The Falcons don’t have many question marks surrounding its defense. Atlanta went out and bolstered every level in free agency, adding impact defenders along the front, second level, and secondary.
Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, Eddie Goldman, Bud Dupree, and Lorenzo Carter were added to the front. Jessie Bates III, Mike Hughes, and Jeff Okudah join the backend of the defense. The most interesting acquisition and position group on this side of the ball is Kaden Elliss and the linebacker unit.
Elliss has been a reserve player, contributing primarily on special teams over his first three seasons, but he experienced a coming-out party last year, posting 68 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles, and two pass deflections. Now, he’ll have a full-time role in Atlanta next to former second-round pick Troy Andersen.
It’s a somewhat unproven group. Though Elliss burst on the scene in 2022, his track record isn’t extensive, and Andersen struggled mightily during his rookie campaign. It’s an athletic pair that can be effective, but it’s something to monitor all season.
Atlanta’s linebackers struggled across the board in 2022. Their primary solution will be to take a chance on 2022 breakout Kaden Elliss, who was excellent last season for the Saints, posting an 81.5 overall grade. He offers value off the ball and on the edge and was terrific down the stretch as his usage increased. From Week 10 through 18, Elliss led all linebackers in overall grade (89.8), pressures (17) and sacks (6).
Several young players will compete for playing time alongside Elliss. Mykal Walker struggled to a 58.7 overall grade in his first year in a starting role. He’s shown flashes in coverage, as evidenced by his two interceptions and four pass breakups last season, but he needs to find consistency.
Second-round rookie Troy Andersen is a raw player who would have benefitted from a lesser role. He particularly struggled in coverage, giving up a 94.4% completion percentage that was the worst mark among all linebackers with at least 20 targets in coverage. He has all the tools but also has a ton of learning to do.
This is by far the weakest link on the Falcons’ defense, but it has the potential to be a difference-making group. The pair of Andersen and Elliss are athletic enough to be three-down linebackers. Elliss’ versatility is notable and should give Ryan Nielsen a chess piece to move all over the field. Andersen’s growth is the most important factor in this group reaching that potential.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire