Atlanta Falcons 2020 Team Previewby Mike Fanelli August 21, 2020 2 comments
The 2019 season was one of two halves for the Atlanta Falcons. They started the season 1-7 with their only win over the Philadelphia Eagles. After their Week nine bye, the team turned things around, finishing the season winning six of their final eight games. The Falcons finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs, but the strong finish to last season offers fans hope that the team can make the playoffs his season.
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While the Falcons didn’t make a lot of splash moves in the offseason, the roster had a lot of turnover. On offense, they released former starting offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo and star running back Devonta Freeman. One of their 2019 first-round picks, Kaleb McGary, will take over as the starting right tackle while the team signed former Los Angeles Rams’ running back, Todd Gurley, in free agency. Coming off a career year, tight end Austin Hooper signed a massive free agent deal with the Cleveland Browns. Shortly after he signed, the Falcons traded for former Baltimore Ravens’ tight end, Hayden Hurst.
The second half turnaround last season was in large part due to the improved play of the defense. In the offseason, they released long time starting cornerback Desmond Trufant, who signed with the Detroit Lions. To replace Trufant, the Falcons used their first-round pick on former Clemson star A.J. Terrell. In their only big splash move of the offseason, the Falcons released Vic Beasley and signed Dante Fowler Jr. to a three-year deal worth $45 million dollars.
Matt Ryan is coming off his ninth straight season with at least 4,000 passing yards. He will likely keep that streak going as Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are arguably the best wide receiver duo in the league. Julio had over 1,300 yards for the sixth straight season in 2019. Meanwhile, Ridley was on pace for his first season with over 1,000 yards before he got hurt in week 13 and missed the rest of the season. With limited depth behind those two star receivers, Falcon fans should expect both to go over 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
With Hooper gone, Hurst takes over as the starting tight end. Recently Ryan praised Hurst, saying he was the most athletic he has ever played with. Given what Hooper did over the last two years, fans should expect a solid season from Hurst. The offensive line isn’t an elite group but returns most of its starters. The team invested both of their 2019 first-round picks on the right side of the offensive line. Entering year two, the team expects big things from McGary and Chris Lindstrom.
After spending big money on Fowler, the defense has high exceptions this season. Deion Jones played a full 16 games in 2019 after missing 10 games in 2018. While he played 16 games, he had only 110 total tackles, finishing tied for 27th in the league. Grady Jarrett returns to man the middle of the defense. Last season he had a career-high 7.5 sacks (second-most on the team), 69 total tackles, and made his first Pro Bowl appearance. The Falcons spent their second-round pick on defensive linemen Marlon Davidson. He is expected to play multiple spots along the defensive line.
In the secondary, Keanu Neal has struggled to stay healthy the past few seasons. He has missed 28 of the last 32 games because of the injury. In his first two seasons in the league, Neal was a tackling machine, totaling 222 tackles. If he can stay healthy that would be great for the Falcons defense. However, the team can’t count on that and have made moves to protect against another injury for Neal. Ricardo Allen and Damontae Kazee are two starting caliber safeties, who have played well in the past when Neal was out. In addition, the Falcons spent a fourth-round pick on Jaylinn Hawkins as both Neal and Kazee entering a contract year.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
There is no surprises here. Ryan returns for his 13th season as the starter. Schaub is back for the third straight season as the backup. Kurt Benkert likely clears waivers and is signed to the practice squad.
Gurley was the big free agent signing after releasing Freeman. Hill, Smith, and Ollison will battle it out for the backup role. If Gurley goes down with an injury, assuming they don’t add someone in free agency or by trade, expect the Falcons to go with a hot hand approach. Smith is the team’s full back.
The top five receivers all seem like a lock to make the roster. Julio and Ridley make up one of the best duos in the league. Gage picked up his play to close out last season. Powell will have to fend off Christian Blake, Devin Gray, Jalen McCleskey, Juwan Green, and Chris Rowland for the final wide receiver spot. Whoever doesn’t make the final roster could end up on the practice squad assuming they clear waivers.
Hurst is the only lock of the group, while Stocker and Graham are favorites to make the final roster. If the Falcons keep four tight ends this season, Pinkney will have to fight off Khari Lee for the final spot. If he doesn’t, or the team only keep three tight ends, expect Pinkney to end up on the practice squad if he clear waivers.
After spending two first-round picks on Lindstrom and McGary in 2019, the Falcons return most of their offensive linemen from last season. They spent a third-round pick on Hennessy, and he is expected to be their top reserve with the outlook of taking over at center in 2021.
No surprises here. Jarrett and Davison are locked in as the starters while Davidson, should rotate in all along the defensive line. Senat adds depth while undrafted free agent Hinwa Allieu likely ends up on the practice squad.
Fowler was the team’s big fish free agent signing this offseason, and he expects to have a career year. McKinley had his fifth-year option declined and needs to have a big year to get an extension. Harris, Bailey, and Cominsky provide depth.
After missing 10 games in 2018, Jones played in all 16 last season. He and 2018 fourth-round pick Oluokun lead this linebacker group. Bucannon was signed in the offseason while Walker was a fourth-round pick this year.
With the offseason moves in free agency at cornerback, this unit is very young. First-round rookie, Terrell, and 2018 second-round pick, Oliver, lead the way. Sheffield had a nice rookie season in 2019 and the team has high hopes for him. Wreh-Wilson, Dennard, and Hawkins will have to fend off Delrick Abrams and Tyler Hall for the final two spots at cornerback. Jordan Miller is suspended the first three games of the season.
J.J. Wilcox could steal a roster spot from somewhere else if the team keeps fives safeties given Neal’s injury history. If Neal can stay healthy, the team may look to trade Kazee at the trade deadline in hopes of giving Hawkins more playing time.
After 11 seasons with the Falcons, they released kicker Matt Bryant when he got hurt last season. Koo stepped in and earned the right to be the kicker again this season. Hofrichter was a seventh-round pick and is currently unchallenged for the punter job. However, if he struggles, the team could look to add a veteran early in the season. Harris has been the team’s long snapper since 2012.
The 2020 season can go in many directions for the Falcons. If they get off to a slow start like they did last season, they have no hope of making the playoffs, and fans can expect coaches and front office personnel to be fired. However, if the offense clicks early and the defense continues their play from last season, the Falcons have a shot to win the NFC South despite tough competition from the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Season Prediction: 9-7 and competing for a wild card spot.
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