LONDON — There’s a certain piece of advice only Kaden Elliss can give Nate Landman as the latter joins up with the former in a starting role within the heart of the Falcons defense Sunday.
That advice? He has an opportunity ahead of him. Take hold of it and don’t let go.
The Falcons defense was dealt a blow in the final minutes of a Week 3 game against the Lions in Detroit, when Troy Andersen suffered a pectoral injury that took him out of the game. He’ll be out much longer, though, as the second-year starting linebacker was placed on injured reserve when the Falcons returned to Atlanta earlier this week. Head coach Arthur Smith confirmed Andersen will have to undergo surgery. So it’s Landman who will slide into Andersen’s spot at inside linebacker, alongside Elliss, when the Falcons face the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium this weekend.
This isn’t the first start for Landman. He already got his feet wet as a three-down player two weeks ago, when Andersen was inactive for Week 2’s game against Green Bay. While Andersen was working through concussion protocol, Landman made sure the Falcons defense didn’t miss a beat. It was a performance that showcased a newfound depth in Atlanta. Two weeks later, Landman finds himself back in the starting lineup.
This is an even bigger opportunity for Landman to show he’s a valuable part of this defense. It’s interesting, too, because it’s not unlike the path Elliss took in New Orleans.
Elliss was the Saints’ final draft pick in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft. After suffering a season-ending knee injury early in his rookie season, Elliss earned a spot on the 53-man roster the next two seasons as a true asset on special teams. During that time, he saw limited live reps at linebacker in New Orleans, but he spent those two years biding his time. He, too, was waiting for an opportunity.
Like Landman, a significant injury thrust Elliss into the spotlight. In November 2022, Saints linebacker Pete Warner injured his ankle against Baltimore and had to undergo surgery. Ellis was the next man up.
He would go on to make 11 starts in 2022. He finished the season with 78 total tackles (seven for a loss), seven sacks, two forced fumbles and 10 quarterback hits. It was a performance that eventually caught the eye of the Falcons, with Atlanta signing Elliss to a three-year deal in March. Elliss may be a true starter in the NFL now, but that’s not how his journey in the league began in New Orleans.
Elliss, more than anyone Landman could talk to on this defense, knows what it means to have to wait for an opportunity to present itself in the NFL. He also knows what it means to make the most of said opportunity. It’s this advice that he can give to Landman, who was an undrafted free agent out of Colorado last year and has slowly worked his way up the depth chart at linebacker.
“Football is such a crazy sport and, especially in the NFL, there are so many ups and downs. You never know what’s going on,” Landman said of conversations he’s had with Elliss about his journey. “(Kaden) has helped me stay level. Not get too high, too low. He even was talking to me about this being a great opportunity (for me) when Troy went out the second week. It’s him just reassuring me there.”
This isn’t to say the Falcons won’t miss Andersen. They will. None of this takes away from that fact.
“It’s a loss, for sure,” Landman said. “We love having Troy in our room. He’s a great player out there. He’s a leader in the room. It’s (an absence) we’ll notice for sure.”
Will it be a void easily filled?
“No,” Elliss said, “because (Troy is) a special player.”
That’s a statement not unlike what people said about Warner in New Orleans last year. But, here’s the thing: Elliss didn’t have to be Warner and Landman doesn’t have to be Andersen. He just needs to make the most of the opportunity at hand, playing his type of football, which he says significantly aligns with the attacking, aggressive mindset of this defense as a whole.
“That’s the way I want to play,” Landman said.
Landman’s one-plus seasons in Atlanta is a testament to the developmental work of this coaching staff, too. Because of the work he knows Landman has put in to this point, Smith said he’s the type of player the Falcons trust.
“You need depth and you need to develop it,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, things happen, but Nate’s a guy we have a lot of confidence in. If we didn’t have confidence in somebody, we wouldn’t put them out there. I have a ton of confidence in Nate Landman.”
Like Elliss in New Orleans in 2022, Landman has an opportunity in front of him. For Elliss, that opportunity set him up for good fortune in the year after. How will Landman take hold of the opportunity in front of him now?