Linebacker is a weird spot. The Falcons have a lot of need at the position, but you don’t want to overpay. Still, Atlanta needs help and may have to dish out some cap space. This is actually a pretty good class for the position. If you missed my 2023 Offseason Overhaul series, where I went through and spent Atlanta’s cap space in my own perfect world, those are linked below.
- Falcons 2023 Offseason Overhaul: Quarterback
- Falcons 2023 Offseason Overhaul: Running Back
- Falcons 2023 Offseason Overhaul: Wide Receiver
- Falcons 2023 Offseason Overhaul: Tight End
- Falcons 2023 Offseason Overhaul: Offensive Line
- Falcons 2023 Offseason Overhaul: Defensive Line
- Falcons 2023 Offseason Overhaul: EDGE
- Falcons 2023 Offseason Overhaul: Linebacker
- Falcons 2023 Offseason Overhaul: Cornerback
- Falcons 2023 Offseason Overhaul: Safeties & Special Teams
I’ll be ranking these guys considering things like cost and overall scheme fit, as well as if they would be brought in as a starter or reserve. Previous Editions are listed below:
- Falcons 2023 Free Agent Big Board: Quarterback
- Falcons 2023 Free Agent Big Board: Running Backs
- Falcons 2023 Free Agent Big Board: Wide Receiver
- Falcons 2023 Free Agent Big Board: Tight End
- Falcons 2023 Free Agent Big Board: Offensive Line
- Falcons 2023 Free Agent Big Board: Defensive Line
- Falcons 2023 Free Agent Big Board: EDGE
*NOTE*: At the time that I am writing this, the Falcons have not hired a new defensive coordinator. I don’t know what the scheme will be, so I’ll lean toward their previous defensive scheme under Dean Pees, but I’ll consider other options.
Falcons Free Agent Targets:
14. Jarrad Davis — New York Giants
The former Florida Gator was praised for his athleticism coming out of college, but injuries have limited him recently. He’s a very interesting buy-low candidate at the position.
2022 Stats: 14 Total Tackles, 1 Tackle for Loss, 0.5 Sack
13. Devin Bush — Pittsburgh Steelers
The former first-round pick has had an up-and-down career, but he still has a ton of upside as a true leader in the middle of a defense. He’s only 24, but his role with the Steelers was limited in 2022. I still like him as a buy-low guy.
2022 Stats: 81 Total Tackles, 2 Tackles for Loss
12. Cory Littleton — Carolina Panthers
Littleton was a really solid all-around player for the Panthers, and he’s the type of veteran you can bring in to stabilize a shaky group. He doesn’t do anything exceptionally, but he’s very well-rounded.
2022 Stats: 47 Total Tackles, 1 Tackle for Loss, 0.5 Sack
11. Leighton Vander Esch — Dallas Cowboys
Once looked to be slated for a huge payday, injuries have bugged Vander Esch at pretty inopportune times. He was solid in Dan Quinn’s defense in 2022, so he’s worth a look here.
2022 Stats: 90 Total Tackles, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 Sack
10. Azeez Al-Shaair — San Francisco 49ers
Although he played limited snaps in DeMeco Ryans‘ defense, Al-Shaair was a valuable piece of a very good 49ers defense. 366 snaps is a small sample size, but he’s a great run defender and blitzer at the position.
2022 Stats: 44 Total Tackles, 1 Tackle for Loss
9. Anthony Walker Jr. — Cleveland Browns
Another guy limited by injuries, Walker is still one of the better coverage linebackers in the NFL when he’s healthy. His health is a big question mark; he’s been limited to nine games over the past two seasons after missing only six games over his first four seasons.
2022 Stats: 13 Total Tackles, 4 Tackles for Loss
8. Bobby Okereke — Indianapolis Colts
One of the more underrated players in the NFL, Okereke may get a huge payday in the Spring. He excels as a run defender and is serviceable in coverage — something the Falcons could really use. At his price point? I would probably roll the dice on his teammate, who we’ll get to shortly.
2022 Stats: 151 Total Tackles, 6 Tackles for Loss, 2 Forced Fumbles
7. EJ Speed — Indianapolis Colts
Speed only played 316 snaps this past season, but he impressed in limited action. He’s a great buy-low candidate, which is supposed to be Terry Fontenot’s specialty. He did everything well for the Colts, but if he has a weakness, it’s in coverage. He can’t be your only signing, but he would be a great one.
2022 Stats: 63 Total Tackles, 7 Tackles for Loss, 2 Forced Fumbles, 1 Sack
6. Denzel Perryman — Las Vegas Raiders
Perryman really established himself in Vegas after a few up-and-down seasons and looks primed for a solid payday. He is a fantastic run defender and even snagged a few interceptions in 2022.
2022 Stats: 83 Total Tackles, 14 Tackles for Loss, 2 Interceptions, 1 Sack
5. Lavonte David — Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If we’re talking talent, David is probably near the top of this list. However, he’s 33 and will likely still command a huge payday. If the Falcons manage to land Lamar Jackson, he’s a name I’d move closer to the top of this list. Right now, I’m not sure he fits the timeline. If he does end up fitting the timeline, he’s one of the best linebackers in the NFL and can really boost this Falcons defense.
2022 Stats: 124 Total Tackles, 10 Tackles for Loss, 1 Forced Fumble, 3 Sacks
4. Germaine Pratt — Cincinnati Bengals
One of the best players on a very good Bengals defense at 26 years old, Pratt can truly do it all. He’s a serviceable run defender, but he can get after the quarterback and excels in coverage. He is a fantastic option for the Falcons.
2022 Stats: 99 Total Tackles, 6 Tackles for Loss, 2 Interceptions, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 Sack
3. Tremaine Edmunds — Buffalo Bills
Once known as being the second youngest player to be drafted into the NFL at 19 years old, the now 24-year-old Edmunds is hitting the market — and is likely to get a big payday. Even at 6’5 and 250 pounds, he’s one of the best coverage linebackers in the entire NFL. He would be an imposing piece for which the Falcons would have to pay a hefty price.
2022 Stats: 102 Total Tackles, 6 Tackles for Loss, 1 Interception, 1 Sack
2. David Long — Tennessee Titans
In my offseason overhaul series, I had the Falcons picking up Long. I think he’s the best combination of talent and potential price tag. Plus, he should have some familiarity with Arthur Smith. Long is a rangy linebacker that can really stuff the run, which is exactly what the Falcons need. However, I don’t have him first. I think the next guy is genuinely worth a bag.
2022 Stats: 86 Total Tackles, 7 Tackles for Loss, 2 Interceptions
1. T.J. Edwards — Philadelphia Eagles
One of the breakout stars of the best defense in the NFL, Edwards was one of my big targets for Atlanta in the 2019 NFL Draft (along with his Wisconsin teammate TJ Watt). Edwards is the leader of a defense that gave up the fewest amount of yards in the NFL and totaled 70 sacks. He really has no weaknesses as a player. If Atlanta is going to throw somebody a bag, it should be Edwards, who’s only 26 this offseason.
2022 Stats: 159 Total Tackles, 10 Tackles for Loss, 2 Sacks
What Falcons free agent targets did I miss?
Photographer: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire
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