The Atlanta Falcons made additions across the board on defense to help fix a unit that finished 23rd in points allowed and 27th in yards yielded last year. But apparently, the Falcons could still use more reinforcements at linebacker.
Pro Football Focus’ Dalton Wasserman ranked the Falcons linebackers at No. 28 overall in the NFL. Put another way, Wasserman rated the Atlanta linebackers fifth from the bottom.
Atlanta’s linebackers struggled across the board in 2022. Their primary solution will be to take a chance on 2022 breakout Kaden Elliss, who was excellent last season for the Saints, posting an 81.5 overall grade. He offers value off the ball and on the edge and was terrific down the stretch as his usage increased. From Week 10 through 18, Elliss led all linebackers in overall grade (89.8), pressures (17) and sacks (6).
Several young players will compete for playing time alongside Elliss. Mykal Walker struggled to a 58.7 overall grade in his first year in a starting role. He’s shown flashes in coverage, as evidenced by his two interceptions and four pass breakups last season, but he needs to find consistency.
Second-round rookie Troy Andersen is a raw player who would have benefitted from a lesser role. He particularly struggled in coverage, giving up a 94.4% completion percentage that was the worst mark among all linebackers with at least 20 targets in coverage. He has all the tools but also has a ton of learning to do.Dalton Wasserman, PFF.com
According to Wasserman, the Falcons have, by far, the worst linebackers in the NFC South. Wasserman ranked the other three teams in the division at least in the top half of the league. The New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were both in the top 10.
The Philadelphia Eagles, who lost two starting linebackers in free agency, and the Los Angeles Rams, who saw Bobby Wagner return to Seattle, were the only NFC clubs ranked lower than Atlanta on Wasserman’s linebackers list.
Two free agency additions, though, could change how the Falcons linebackers look by the end of 2023.
General manager Terry Fontenot signed Kaden Elliss to a three-year, $21.5 million contract. Even Wasserman admitted Elliss was excellent last season.
He broke out with 78 combined tackles, including 7 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. The challenge for Elliss will be to repeat those statistics and even build on them in 2023.
The Falcons also signed outside linebacker Bud Dupree. Wasserman didn’t mention him, but he should play outside linebacker in Atlanta’s 3-4 base defense.
Dupree was once a double-digit sack candidate with the Pittsburgh Steelers. But he hasn’t been the same since tearing an ACL during the 2020 season.
He’s only played 17 games over the past two seasons. In those games, he recorded 7 sacks with 8 tackles for loss and 17 quarterback hits.
Dupree is a reclamation project, but if he recaptures some of his pre-injury form, the Falcons’ linebackers will be a lot better than advertised.
Atlanta developing drafted linebackers Mykal Walker and Troy Andersen would help the unit too.
Walker is entering his fourth season since being a fourth-round pick in 2020. He posted a career-high 107 combined tackles, including 4 for loss in 2022.
Andersen had 69 combined tackles, including 3 tackles for loss and 3 quarterback hits as a rookie last year. The Falcons drafted him in the second round of the 2022 NFL draft.