Atlanta Falcons 2021 Training Camp Preview

The Atlanta Falcons officially kick off their first training camp practice on July 31st. In the meantime, here is a preview of each positional group heading into training camp.

Offense:

Quarterbacks:
  • Matt Ryan, AJ McCarron, Feleipe Franks

Despite a lot of speculation on whether or not they would draft a quarterback at No. 4 overall, Matt Ryan returns as the team’s starting QB for the 14th-straight season. Last season, Ryan completed & attempted more passes than any other QB in the NFL He finished 4th in the NFL in passing yards (4,581) and accounted for 26 touchdown passes, matching his total from 2019.

With veteran Matt Schaub retiring in the offseason, they replaced him with former Texans backup A.J. McCarron. Undrafted rookie Feleipe Franks (Arkansas) will attempt to prove himself during training camp to try and lock either the No. 3 spot if they chose to keep 3 QBs or practice squad.

Running Backs:
  • Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson, Qadree Ollison, Tony Brooks-James, Javian Hawkins, Caleb Huntley

Atlanta’s rushing attack has struggled a lot the past few years .. Hopefully their run game will improve drastically under new HC Arthur Smith’s offensive scheme; he had great successes as the OC with the Titans, calling plays for the NFL leading-rusher Derrick Henry. Their three leading rushers from last season Todd Gurley, Brian Hill and Ito Smith were all not re-signed and still are free agents, besides Hil who signed with TEN.

Instead of adding a RB in the draft, they picked up two notable players in free agency; Mike Davis & Cordarrelle Patterson. Davis, is coming off a career-high season with the division-rival Carolina Panthers, where he did a very nice job replacing Christian McCaffrey following his injury. Davis ran for 642 yards for 8 TDs, but in the passing game was where he was a huge help, contributing for 59 REC-373 YDS-2 TDS. Davis will be their starting RB and will have plenty of opportunities.

Patterson, provides versatility in the backfield; as he lines up both as RB/WR, and is one of the top special team players in the league. Qadree Ollison will compete for the No. 2 spot, as he provides power to their backfield. The player to keep an eye on is undrafted free agent Javian Hawkins (Louisville), who is an elusive undersized back who has a great opportunity to earn a roster spot.

Fullback:
  • Keith Smith

Smith enters his 3rd-year as the Falcons fullback; he’s the only FB on the roster.

Wide Receivers:
  • Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Tajae Sharpe, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby, Christian Blake, Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Dortch, Chris Rowland, Antonio Nunn, Juwan Green, Austin Trammell

After 10 years with the team, 7x Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones was traded to the Tennessee Titans. It’s now former 2018 1st-round pick Calvin Ridley’s time to shine. Ridley is coming off a breakout career-high season, where he had 90 REC-1,374 YDS-9 TD.

Ridley’s average production without Julio Jones on the field: (11 TARG-7 REC-109 REC YDS).. Compared to when Julio was on the field: (8 TARG-5 REC-76 REC YDS). 

“I played with Julio, Mohamed Sanu and since Day 1 (with) those guys I feel like I have been moving toward that (spot),” Ridley said of now taking up the No. 1 receiver mantle. “I can do it by myself. I mean obviously, I am not by myself. We have other players who are really good. But I’ve been ready. I just needed an opportunity to get in those positions.”

(The Athletic).

Russell Gage will be heavily relied upon this season, after quietly having a very productive season (72 REC-786 YDS-4 TD). After Ridley and Gage, there will be a plenty of competition to earn snaps in training camp – to ultimately see who’ll emerge as one of their top receivers behind them. 

Veteran Tajae Sharpe was recently signed and he’ll have a good chance earning a roster spot. Olamide Zaccheaus and Frank Darby are the two players to keep an eye on.. Zaccheus caught 20 passes last year in a much limited role playing when Jones or Ridley was out, but may have an increased role in 2021 with a strong camp. Darby, is a 6th-round rookie from Arizona State, he has a great opportunity to make a significant impact as a rookie.

Tight Ends:
  • Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst, Lee Smith, Jaeden Graham, Ryan Becker, John Raine, Parker Hesse

Despite the addition of former 2018 1st-round pick Hayden Hurst last offseason, they added one of the most talented tight end prospects to enter the NFL in the recent memory. Kyle Pitts offers elite versatility and upside to this offense. It typically takes tight ends at least a year or two to adjust to the NFL, but Pitts should be an outlier and immediately start producing right away in his rookie season. Having Hurst allows them the flexibility of running 2-TE sets, or have Pitts lined up on the outside, with Hurst at TE. Veteran Lee Smith was added in the offseason and will most likely be used primarily as just a blocker.

Offensive Line:

LT: Jake Matthews, William Sweet

LG: Matt Gono, Josh Andrews, Drew Dalman, Jalen Mayfield, Ryan Neuzil, Joe Sculthorpe

C: Matt Hennessy, Josh Andrews, Willie Wright, Drew Dalman

RG: Chris Lindstrom, Sam Jones, Bryce Hargrove

RT: Kaleb McGary, Jalen Mayfield, Willie Beavers, Kion Smith

OT: Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary, two former 1st-round picks of theirs return as the starting offensive tackles.

IOL: Each season the Falcons look to address their o-line and add at least one significant player. They added two solid prospects, Jalen Mayfield and Drew Dalman. Both players offer versatility, where Mayfield can play OT or G, and Dalman can play either C or G.

Defense (4-3):

Defensive Line:
  • LDE: Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Ta’Quon Graham, Ade Ogundeji, Brandon Copeland, Jonathan Bullard, Zac Dawe
  • RDE: Dante Fowler, Steven Means, Kobe Jones
  • LDT: Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson, Deadrin Senat, Olive Sagapolu
  • RDT: Tyeler Davison, John Cominsky, Chris Slayton, Eli Ankou

DE: Dante Fowler and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner are the projected starters. Behind them, this group has limited NFL experience besides Steven Means and could really benefit from having an immediate impact from rookies Ta’Quon Graham or Ade Ogundeji.

DT: This group is anchored by one of the most disruptive defensive tackles in the league, Grady Jarrett. Tyeler Davison was a very solid addition last offseason for them, he’ll be expected to start on the other side with last year’s rookie 2nd-round pick Marlon Davidson and John Cominsky in the mix. The player that is potentially on the bubble that will need to have a strong training camp is former 2018 2nd-round pick Deadrin Senat.

Linebackers:
  • WLB: Mykal Walker, Brandon Copeland, Alani Pututau
  • SLB: Foyesade Oluokun
  • MLB: Deion Jones, Dorian Etheridge, Erroll Thompson

OLB: Foyesade Oluokun, who is a very underrated, impactful LB that flies all around the field, quietly had a breakout season – leading the team with 119 tackles. Last year’s Mykal Walker emerged as one of the top-performing LBs in last year’s rookie class. The lack of depth from this group is definitely concerning, but their returning starters are all quality, impactful players.

ILB: The always reliable Deion Jones is a tackling-machine, he had 106 tackles last season, and will be expected to be the vocal leader of this young defense.

Cornerbacks:
  • LCB: A.J. Terrell, Isaiah Oliver, Darren Hall, Tyler Hall
  • RCB: Kendall Sheffield, Fabian Moreau, Delrick Abrams, Chris Williamson, Avery Williams

The secondary struggled so badly last season, they ended up finishing the season as the worst-ranked pass defense in the entire NFL; allowing a league-high 4,697 passing yards. This group is pretty similar to last year, as it’s led by three players that were draft picks of theirs in each of the past few seasons. 2020 1st-round pick A.J. Terrell, Isaiah Oliver & Kendall Sheffield all will be expected to take the next step in their young careers and help slowdown some of the elite receivers that are in the NFC South. 

They have a couple new additions who will have a great shot at seeing the field with a strong camp. Rookie 4th-round pick Darren Hall (San Diego St.) is an intriguing player to watch on the outside. At nickel, they added Fabian Moreau, a former 1st-round pick by the Washington Football Team will look to solidify a starting job at nickel-CB. Rookies 5th-round pick Avery Williamson (Boise State) is another player to keep an eye on, he could see time in the slot in his first year if he has a strong camp.

Safeties:
  • FS: Richie Grant, Erik Harris, T.J. Green, JR Pace
  • SS: Duron Harmon, Jaylinn Hawkins, Dwayne Johnson, Marcus Murphy

This group was arguably their biggest need to address this his offseason.. Former starters Keanu Neal & Damontae Kazee were both free agents and ended up signing with the Dallas Cowboys, where they reunite with their former head coach Dan Quinn (Dallas’s new defensive coordinator). 

They added three notable safeties in the offseason to help replace them. They signed Duron Harmon & Erik Harris in free agency, as well as selecting former UCF safety Richie Grant in the 2nd-round. Harmon will most likely start at free safety, and Grant was one of the top safety prospects in this draft, he should be a great addition to their secondary and will most likely be the Week 1 starter at strong safety.

Special Teams:

  • PK: Younghoe Koo
  • P: Sterling Hofrichter, Dom Maggio
  • KR: Cordarrelle Patterson, Chris Rowland
  • PR: Chris Rowland, Avery Williams
  • LS: Josh Harris

Kicker Younghoe Koo re-signed in the offseason. There will be a battle at punter between Hofrichter & Maggio. Patterson is a huge addition to their special teams.

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