Starting Nose Tackle: Paul Soliai
To be honest, the future looks bright for the defensive tackles in Atlanta. Paul Soliai is the main veteran that is a run-stopper. Being double-teamed for most of his career, Soliai helps create holes for his teammates. He is a guy with a high football IQ and will do whatever is necessary to help his team. He was picked up as a free agent by the Falcons last year, and although he did not fill up the stat sheet, he was one of the few positive spots after the 2014 season. Soliai will never get double-digit sacks in his career, but he is a defensive lineman opposing teams have to game-plan against, especially when it comes to the run game.
Starting Defensive Tackle: Jonathan Babineaux
Coming into the 2015 season, Jonathan Babineaux will be putting on a Falcons helmet for the 11th year of his football career. While Babineaux is aging, his veteran experience and play are the key factor in him starting. It will be between him and Ra’Shede Hageman, but I see Babineaux being the “starter”. Now although I have Babineaux here, I still think Atlanta’s defensive line will alternate in different situations. People have been critical of Babineaux in the past few years, and they do have a case. He tends to get into the backfield at different times of the game, which scouts look for in defensive linemen, but he has a lot of missed tackles or overruns the play. ProFootballFocus.com had Babineaux ranked 28th out of 81 defensive tackles rated in the NFL. He is also a very underrated pass-rusher for his position, as the 11-year veteran had 34 quarterback hurries in 2014. Like I said though, expect Atlanta’s coaches to alternate the defensive tackles in different personnel situations.
Backups: Ra’Shede Hageman, Grady Jarrett
This is a position that Falcons fans can be excited about headed into the 2015 season. Seeing the incredible flashes Hageman had in his 2014 campaign is hard not to be excited about. His highest snap count in a game was 24, which was Atlanta’s last game against Carolina, meaning he had few opportunities in his rookie year to impress. Not only did Hageman contribute on the defense, but he also had three blocked kicks in 2014. He has never started a game in his young NFL career, but do not be surprised if he is starting sometime in 2015. The Falcons also have their 2015 fifth-round selection in Grady Jarrett. Although Jarrett has never played a down in the NFL, he can learn and be a solid contributor in his rookie year. He will gain a vast amount of knowledge from veterans such as Soliai and Babineaux, and then from a second-year player in Hageman. Atlanta has the two veterans starting in my opinion, but they will have some young fresh legs rotating in and creating penetration throughout each game.