2011 Falcons Roster Breakdown: Rookies Julio Jones, Jacquizz Rodgers Must Contribute

A position-by-position breakdown of the Falcons' current roster, pending free agency, that will be updated weekly. The breakdown includes departures, arrivals, and what to expect from players in 2011.

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2011 Falcons Roster Breakdown: Eric Weems And Special Teams

 Under the Dimitroff era, special teams has received a much-needed facelift. With the Falcons hopefully establishing some stability with the emergence of Eric Weems, lets take a look at Atlanta's special teams unit.

Projected Depth Chart:

KICKER:
Matt Bryant

PUNTER:
Matt Bosher

KICK RETURN/PUNT RETURN:
1. Eric Weems
2. Harry Douglas

LONG SNAPPER:
Joe Zelenka

Departures:
As I've said before
, there really isn't much of a chance that the Falcons re-sign Michael Koenen. Though he was good at keeping his punts inside the 20, his yards-per-punt average has been on the decline in recent years. Koenen's punts aren't getting the distance the Falcons need, and that's essentially half of his job.

Arrivals:
Matt Bosher, the sixth round pick out of Miami. He has experience handling both placekicking a punting duties, but my guess is that he takes over for Koenen and also on kickoff squad duties. As far as his ability, he seems to be the opposite of Koenen in that he has a strong leg, but lacks in accuracy. Fortunately, the latter is more coachable.

Outlook:
Beyond the likelihood of a new punter, the special teams unit looks to be the same. Special teams extraordinaire Eric Weems proved himself to a be great as a return man and on kickoff coverage, earning his first career Pro Bowl selection in 2010. A healthy Harry Douglas will most likely be the teams second-string return specialist.

Matt Bryant was great for the Falcons last year, nailing 28 of 31 FG attempts, and should definitely be back next season assuming the team resigns him. Joe Zelenka should also be back as the team's long-snapper.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic.

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2011 Falcons Roster Breakdown: Secondary Has Plenty Of Young Talent

It's pretty amazing how much the secondary has transformed in just a short amount of time. What was an area of weakness for the Falcons only a couple of seasons ago now has become a great secondary with several promising players. If the Falcons can improve their pass rush, expect these guys to be the ones who profit.


Projected Depth Chart:

LEFT CORNERBACK:
1. Brent Grimes
2. Chris Owens

STRONG SAFETY
1. Williams Moore
2. Rafael Bush

FREE SAFETY
1. Thomas DeCoud
2. Schann Schillinger

RIGHT CORNERBACK
1. Dunta Robinson
2. Dominique Franks

Departures:
Luckily most of the secondary is under contract for at least the next couple of seasons. Grimes is a restricted free agent, but I'm willing to bet all of my money (not alot) that he will be back next season. However, if the Falcons want to keep him long term, it would probably be best to work out the big extension he's due this season.

The only guy who is likely gone is veteran CB Brian Williams, who as I've said earlier is almost guaranteed to be gone. Williams was a solid guy when we signed him, but now that the Falcons have two legitimate starters there's really no need for him.

Arrivals:
As of this point, the Falcons only have four cornerbacks on the roster, but I expect that to change. The Falcons could definitely use a veteran guy to supplement the position, and one could easily be signed via free agency.

There's also a slight possibility that the Falcons look for another backup safety as well. Schillinger and Bush aren't exactly prepared to start a game should one of DeCoud/Moore get injured, so it couldn't hurt to sign another vet for insurance.

Better yet (and this would be a very Dimitroff-esque move), the Falcons could simply sign someone versatile enough to play both safety and corner. Free agent DB Danieal Manning could be a great option, having played at both nickelback and free safety for the Bears over the last couple season.

Outlook:
In 2010, Grimes' fantastic play locked himself in as the team's top CB, and he also established himself as a top-10 player at his position. I see no reason why he won't continue to play at a high level, and hopefully this is a guy who'll be a Falcon for a long time.

Opposite of Grimes, the Falcons have Robinson, who came over via free agency after signing a six-year, $57 million contract. He really was very consistent in his play, and the Falcons certainly missed him when he wasn't on the field (see: Eagles game, second half). For a No.2 corner, he's one of the better ones in the NFL.

Those two will be backed up by Owens and Franks. For Owens, 2011 will be a "put up or shut up" kind of year. He needs to show the team that he can at least handle nickelback duties. Franks, who I believe could surprise some and win the nickel spot, will continue to improve in his second year.

At safety, we have two great draft picks in DeCoud and Moore. DeCoud has been the more rounded, consistent of the two, and though his pass coverage is iffy at times he's still a quality starting free safety. He'll be backed up by Schillinger, the sixth-round pick out of Montana who served mostly as a special-teamer last year.

Then we come to Moore, who I absolutely love. Starting in his second season, he showed both his big-hit ability in the run game and his great instincts in defending the pass. Simply put, he's a playmaker who will only continue to improve with experience. Behind him is Rafael Bush, who spent most of 2010 on the practice squad. He's a very athletic, raw talent, but in my opinion he would be better on the practice squad for another year.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic.

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2011 Falcons Roster Breakdown: Weatherspoon Looks To Bounce Back In Sophomore Season

Last season, most would probably call linebacker a position of strength for the Falcons. The team ranked 10th in rushing defense, and allowed only nine touchdowns on the ground all of last season. In fact, the Falcons D as a whole was great in the red zone, ranking as the fifth-best scoring defense in the league.

As we head into 2011, Atlanta's linebackers are almost at the end of a gradual transition. When Mike Smith and company took over, the linebacking corps was headlined by longtime Falcon Keith Brooking, along with guys from the previous regime like Michael Boley and Demorrio Williams. Now, we find the next generation ready to take over the defense, hopefully for the long term.

Projected Depth Chart:

WEAKSIDE LINEBACKER:
1. Sean Weatherspoon
2. Spencer Adkins
3. Robert James

MIDDLE LINEBACKER:
1. Curtis Lofton
2. Coy Wire
3. Bear Woods

STRONGSIDE LINEBACKER:
1. Mike Peterson
2. Akeem Dent

Departures: 
The one guy the Falcons are likely to lose once free agency hits is fourth year OLB Stephen Nicholas, who will be unrestricted under the new deal. Nicholas, who started 11 games last season and served as a key contributor on the defense, has drawn the interest of several teams this offseason, including the Lions and Jaguars. Too expensive to keep as a backup, he'll likely end up as a starter for another team.

In addition, the wily vet Mike Peterson is also slated to become a free agent. With it unlikely that the Falcons are ready to have Akeem Dent become the full time starter right away, I expect the Falcons to re-sign Mo Pete for one more year, if only to keep him as a mentor for the young guys at linebacker.

New Arrivals:
In the third round of this year's draft, the Falcons traded up to get my boy, the University of Georgia's very own Akeem Dent. Personally, I love this pick. Although Dent started on the inside in the Dawgs' new 3-4 defense, he was primarily a strong side LB for his first three seasons under the ever-popular, ever-talented Willie Martinez. From that, we can reasonably assume he'll end up Mike Peterson's primary backup and eventual replacement.

Outlook:
The defense will once again be led by the chronically underrated Curtis Lofton, who led the team in tackles with 118. Outside of being a tackle machine, Lofton was also just a great playmaker. In 2010, he recorded three forced fumbles, 2.0 sacks, an INT, and three tackles for loss. Simply put, this is a guy the Falcons can count on week in and week out to be a consistent playmaker.

On the oustide, we have Weatherspoon and Peterson. Weatherspoon, who was hampered by an ankle injury for a good chunk of last year, will have a chance to rebound from a relatively disappointing rookie season. As he slowly becomes more acclimated to the NFL, I think we'll see him improve in some big ways in 2011.

Opposite of Weatherspoon, we have the ageless wonder Peterson, who despite becoming somewhat of a liability in the passing game was his typical bruising self against the run. Whether he still has enough gas left in the tank to be a viable starter for a full season remains to be seen, but should Peterson falter Dent will always be waiting in the wings to take over.

As far as backups are concerned, the Falcons are happy to have special teams captain Coy Wire returning for another season with the team. Miami product Spencer Adkins and ASU product Robert James also look to be special teams contributors. Finally, we have the absolutely terrifying Bear Woods, who spent the year on the practice squad and was resigned pre-lockout. Naturally he's raw, but has alot of promise (and hair).

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic.

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2011 Falcons Roster Breakdown: John Abraham Needs Help On Defensive Line

As we move to the defensive side of the ball in this roster breakdown, you'll start noticing some potential problem areas or positions that lack depth. For the 2010 Falcons, producing a consistent pass rush week in and week out became somewhat of a struggle.

The Falcons ranked No. 22 in pass defense, along with being tied for No. 20 in sacks with 31. Of those 31 sacks, John Abraham had 13. Clearly the Falcons either need to find a pass-rushing partner for Abe via free agency, or else hope that someone like Biermann or Sidbury steps up their play in 2011.

Projected Depth Chart:

RIGHT DEFENSIVE END:
1. John Abraham
2. Lawrency Sidbury
3. Cliff Matthews

DEFENSIVE TACKLE:
1. Jonathan Babineaux
2. Jamaal Anderson
3. Vance Walker

DEFENSIVE TACKLE:
1. Corey Peters
2. Peria Jerry

LEFT DEFENSIVE END:
1. **Free Agent Signing**
2. Kroy Biermann
3. Chauncey Davis

Sure, 11 defensive linemen is a big number, but remember that Mike Smith is a huge fan of rotating defensive linemen to keep them fresh. The Falcons usually carry a high number.

Departures:  None. The defensive line will not be losing anyone from the 2010 squad. However, it is worth noting that Abraham, Biermann, and Anderson will all be free agents in 2012. Hopefully the Falcons will have found Abe's successor before then.

New Arrivals:  The Falcons picked up Cliff Matthews in the seventh round of this year's draft. Known for being an extremely hard working, high-effort player, Matthews is basically a "project" pick. He may develop into something more down the road, but for now he is simply depth at DE.

Beyond that, there have already been several reports of the Falcons targeting free agent DE Ray Edwards, who has made it very clear that he does not want to return to Minnesota. Besides Edwards, the free agent crop of defensive ends also includes UGA product Charles Johnson, who quietly recorded 12.0 sacks in 2010.

In addition, there have also been rumors of the Giants trading Osi Umenyiora, who is unhappy with his situation. Regardless, I hope and expect the Falcons to have signed another DE once free agency finally rolls around.

Outlook:  Hopefully, the Falcons will find another effective pass rusher one way or another. Abe is 33 years old, and not getting any younger. Although I would absolutely love to see it, I would be very surprised if he matched his 2010 production.

However, there certainly are guys on the roster who have the potential to take some big steps forward in 2011. Kroy Biermann, while he only posted three sacks, actually performed much better than his numbers would indicate. 2009 fourth-round draft pick Lawrence Sidbury also is a guy who has the potential to make some contributions to the teams pass rush.

Moving to the inside, the Falcons got some great play out of defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux, who was a Pro Bowl snub in the eyes of many, and rookie Corey Peters. Peters, who got a majority of the snaps at D-tackle opposite of Babineaux, really stepped it up for the Falcons last season.

This is mostly because 2009 first round pick Peria Jerry was still limited by an ACL tear last season. It's often said that it really takes two years to fully recover from an ACL tear, so expect Jerry to receive more playing time in 2011.

Anderson is fortunately in the last year of his *wince* five year, $30 million contract. With so many DE's vying for playing time, Anderson will most likely spend more time at D-tackle this season, as his ability to defend to run is much better than his pass-rushing prowess.

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2011 Falcons Roster Breakdown: Offensive Line Still Ruled By Uncertainty

When you have an upper echelon rushing attack going for three years straight, the offensive line deserves just as much, if not more, credit than the running back. This is certainly true of the Falcons' linemen, who have been the glue that has held our offense together under Mike Smith.

Projected Depth Chart:

LEFT TACKLE:
1. Sam Baker
2. Will Svitek

LEFT GUARD
1. Justin Blalock
2. Jose Valdez

CENTER
1. Todd McClure
2. Joe Hawley

RIGHT GUARD
1. Mike Johnson
2. Andrew Jackson

RIGHT TACKLE
1. Tyson Clabo
2. Garrett Reynolds

Departures:  With free agency still in standby mode, the Falcons currently have three starters on the O-line that could potentially all walk during free agency: Clabo, Dahl, and Blalock. With several recent draft picks eagerly awaiting their chance to earn a starting spot on the line, don't expect the Falcons to keep all three.

Clabo is coming off of a Pro Bowl year at right tackle, and is currently the best guy on the line, so he will likely stay. Dahl, who's developed a reputation as a bruising run blocker, has been a solid force along the O-line for a few years now. However, even though he's a carry over from the previous regime, Blalock has been a chronically underrated lineman for the Falcons, and could most likely be kept at a cheaper price. That leaves Dahl as the man I expect to walk this offseason.

New Arrivals:  The only new addition thus far is sixth round pick OG Andrew Jackson out of Fresno State. Known to be a guy with a mean streak similar to Dahl, he'll give the Falcons some great depth at guard and could potentially start down the road.

Outlook:  Although potential new free agency rules have left matter up in the air for the time being, the offensive line will likely stay relatively intact. 

Sam Baker will once again lead the way at left tackle. While the 2008 first-round pick hasn't been spectacular, he has still been an above average blindside blocker for Matt Ryan. Look for him to stick around.

Also returning is longtime center Todd McClure, who is likely in his last season with the Falcons. He's already up there in years, and with 2010 fourth-round pick Joe Hawley most likely taking over the starting role in 2012, expect the Falcons to wish him well on what has been a great NFL career.

If my predictions hold true and Dahl does indeed walk, expect 2010 third-round selection Mike Johnson to take over the spot at right guard. Johnson is versatile lineman, so although he did not play RG in college, he has the capability to play wherever the Falcons will need him to in 2011.

The O-line will be further bolstered by the likes of Will Svitek, Garrett Reynolds, and Jose Valdez. Valdez, who spent his time on the practice squad all of last season, is possibly the most interesting because he was predicted to start at right tackle by D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC. A 6'6, 324 offensive tackle out of Arkansas, he also has the versatility to play both tackle and guard, and will provide great depth along the entire line.

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2011 Falcons Roster Breakdown: Julio Jones Is The Key At Wide Receiver

Throughout 2010, Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense constantly relied on Roddy White's ability to get open throughout the season. In fact, Roddy became a model of consistency as he caught at least five passes in 14 games last season. He would ultimately amass 115 catches, 1389 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns.

However, one could also make the point the offense was too dependent on White. White was Ryan's only legitimate deep threat, and was double-covered by opposing defenses accordingly. The over-reliance on White became painfully aware to Falcons fans in the playoff loss to Green Bay. The Falcons, who run a fairly conservative offense under Mike Mularkey, simply didn't have the firepower to mount a comeback. We lacked a deep threat guy.

Enter GM Thomas Dimitroff. The Falcons pull off a blockbuster deal to acquire Alabama WR Julio Jones in exchange for five draft picks to give Ryan yet another playmaker. The result is a depth chart shake-up at the wide receiver position.

Projected Depth Chart
(Player: College, Years of Experience)

Wide Receiver:

1. Roddy White:  UAB, 6 yrs
2. Julio Jones:  Alabama, rookie
3. Michael Jenkins:  Ohio State, 7 yrs
4. Harry Douglas:  Louisville, 3 yrs
5. Eric Weems:  Bethune-Cookman, 4 yrs
6. Kerry Meier:  Kansas, 1 yr

Tight End:

1. Tony Gonzalez:  California, 15 yrs
2. Justin Peelle:  Oregon, 10 yrs
3. Michael Palmer:  Clemson, 1 yr

Departures: Brian Finneran will part ways with Falcons after ten years of service with the team in order to make room for some of the younger talent on the roster. Expect everyone else to stay on the roster at least for the 2011 season.

New Arrivals: Julio Jones, of course! JJ11 will be given every opportunity to make plays in 2011, and hopefully will prove to be that one missing piece our offense has been lacking.

Outlook: Roddy White, he of the four consecutive 1000+ yard seasons, will obviously still be the main threat at wideout. The front offense seems to have faith in Jones, and I fully expect him to start week 1. Jenkins, who has always been solid but unspectacular, will be a much better fit at the No. 3 spot. However, if Harry Douglas can get back to the level he was at pre-injury, we could see Douglas jump Jenkins by year's end.

The receiving corps will be rounded out by kick-returns specialist Eric Weems and 2010 rookie Kerry Meier, whose season was cut short due to a knee injury. Expect Meier to fulfill the "Finneran role" of special teams coverage and possession specialist.

Tight end, on the other hand, will remain exactly the same. Hall of Fame shoe-in Tony Gonzalez will start in 2011, his third season in Atlanta. Many speculate that this could be his last year in the NFL, but although he's up in years Gonzalez remains a top-10 option at tight end in the eyes of many. Veteran backup Justin Peelle will be the primary backup and blocking specialist, with Clemson product Michael Palmer rounding out the depth chart.

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2011 Falcons Roster Breakdown: Michael Turner And Jacquizz Rodgers Will Be A Dangerous One-Two Punch

For the past decade, the Falcons' offensive successes have almost always been a product of a great ground game, and 2010 was no exception. The Falcons' rushing attack ranked 12th in the NFL and will be led once again by Michael Turner, who posted 1371 yards and 12 rush TD's on the year. The numbers aren't mind blowing, but with the offensive reliance on the passing game steadily increasing this shouldn't be too concerning.

However, make no mistake: even though Matt Ryan had a stellar year at QB for the team, still expect offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey to remain committed to the ground game. It's worth noting that since hiring Mularkey in 2008, the team has ranked 2nd, 11th, and 5th in team rushing attempts.

Projected Depth Chart:
(Player:  College, Years of Experience)

Halfback:
1. Michael Turner:  Northern Illinois, 7 yrs
2. Jacquizz Rodgers:  Oregon State, rookie
3. Jason Snelling:  Virginia, 4 yrs
4. Antone Smith:  Florida State, 2 yrs
5. Gartrell Johnson:  Colorado State, 2 yrs

Fullback:
1. Ovie Mughelli:  Wake Forest, 8yrs
2. Jason Snelling:  Virginia, 4 yrs

 

Departures:  Jason Snelling will most likely be given unrestricted free agent status once the lockout ends, and it seems to be pretty clear that he wants to test the market in the hopes of starting for another team in 2011. It would be nice if the Falcons could keep him, as Snelling is a guy who is quite versatile, but his asking price will probably be too high.

New Arrivals:  Jacquizz Rodgers, who was selected in the 5th Round of this year's NFL Draft. Rodgers is small, even for a running back, listed at 5'6 and 196. But Rodgers' forte is being a very quick and shifty runner, and he provides the Falcons offense with the perfect complement to Michael Turner.

What To Expect in 2011:  Even with the drafting of Rodgers, expect Turner to still be the featured back in the Falcons offense. Rodgers will most likely serve as the main backup to Turner and as a change-of-pace back. Beyond that, in all likelihood the Falcons will only keep one more tailback on the 53-man roster for 2011, with either Antone Smith or Gartrell Johnson rounding out the list.

As far as fullback is concerned, Ovie Mughelli is still the no-doubt starter, and has been both a solid run-blocker and a great all aroud fullback during his tenure as an Atlanta Falcon.

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2011 Atlanta Falcons Roster Breakdown: As Matt Ryan Goes, So Goes Atlanta

As NFL fans, we live in some trying times. Time and again, both NFL owners and players have left us scratching our heads, wondering what- if anything- will happen in 2011. We live in dark times football fans, but I promise there is light at the end of the tunnel!

In the spirit of New York Giants owner John Mara's open letter to all fans entitled "Time To Get Back To Football," at this point it's in our best interest as fans to at least attempt to do just that. What better way to fight the offseason blues and build our hopes up for next season than to examine the current Falcons roster?

Since we are in 2011, which has been christened "Year of the Quarterback" by ESPN for reasons unknown, I feel it is appropriate to start with quarterbacks in this position-by-position roster breakdown.

Projected Depth Chart:
(Player: College, Years of Experience)

1. Matt Ryan: Boston College, 3 yrs
2. Chris Redman: Louisville, 8 yrs
3. John Parker Wilson: Alabama, 2 yrs

Departures: None. Matt Ryan isn't slated to become a free agent until the 2014 season, while both Redman and Wilson will be free agents come next offseason.

New Arrivals: None thus far. However, the Falcons, as with every other team in the NFL, are not yet allowed to sign any sort of free agents, undrafted rookies or otherwise. Redman has proven himself to be a capable backup QB in recent years. 

Whether the Falcons are satisfied with Wilson as the No. 3 QB or are looking to give someone else the opportunity remains to be seen. I could easily see the Falcons getting an undrafted free agent like Pat Devlin out of Delaware or Adam Froman, another Louisville product.

What we can expect in 2011: The Falcon's own Pro Bowl QB and rising superstar Matt Ryan will look to lead an offense, recently bolstered by rookies Julio Jones and Jacquizz Rodgers, to a Superbowl victory in 2011. Ryan took some big steps forward in 2010, posting career highs in virtually every passing statistic (passing yards, passing TD's, completion percentage, and QB rating to name a few).

He also showed improved decision making, throwing only nine interceptions while also throwing 120 more passing attempts than in 2009. He has established himself as the unquestioned leader of the offense, and has proven himself to be the franchise QB we all hoped he would become.

Also expect the servicable veteran Chris Redman to continue being Ryan's primary backup, with John Parker Wilson likely remaining the third stringer for 2011.

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