starters, competition, and depth options available at inside linebacker for the Falcons.
We’ll start with the man Dean Pees loved, though his retirement may mean it was just a one-year stint in Atlanta for Evans.
Evans was a stone solid, affordable addition for the Falcons. His work in coverage was about what you’d expect, but he was generally effective against the run, missed very few tackle opportunities, and chipped in a few big plays along the way. In a season where reliable, healthy defenders were hard to come by, Given that he played something like 97% of the defensive snaps in 2022 and is still fairly young, Evans should have no lack of suitors for his services this offseason.
If he returns to Atlanta, it will likely be on another short-term deal, albeit one that will cost the team a bit more. It’d be hard to argue against bringing him back, but it will depend on how major the team thinks the need at inside linebacker is, and Evans does not have his primary champion on staff anymore with the Falcons.
If Evans offers you durability and reliable tackling, Long offers you strong work in coverage, as he’s allowed just one touchdown in his four year career. He has yet to appear in a full 16 game season and has a fairly high career missed tackle rate, so you’d be adding him with the intent of improving a longtime coverage trouble spot at inside linebacker—for at least the last three seasons, the Falcons have struggled mightily there—and banking that he still has better days ahead of him at 27.
This is a man who does a bit of everything well. Capable in coverage, terrific against the run, an occasionally useful pass rusher, useful special teamer, and extremely durable player, vOkereke would slot in as a no-brainer starter for multiple seasons in Atlanta. Like most f the compelling players on this list, he’s still relatively young—this will be his age 27 season—and Okereke would add stability and a well-rounded game to a group that could use both. He’s near the top of my personal list.
The man at the top of that list is probably Edwards. Like Okereke, Edwards does everything well, but he’s just much better at most of them than the Colts linebacker. One of the most effective coverage options at the position working in the NFL today, Edwards was oft-targeted but held opposing quarterbacks to zero touchdowns and a very so-so 82.0 passer rating against. He rarely misses tackles, does good work against the run, and is coming off a season he played 94% of the defensive snaps and all 17 games. The only fear, I suppose, is that Edwards might look less effective without that stellar Philadelphia defense around him.
One of the youngest players on this list, Edmunds will be just 25 years old in 2023, and would also be a stellar addition. He has been excellent for long stretches of his career to this point, and he’s coming off a season of excellence in coverage where he barely missed a tackle. His work against the run hasn’t always been inspiring, which may be the only thing limiting Atlanta’s interest in him.
Solid throughout his career in Cincinnati, Pratt had a career year in 15 games this past season, posting all-time best numbers more or less across the board and playing nearly a quarter of special teams snaps to boot. If that’s a sign of things to come, he could be a terrific and not bank-breaking addition for the Falcons in a market flooded with quality options.
- Denzel Perryman
- Lavonte David
- Cody Barton
- Drue Tranquill
- Alex Anzalone
- Kwon Alexander
- Alex Singleton
- Devin Bush
A one-time Pro Bowler (for whatever that’s worth these days) and rock solid starter for several years for the Rams and Raiders, Littleton spent 2022 as a part-time starter for the Carolina Panthers and was customarily solid. He’ll be 30 this year, and as a stopgap starter, should be an effective option.
Yet another former Titan, Cole started eight games last year and scuffled a bit doing so, which is understandable given that it was the first extended starting action in his career. A capable special teamer and reserve who at least showed a little upside along the way, Cole would be in the mix for a reserve job and could step in if others faltered.
He’ll be just 26 years old, will likely come at an affordable price, and is a solid all-around player who has his limitations in coverage. He’d be capable of competing for a starting job, but far from guaranteed to take one, and one a short-term deal might be the right kind of bargain.
- Jon Bostic
- Jarrad Davis
- Anthony Walker Jr.
- Robert Spillane
- Raekwon McMillan
The downside: He’s credited with a lot of missed tackles. The upside: He’s played multiple roles for the Cleveland and New England, has shown some pass rushing and coverage ability, and will only be 25 years old. You’d be buying his versatility, youth, and upside to go with his contributions on special teams, and it seems like a solid buy.
The veteran was a major factor on special teams for the Falcons last year and could return on the strength of that alone. If he does, he’ll likely once again chiefly chip in there, only playing on defense in case of emergency.
He might be a bit stretched as a full-time starter, which is what he was over the last season-and-a-half, but he’s familiar to key member of the front office Kyle Smith, has a history of contributing on special teams, and would be a seasoned reserve who could step in if injuries piled up. The connection to Smith alone makes him a name to consider, but Holcomb’s at least a solid player, as well.
- Ezekiel Turner
- Micah Kiser
- Tyler Matakevich
- Neville Hewitt
- Chris Board
- Tanner Vallejo
- Troy Reeder
Who would you bring on board from this free agent class?