Linebackers are the leaders on defense on any football team. The Falcons linebackers who saw the most playing time last year were Paul Warrilow and Japlu Bartu. Warrilow had 143 total tackles, which ranked 5th for most tackles in the 2014 season. Even though that number is impressive, most of his tackles were past the line of scrimmage. Japlu Bartu is a good linebacker, but could only start on a handful of NFL teams. The Falcons have second-year player Prince Shembo on the roster as well, and he played very well for a 5th round draft pick. However, overall Atlanta is very weak at the linebacker position. With the Falcons switching to a 4-3 defense, here are some players I think could turn the position around.
1) Sean Weatherspoon
I do not normally side with injury-prone players, but Weatherspoon is a difference-maker on the field. His fire, passion, and intensity is hard to be matched, while his play can back up his talking. Weatherspoon played in only seven games in the past two seasons, which is demoralizing for a player that is so polished at his position. If Weatherspoon does not give Atlanta a home discount price, then we should probably let him walk. Brent Grimes was in the same position years ago, and he took the selfish route and demanded a lot of money when he was injured the year before. I trust ‘Spoon will want to come back to Atlanta though. At the “Will” linebacker, he plays ferociously and makes sure his defense knows what they are suppose to be doing. Weatherspoon is fearless and quick, which is a perfect match for his “Will” linebacker position. I believe the Falcons will give him a one-year deal worth $2.5 million as a “prove it” deal to see if he can make it through the 2015 campaign. If Sean Weatherspoon plays the entire or most of the 2015 season, he will make an immediate impact and be a difference maker.
2) Bruce Carter
As a Strongside linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys last year, Bruce Carter had a great season with very noticeable numbers. The most notable number for Carter was 5. He had 5 interceptions in the 2014 season, which was the most for linebackers and he was tied third for the most INTs in the NFL. Unlike current Atlanta linebackers, Carter knows how to create turnovers to get the ball back for his offense. Carter has been playing in the league for four years and has tremendous upside to his game. Dallas has a logjam of linebackers they need to resign, and Carter could be one of the guys to go. Carter is strong, athletic, and smart on the field as a “SAM” linebacker, and with the incredible amount of potential Carter carries, I would love to see him in a Falcon uniform.
3) Mason Foster
Mason Foster’s name has been flying under the radar throughout the period before free-agency begins. Paul Warrilow is the current Atlanta middle-linebacker (MLB), but he is being asked to do too much at his position. Foster was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers MLB the past four years. Foster missed 6 games in 2014 due to a shoulder injury, but he only missed one game in the three years prior to 2014. The 84th pick in the 2011 draft, Foster can help make a difference for the Falcons with his knowledge and athleticism. Having Foster and Warrilow rotating out would upgrade the Mike linebacker position and that is exactly what the Falcons need to do; upgrade.
Note: For everyone who wanted the Falcons to target Jets linebacker David Harris, he agreed to a 3-year deal with the New York Jets earlier today.