On the Falcons’ defense, special teams — Who should stay or go?

Atlanta Falcons have nearly a dozen free agents on defense following the 2020 season.

Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees coached Pro Football Hall of Famers in linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed while with the Baltimore Ravens.

He’s also coached an elite pass rusher in Terrell Suggs (139 career sacks) and spent time as Bill Belichick’s defensive coordinator in New England.

So when studying the Falcons’ defensive roster from last season, he knows what he’s looking at.

“These guys run to the ball, and they can run,” Pees said. “That’s the first thing that I looked at. I don’t care about what they did scheme-wise. ... I know this, they can run and they can hit, and I love that.”

ExploreRate the Falcons’ 2020 offense

One game stood out in particular for Pees.

“They looked pretty dadgum good against Kansas City, now,” Pees said. “They played as good as anybody has against them. So, that’s what we are going to pull for. That’s the stuff that we are going to build on right there. We don’t need to build on something else. We’re going to build on that performance and how they played right there.”

The Falcons’ pass defense allowed 293.6 yards per game, which ranked last in the NFL in 2020. The run defense ranked sixth by allowing 104.8 rushing yards per game because teams didn’t have to run.

Here’s a look at every player on the Falcons’ defensive roster, with beat writer D. Orlando Ledbetter’s opinion on whether the player should stay or go:

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE ENDS

Allen Bailey: Go

Steady veteran added some muscle to the front, but the team must get more of a pass rush.

Dante Fowler: Stay

Let’s see what he can do in the new scheme. Last season was a wash after he tried to play on a high-ankle sprain.

Charles Harris (UFA): Go

He flashed early and then faded.

Steven Means (UFA): Stay

Plays the edge tough and will be valuable during the transition to a 3-4 defense.

Jacob Tuioti-Mariner: Go

Had a big game against the Raiders, but wasn’t able to build on it.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) is sacked by Atlanta Falcons defensive end Allen Bailey (left) and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett in the first half Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in New Orleans. (Butch Dill/AP)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) is sacked by Atlanta Falcons defensive end Allen Bailey (left) and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett in the first half Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in New Orleans. (Butch Dill/AP)

Credit: Butch Dill

Credit: Butch Dill

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

Tyeler Davison: Stay

Stout defender in the trenches. He probably can add 10 pounds and play some nose tackle in the 3-4.

Marlon Davidson: Stay

Team has to figure out if he can play. He wasted his rookie season and couldn’t get on the field. Lost trust of the former coaches after he got COVID-19, and it almost knocked out the entire unit and coaching staff. He can play defensive end in the 3-4.

John Cominsky: Stay

Let’s see if Pees can find a role for him. Rushing inside as a tackle in passing situations hasn’t worked thus far. Cominsky did not distinguish himself over 398 snaps as he had 28 tackles, a sack and five quarterback hits.

Grady Jarrett: Stay

Made it to the Pro Bowl for his second consecutive season. Pees will build the line around him.

Deadrin Senat: Go

A former third-round pick who couldn’t make it onto the field over the past two seasons.

112920 ATLANTA: The Las Vegas Raiders bench looks on as Falcons linebacker Deion Jones intercepts a Derek Carr pass and returns it for a touchdown during the third quarter Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Falcons beat the Raiders 43-6.   (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
112920 ATLANTA: The Las Vegas Raiders bench looks on as Falcons linebacker Deion Jones intercepts a Derek Carr pass and returns it for a touchdown during the third quarter Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Falcons beat the Raiders 43-6. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

LINEBACKERS

Deion Jones: Stay

Jones was used more as a blitzer and led the team with 4.5 sacks. He also covered running backs out of the backfield.

Foye Oluokun: Stay

After two seasons as a backup, he stepped into the lineup and led the team in tackles with 116.

LaRoy Reynolds (UFA): Go

Helped on special teams, but an upgrade is needed.

Edmond Robinson (UFA): Go

Was steady in a limited role, but youth needed at the position.

Mykal Walker: Stay

Walker played 386 defensive snaps (36%) as a rookie and had 40 tackles and two quarterback hits. He’s a definite keeper.

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill breaks away from Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill breaks away from Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

CORNERBACKS

Darqueze Dennard (UFA): Stay

Veteran was a stud when healthy. Team has to figure out a way to keep him.

Tyler Hall: Go

Get him some more seasoning on the practice squad if you think he can be a player.

Isaiah Oliver: Stay

Move him to safety. He looked good playing nickel back, but was lost outside at cornerback.

Kendall Sheffield: Stay

Had a horrible season when the Falcons were counting on him to step up and be the No. 2 corner. For a player with his speed, he got beat too often. Normally, your instincts don’t get better, but maybe the new coaches can turn him into a player. Teams completed 72.9% of their passes when throwing at Sheffield and quarterbacks had a 119.1 passer rating.

A.J. Terrell: Stay

He had a strong rookie season that saw him traveling with some of the top receivers in the league. His completion percentage allowed was 67%, as he gave up six touchdowns and had a passing rating allowed of 109.6.

Blidi Wreh-Wilson (UFA): Stay

Dependable backup who has a nose for the ball. Let him compete for the nickel spot. Led the team with three interceptions.

Atlanta Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen (37) intercepts a pass that was intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Scott Miller (10) Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (Jason Behnken/AP)
Atlanta Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen (37) intercepts a pass that was intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Scott Miller (10) Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (Jason Behnken/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

SAFETIES

Ricardo Allen: Stay

Keep him around to help with the transition. He’ll be able to teach things to the unit, but likely will have to take a pay cut or have his contract re-structured. The salary-cap strapped Falcons could save $6.25 million by releasing Allen.

Keanu Neal (UFA): Go

They really need to find some cash for Neal, but he’ll command much more on the open market.

Sharrod Neasman (UFA): Stay

Special-teams player who can help you through rough spots if a starter goes down for a few games. Depth is important.

Jaylinn Hawkins: Stay

He looked good in spot duty before getting hurt.

Damontae Kazee (UFA): Go

He’s coming back from an Achilles injury, but still should have a robust free-agent market.

Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo (7) celebrates his 21-yard field goal with Sterling Hofrichter (4) against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Bruce Kluckhohn/AP)
Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo (7) celebrates his 21-yard field goal with Sterling Hofrichter (4) against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Bruce Kluckhohn/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

SPECIAL TEAMS

Younghoe Koo, K (UFA): Stay

He made 37 of 39 field-goal attempts, including 4 of 4 from 50 yards or more. Was named to his first Pro Bowl.

Sterling Hofrichter, P: Stay

Averaged 42.5 yards on 56 punts. Also had 16 touchbacks on 22 kickoffs (72.7%).

Josh Harris, LS: Stay

Steady veteran pinpoint snapper.

Falcons’ 2021 draft position:

In the Cincinnati Bengals media mock draft, writer Geoff Hobson pays tribute to former Yahoo Sports writer Terez Paylor, who died in his sleep Monday. D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution selected Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields for the Falcons with the fourth overall pick and Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the second round.

Top Five Picks

1. Jacksonville Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

2. New York Jets - Ja’ Marr Chase, WR, LSU

3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston) - DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

4. Falcons - Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

5. Cincinnati Bengals - Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

SECOND ROUND

35. Falcons - ILB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame

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