One of the few holdovers from the Bobby Prictrino-Rich McKay GM era, Stephen Nicholas has put in due time to become a full-time starter last year. He has all the physical tools (6’3, 230) and speed to become an excellent linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons. His first full year had some pretty decent results and definitely shows some major promise. He had 80 tackles, one forced fumbles, and 3 sacks on the season. In fact, he was the only linebacker able to rack up sacks and put pressure on the opposing QB. Nicholas notched 3 sacks, while Mike Peterson got one and Curtis Lofton recorded zero. The Falcons drafted Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and it seems as though the new #56 will make his way on the field sooner rather than later. Some believe that that Weatherspoon may be a better fit for a strongside linebacker, which would allow Nicholas to move back to his more natural weakside position, although his coverage was really poor last year. Is it a certainty that Peterson will be the one to go? The cagey veteran won’t go quietly. Can Stephen Nicholas take the next step, or will the Falcons be in the market for another outside linebacker very soon? Time for debate……..
((Rankings only include 4-3 OLB’s))
Snaps – 678
Comprehensive Overall OLB Rank – 24th (+1.6 Rating)
Pass Rush Rank – 7th (+3.4 Rating)
Coverage Rank – 43rd (-2.5 Rating)
Run Defense Rank – 22nd (+1.7 Rating)
Penalties – Tied 26th (-1.0 Rating)
QB Sacks – Tied 6th (3 Sacks)
QB Hits – Tied 14th (2 Hits)
QB Pressures – Tied 17th (5 Pressures)
Missed Tackles – Tied 13th (3)
Defensive Stops – Tied 22nd (28 Stops)
Receptions in Coverage – 41st (33)
Catch Percentage – 19th (71.7%)
Yards Given Up – 47th (390 Yards)
Yards Per Catch – 50th (11.8 Average)
Yards After Catch – 43rd (245 Yards)
TDs Given Up – Tied 1st (0)
Interceptions – Zero
Passes Defensed – Tied 7th (3)
Opposing QB Rating – 25th (97.2 Rating)
Great Games – Jets, Saints (1st Game), Cowboys
Bad Games – Patriots, Saints (2nd Game), Panthers (2nd Game)
(((Special Thanks to ProFootballFocus for the Excellent Stat Work)))
Stephen Nicholas definitely has some upside, but any Falcons fans expecting the next Pro Bowler will likely be disappointed. Although he was a 4th round draft pick, Nicholas seemingly took quite some time to get on the field as a permanent starter. It is true that there were many players in front him with Michael Boley and Keith Brooking, but Nicholas seems to have a limited ceiling.
He’s already 27 and some fans are even questioning if he will be the linebacker to go in favor of Mike Peterson. Nicholas might simply be a pass-rushing specialist because he was pretty atrocious in pass coverage ranking near the very bottom. Perhaps he’s out of position, but if his pass coverage does not improve than the Falcons front office may be in the market for another OLB opposite Weatherspoon. For instance, what’s the reason that Nicholas only got 678 snaps where 33 year old Mike Peterson (at the time, he’s now 34) got 1038 snaps?
#54 is one of the only holdovers from the Bobby Prictrino era and that should speak volumes all on its own. They obviously felt good enough about Nicholas to let both Keith Brooking and Michael Boley go after the 2008 season. Yes, they drafted Weatherspoon this April, but that’s almost a direct correlation to Mike Peterson’s likely last year as a Falcons (34 and last year of his contract). Nicholas had triple the amount of sacks that his OLB teammate Peterson did, including the fact that Curtis Lofton had zero.
Keep in mind too that Nicholas only received 678 snaps to Peterson’s 1,038. He had 80 tackles and ranked near the top in many areas including sacks, pass rush rank, and passes defensed. It was his first full year as a starter and he will only get better considering he just turned 27 and could possibly flourish moving back to his more natural weakside linebacker position. Also consider the fact that Nicholas had to deal with an unbelievably hard personal issue off the field with his infant son needing a heart transplant during the 2008 season. Excellent Entire Story by Pat Yasinkas Link Here. Nicholas has all the tools and skills to take the next step and will pair with Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon to give the Falcons the most athletically talented LB corps in years.
-What’s your overall thoughts on Stephen Nicholas?
-Is #54 a truly reliable option at outside linebacker?
-Has Nicholas hit his ceiling?
-Who will be the starting OLB’s on opening day? Mid-season?
-Will/Should the Falcons be in the market for another OLB soon?
-Is Nicholas/Lofton/Weatherspoon the most athletic LB corps in recent memory?