The Falcons lost several key contributors from the 2021 team. Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, and Lee Smith (don’t hate on the importance of the old school tight end) will no longer be suiting up for the team in 2022. Defensively, the attrition was less significant; however, one of the unit’s leaders did leave in free agency — Foye Oluokun.
On an overall lousy defense, the former Yale Bulldog was about the only sliver of decent play besides AJ Terrell. The loss of Oluokun, who signed with the Jaguars, resulted in Atlanta’s front office bringing in Rashaan Evans, Nick Kwiatkoski and Troy Anderson, who was drafted in the second round.
On paper, it should be a decent unit. Mykal Walker is returning with one year of experience under his belt in Dean Pees’ system. Evans is familiar with the scheme, given the time the two spent together in Tennessee. Kwiatkoski is a veteran who should be one of the better reserve players at his position. And Anderson is an athletic marvel.
However, Pro Football Focus isn’t as bullish on the Falcons’ linebacker core. In fact, PFF ranked the unit dead last in their league rankings.
After looking like he might be the next great linebacker earlier in his career, Deion Jones‘ play has fallen off a cliff. He might not even start this season. Rashaan Evans and Mykal Walker are solid players, though, and the team will hope that rookie Troy Andersen can make an early impact.
Did I forget to mention Deion Jones? Well, I’m sure many Falcons fans would like to forget him too. He’s been almost unplayable at times during the past couple of seasons, which is truly a fall from grace. Debo was once considered a top-five player at his position, rivaling Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner. But he’s a shell of himself. It may be injuries. It may be his disdain for the team. Regardless, his play warrants a trade or release.
The unit shouldn’t be the worst unit in the league by any means, but the outlook certainly isn’t inspiring. Jones is seemingly washed. Walker has never been a full-time starter. Evans’ fifth-year option was declined, which shows what the Titans organization thinks of him. Kwiatkoski will be five years removed from his best season at the start of 2022. And Anderson is probably a year away from assuming a full-time role.
I think PFF was a bit egregious, but the Falcons aren’t far off from the worst linebacker unit in football.
Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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