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Nate Landman stepped up alongside Kaden Elliss to lead a productive inside linebacker season -- Falcons Breakdown 

The inside linebackers played an integral role in Falcons jump as a top defensive team. 

NOTE: The Falcons editorial team of Scott Bair, Tori McElhaney, Terrin Waack and Amna Subhan will analyze each position group during the "Falcons Breakdown" series, which evaluates how every position performed in 2023 and what to look for in 2024. Up next, inside linebackers.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — In the Falcons' first game, the inside linebacker duo of Kaden Elliss and Troy Andersen looked solid. First-year Falcon Elliss and second-year player Andersen helped hold the Carolina Panthers to just 10 points with just 3.2 yards per pass play and 4.8 yards per rush attempt. Andersen was a standout in the opener, recording a half-sack and a tackle for loss.

Then, injuries quickly disrupted Andersen's sophomore season. After Week 1, Andersen was placed in concussion protocol, and when he returned the next game, he sustained a season-ending pectoral injury.

Enter stage right: Nate Landman. Landman split his rookie season on the active roster and practice squad, ultimately appearing in seven games with the Falcons in 2022, but the University of Colorado product didn't miss a beat stepping into the starting role this past season. In 2023, Landman registered seven tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and two sacks -- none of which he had as a rookie.

In addition, Atlanta hit on the free-agency signing of Elliss from the New Orleans Saints. The fifth-year veteran finished within the top 25 in solo tackles (82), total tackles (122) and tackles for loss (11) among all linebackers.

The Falcons defense overall made a significant jump from 2022, and the inside linebackers played a large part. Atlanta ranked top 10 in both passing yards per game (202.9) and rushing yards per attempt (4). In 2022, the unit ranked No. 25 and No. 18 in those categories, respectively.

There's a strong expectation that the Falcons inside linebacker crew will be solid in 2024 as well. In the final week of the regular season, Andersen was designated to return from injured reserve. He participated in every Week 18 practice -- albeit in a limited manner -- and should be ready to return to the field in 2024.

2023 production:

  • Kaden Elliss: 17 game appearances, 17 starts | 122 total tackles | four sacks | six quarterback hits | 11 tackles for loss | three pass breakups
  • Nate Landman: 16 games, 14 starts | 110 total tackles | two sacks | four quarterback hits | seven tackles for loss | three forced fumbles | three pass breakups
  • Andre Smith Jr.: 11 games, one start | 19 total tackles | one forced fumble, one fumble recovery | one pass breakup
  • Troy Andersen: two games, two starts | 19 total tackles | one pass breakup | 0.5 sack

Who stays: Kaden Elliss, Troy Andersen, Nate Landman

On the bubble: Andre Smith Jr.

Biggest offseason question: Who starts, Landman or Andersen?

The Falcons hold the rights to Landman as an exclusive rights free agent in 2024, meaning he'll likely be on the roster come September. With three formidable options between Landman, Andersen and Elliss, who will start?

Elliss and Andersen looked good for two games together, and Elliss and Landman held it down for the rest of the 2023 season.

Andersen appeared in every game in his rookie season and started five after being promoted to the first team. He notched 69 total tackles, three tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and a forced fumble. The 2022 second-rounder showed the Falcons coaching staff signs of upward progression in his first year, which later earned him the starting role in 2023.

Landman's breakout season will certainly make training camp competitive and give the next Falcons coaching staff a tough decision to make in 2024.

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