Atlanta Falcons 2021 Offseason Preview

The Falcons finished last season with a extremely disappointing record of 4-12, where former head coach Dan Quinn ended up being fired midseason. Following Quinn’s departure, they started playing some inspired football under interim HC (and now the Rams new DC) Raheem Morris. Atlanta ultimately was just completely unable to stop the pass, as they ended up finishing as the worst pass defense in the NFL (averaging 293.6 yards allowed per game).

Former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith has been hired as their new head coach. Smith, will attempt to implement the innovative schemes that he ran in Tennessee, into this offense – while utilizing their talented skill players already on this roster. They’ve also hired a new general manager, Terry Fontenot, which opens many questions on whether the two faces of their franchise, QB Matt Ryan & WR Julio Jones, will play for them this season, as they’re extremely limited cap space.

Current Estimated Salary Cap: $-15.7M 

Total Draft Picks: 9; 1st Rd (4th Overall), 2nd, 3rd, 4th, (3) 5th, (2) 6th

Offense:

2020 Rankings: Pass: 5th (272.7 yards per game), Rush: 27th (95.8 yards per game), Scoring: 16th (24.8 points per game)

Key Positional Needs: RB, QB, TE, Guard

Quarterback

Starter: Matt Ryan, Backup: N/A

Matty Ice has been their franchise QB for the past 13 seasons – since they drafted him in 2008. With 3 years still left on his contract, the future for Ryan as their franchise QB is definitely in doubt. He is 36-years old and has publicly expressed that he feels like he has a solid 2-4 years left to offer, but the question is whether how much of that time will be played in Atlanta.. 

Players to Target: No. 4 Overall: Trey Lance (North Dakota State), Justin Fields (Ohio State), Zach Wilson (BYU):

Drafting a QB 4th-overall is extremely tempting, especially when new GM Terry Fontenot has to decide upon whether one of these top QB prospects are worth investing in to ultimately build this franchise around. Trevor Lawrence is inevitably the first-overall pick, so after that the three QBs that would make sense for Atlanta would be Wilson, Fields and Lance. If Wilson gets chosen by the Jets at No. 2 overall, it would be a real surprise if they chose anybody other than Fields or Lance at pick No. 4.

Running Back:

Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison, Tony Brooks-James, FA: Todd Gurley, Brian Hill

Atlanta’s run game last season was dreadful and there is no other way of putting it.. It was one of the worst in the NFL, finishing 27th in rushing yards per game (95.8). Former 3x Pro Bowl RB Todd Gurley signed a 1-year deal last offseason, and that did not work out very well to say the least… Gurley had a career-low 678 yards in 15 games — 3.5 yards per attempt & 45.2 yards per game. 

Players to Target: NFL Draft: Early 2nd-round or trade up in late-first if either player is available: Najee Harris (Alabama) & Travis Etienne (Clemson):

They definitely should look to add one of the two premier running backs early in this draft if the opportunity presents itself. When new head coach Arthur Smith was the OC in Tennessee, the Titans were the 2nd-best rushing offense in the NFL last season – led by RB Derrick Henry. If Alabama’s Najee Harris were to fall to them in the early 2nd-round, it would set up for the perfect situation, as Harris could be used very similar towards how Henry is used in Tennessee, but actually offers a lot more help than Henry does in the pass game.

Fullback

Keith Smith

Wide Receiver:

Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, Christian Blake, Brandon Powell, Greg Dortch, Chris Rowland, FA: Laquon Treadwell

7x Pro Bowl WR Julio Jones’ future in Atlanta appears to be murky, as trade rumors continue to float around – since there’s a new GM & coaching staff, as well as their issue with cap flexibility. Trading Julio could be in the cards, especially after Calvin Ridley breakout 2020 season (90-1,374-9). Another receiver that quietly had a breakout season, was former 2018 6th-round pick Russell Gage who caught 72 passes for 786 yards and 4 scores. If Jones does not get traded, then adding a receiver would not be a major need for them, as Zaccheaus & Blake are solid rotational receivers.

Tight Ends:

Hayden Hurst, Jaeden Graham, FA: Luke Stocker

Former Baltimore 1st-round TE Hayden Hurst did a pretty nice job replacing Austin Hooper last season, (56-571-6) but can definitely be used more next season. They should look to add a No. 2 TE to pair alongside him in either free agency or the draft. 

Player to Target: TE Trey Burton: Burton would make a nice addition alongside Hayden Hurst, which could allow them to use a 2 TE set, without having to spend a ton on him. If they weren’t in cap trouble, former Titans TE Jonnu Smith would be a great addition to pair with his former OC.

Offensive Line:

LT: Jake Matthews, Matt Gono

LG: Willie Wright, CUT: James Carpenter, FA: Justin McCray

C: Matt Hennessy, FA: Alex Mack

RG: Chris Lindstrom

RT: Kaleb McGary, Willie Beavers; FA: John Wetzel

With the release of veteran guard James Carpenter, left guard is the one need on their offensive line. 

Player to Target: Quinton Spain spent time with Arthur Smith in Tennessee, he would be a nice plug-in-play replacement in free agency at left guard.

Defense (4-3):

Free Agents: Steven Means, Charles Harris, LaRoy Reynolds, Edmond Robinson, Darqueze Dennard, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Sharrod Neasman, Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee

2020 Rankings: Pass: 32nd (293.6 yards per game); Rush: 6th (104.8 yards per game); Scoring: 19th (25.9 points per game)

Key Positional Needs: Safety, Edge Rusher, CB, ILB

Defensive Line:

Ends: Dante Fowler, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, FA: Allen Bailey, Steven Means, Charles Harris

Tackles: Grady Jarrett, Tyeler Davison, Marlon Davidson, John Cominsky, Deadrin Senat, Chris Slayton

This defense had a ton of issues last season, but there was one bright spot and it was their run defense. They finished 6th in the NFL against the run, averaging 104.8 yards allowed per game. This unit is anchored by their two disruptive interior defenders; Grady Jarrett and Tyeler Davison. Adding a pass rusher at defensive end is a real crucial need this offseason, and with their lack of funds, it would make sense to add one in the early 2nd or 3rd round.

Player to Target: EDGE Carlos Basham Jr. (Wake Forest): Basham Jr. is a disruptive edge-rusher that would make a great fit in their 4-3 scheme as a DE. Adding Basham Jr. in the 2nd or 3rd round would help bolster their pass rush up front off the edge.

Linebackers:

Outside: Foyesade Oluokun, Mykal Walker, FA: LaRoy Reynolds

Inside: Deion Jones, FA: Edmond Robinson

The Falcons gave up the 2nd-most YAC per game, and while a lot of that was due to the secondary, this linebacker group could benefit from building upon its depth. This group is led by inside linebacker Deion Jones. They’ve received strong play last year from rookie 4th-round pick Mykal Walker, as well as 2018 6th-round pick Foye Oluokun.

Players to Target: Anthony Walker: Former Colts ILB Anthony Walker would make a great addition towards their depth behind Deion Jones.

Secondary:

Cornerbacks: AJ Terrell, Kendall Sheffield, Isaiah Oliver, Tyler Hall, Chris Williamson, Delrick Adams, FA: Darqueze Dennard, Blidi Wreh-Wilson

Free Safety: N/A, FA: Ricardo Allen, Sharrod Neasman

Strong Safety: Jaylinn Hawkins, T.J. Green, FA: Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee

Their biggest need this offseason is secondary help, in every position, as they finished as the worst pass defense in the NFL in 2020 (averaging 293.6 yards per game). It became a running joke that their defense couldn’t stop any QB last season.. They added former Clemson CB A.J. Terrell in the first round last draft, but they need to do a lot more to improve this unit… Every one of their starting safeties is a free agent (Neal, Allen, Kazee) and they need to add at least 2 cornerbacks.

Players to Target: Malcolm Butler, Lamarcus Joyner, Malik Hooker, Xavier Woods, Trevon Moehrig (TCU), Richie Grant (UCF)

ATL Special Teams:

Kicker: Younghoe Koo, Elliot Fry

Punters: Sterling Hofrichter

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