The Atlanta front office surprised many fans by letting several key players test free agency. One of those being the highly productive De’Vondre Campbell, who signed a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals with the potential of making up to $8.5 million this year. Replacing his production will not be easy, but the Falcons feel like they have the perfect replacement.
Deion Jones will obviously lead the defense and has started since being drafted out of LSU in 2016. He is the new breed of three-down linebackers that defensive coordinators covet so highly, possessing the ability to stop the run and defend the pass. Jones will see the highest percentage of snaps out of the linebackers this year and is absolutely worth building the defense around, which is why the Falcons signed him to a healthy extension last offseason.
Next to him will be Foye Oluokun, who has seen plenty of action over his first two seasons in the league. He is better in coverage than Campbell, and that is the leading reason for letting Campbell walk in free agency. Oluokun was a former safety at Yale and was converted to linebacker when drafted. He has the support of both the coaches and fellow players. Dan Quinn is quoted saying he wholeheartedly believes Oluokun is ready for a full-time starting role next to Deion Jones. Isaiah Oliver reinforced this narrative by pointing out that the public does not fully understand how good of an athlete he is. I fully expect the two starters to produce at a high level in both the run and pass game.
Like many other positions on the Atlanta roster, the depth is questionable at linebacker. If either of the two aforementioned starters were to go down, there would be a reason for concern. Rookie Mykal Walker will hopefully have the ability to ease into the defensive rotation as he is an exciting yet raw prospect. The Falcons view Walker a lot like they did De’Vondre Campbell when he was coming out of college. Both were considered athletic enough to succeed in the NFL but would need time to develop. If Walker is thrust into the starting rotation due to injury, his reaction would be almost impossible to predict.
There is a litany of other backups that are nothing more than roster fillers. The Falcons invested their first pick of day three this past NFL draft on Walker and must believe he will eventually slide into the rotation as a Will linebacker. This position is sometimes relied on to rush the passer, which Walker did in college occasionally. Fans should watch Jones and Oluokun with caution because if one gets hurt, there will be a considerable drop in talent for whichever replacement wins the backup spot in camp.
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