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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
There's a pretty wide assumption out there that the Atlanta Falcons will use an early draft pick on a linebacker in April.
It could happen, but I'm not so sure it's the given thing many fans expect. After letting outside linebackers Keith Brooking and Michael Boley walk through free agency, the only sure thing is the Falcons have Curtis Lofton as their starting middle linebacker.
But the roster is not as depleted as you might think. As Daniel Cox points out, the Falcons are high on linebacker Stephen Nicholas, who will be entering his third season. Nicholas has been mostly a backup linebacker and special teams player in his first two seasons, but I keep hearing word out of Atlanta that the Falcons think he can at least be in the mix for a starting job next season.
Again, there could be more coming in the draft, but the Falcons already have some decent options. Nicholas has some good speed and young legs. The Falcons also signed veteran Mike Peterson, who has a history with coach Mike Smith, and Coy Wire replaced Boley as the starter on the strong side late last season.
Peterson's history was mostly as a middle linebacker, but the Falcons are planning to play him on the outside. Even if the Falcons don't add a linebacker in the early rounds, they've already set up some decent competition with Nicholas, Wire and Peterson competing for two starting jobs.