Thompson’s In-Depth Power Rankings: #24 Atlanta Falconsby Mason Thompson July 4, 2021 1 comment
After two consecutive articles of the New York teams, now we go south to turn our attention to the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons started the season 0-5 and then fired Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff and ended the season with a 4-12 record. With a new general manager, head coach, and without one of the best players in franchise history, the Falcons rank 24th in the power rankings.
Be sure to check out all of my in-depth power rankings.
To replace Dimitroff, the Falcons hired Terry Fontenot, who was the assistant general manager for the Saints last year. Fontenot worked his way up from being a marketing intern to a pro scouting intern until finally being the director of pro scouting before being promoted to assistant general manager. The front office hired Arthur Smith to be their new head coach. Smith comes over after being the Tennessee offensive coordinator and seemingly resurrected Ryan Tannehill‘s career.
With salary cap issues abound, the Falcons weren’t able to re-sign a lot of their players. One big move they did make was the restructuring of Matt Ryan‘s contract, which ensures he stays on the team for a few more seasons. Outside of that restructure, the Falcons didn’t make many key moves in the free agency period. Alex Mack, Ricardo Allen, and Keanu Neal are all on different teams now. The biggest signings Atlanta made were the signings of Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Duron Harmon.
Was Pitts the Right Choice?
Ahead of the draft, the Falcons had a difficult decision to make. That decision was to either take the quarterback of the future or to take Kyle Pitts. Atlanta ended up taking Pitts to add to an already explosive offense. The defense needed a massive overhaul, and it will take multiple years for the defense to get back to even the middle-tier of the league. The safety position desperately needed to be addressed, and the Falcons made Richie Grant the first safety taken in the draft. Dean Pees will try to use Grant and the rest of the defensive players to put the best unit on the field. In total, three players were taken in the secondary, and those were Grant, Avery Williams, and Darren Hall.
Ta’Quon Graham and Adetokunbo Ogundeji were the other two defensive players selected in the draft. Atlanta also selected Jalen Mayfield, Drew Dalman, and Frank Darby on the offensive side. The ultimate question will be if the Falcons made a mistake by taking Pitts instead of one of the quarterbacks available.
No More Julio
There had been rumors for the last few years that Julio Jones wanted out of Atlanta. Those rumors have been going furiously throughout the season and caught fire when Shannon Sharpe called Jones on his show, and there were some words said that sparked the trade talks. In the end, the Falcons traded the superstar receiver. In return, Atlanta received a 2023 sixth-round pick to the Tennessee Titans for a second-round pick in 2022 and a fourth-round selection in 2023. That seems like a horrible return to the Falcons for one of the best receivers in the NFL, but it seemed as though the relationship between Jones and the front office wasn’t great, and both parties deemed it best to move on from one another.
- Overall – 77.86 (24th)
- Offense – 81.50 (14th)
- Defense – 72.00 (30th)
- Coach and Culture – 73.75 (26th)
Quarterbacks – 86.5, 10th (26 percent Overall, 39 percent Offense)
The argument of if the Falcons should’ve drafted Justin Fields with the fourth pick instead of Pitts will go on for a long while. Ryan is still a great quarterback and hasn’t gotten enough credit for what he has done with a lack of an offensive line and a competent defense in recent seasons. He had another great season posting over 4,500 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Ryan is a great processor, and he will play without many mistakes. He is right on the verge of being an elite quarterback despite his age.
Behind Ryan will be a battle for the backup spot between A.J. McCarron and undrafted rookie Feleipe Franks. Many people on Draft Twitter, including myself, thought that Franks could carve out a career as a backup and come into action and provide a spark at times. McCarron was once thought of as a future starter in the league but never lived up to the potential. He will likely win the starting role with Franks as the third-string quarterback or on the practice squad.
Running Backs – 69.5, 31st (4 percent Overall, 5 percent Offense)
Many thought the Falcons would draft a running back on day two but didn’t at all in the draft. As a result, Davis will be the lead-back with the other running backs sprinkling in as a committee approach. Last season, Davis filled in nicely in Carolina after Christian McCaffrey went down with an injury. He finished the year with over 1,000 scrimmage yards and eight touchdowns. Davis has never had a large workload, so it will be interesting to see how Atlanta uses the running backs or if they add another veteran to the room.
Javian Hawkins is a name to know as a deep-sleeper in fantasy leagues as an undrafted free agent. After seeing James Robinson take the league by storm last season, many have labeled Hawkins as a player that could see similar results to Robinson due to the lack of competition in front of him in the running back room. The combination of Hawkins and Davis will likely get the majority of carries.
Qadree Ollison is the third back and only has 23 career carries and four touchdowns. He was primarily the goal-line back during the 2019 season. Tony Brooks-James and Caleb Huntley round out the depth chart. Unfortunately, it seems as though Ryan will have to throw another 500 times this season due to the lack of a running game and defense. It will be the Davis and/or Hawkins show in Atlanta. Thankfully, the scheme Smith runs will help out in the running game.
Pass Catchers – 85, T-15th (10 percent Overall, 16 percent Offense)
Before the Jones trade, the Falcons ranked first in this regard. Following the trade, they fall to the middle of the league. With many great receiving cores in the league, Atlanta still has some depth, but trading away Jones puts a big damper on things. Calvin Ridley should have no problem stepping up into the number one receiver role. The former Alabama receiver has had over 60 catches, 800 yards, and seven touchdowns in each of his first three seasons. Last year, he broke out and became one of the best young receivers in the league when he caught 90 passes for almost 1,400 yards and nine touchdowns.
Russell Gage was once the best number three receiver in the league. Now, with Jones gone, he turns into the number two receiver in Atlanta. Last year was seemingly his coming-out party after he had 109 targets and caught 72 of them for almost 800 yards and four touchdowns. Olamide Zaccheaus is now the number three after being a deep threat last season. Last year Gage averaged almost 14 yards per catch on his 20 catches. Tajae Sharpe was signed over from the Titans as he follows Smith to the Falcons.
Patterson is a bit of a running back/receiver hybrid at this point in his career, and a lot of depth charts have him listed as strictly a running back, but he will line up just about everywhere. Christian Blake had a little bit of a surprising season last year when he had 13 catches. Darby will likely take a roster spot as the last receiver.
Atlanta is relying on Pitts to be an immediate playmaker and special player almost right from the first snap. While he can, that is very difficult to do as a rookie tight end in the NFL. He will likely set the rookie record for just about every tight-end record. Hayden Hurst and Pitts will form a nice one-two tight-end duo and will both spend a lot of time on the field. Hurst had his best season as a pro last year when he caught 56 passes for 571 yards and six touchdowns. Lee Smith is a veteran who is more of a blocking tight end than a receiver. Jaeden Graham is an intriguing depth piece as the fourth option.
Both Davis and Hawkins have had production in the receiving game. Davis during his professional career and Hawkins during his collegiate career. Both will have some role, but the Falcons will likely ride the hot hand at the running back spot.
Offensive Line – 77, 20th (13 percent Overall, 19 percent Offense)
Atlanta’s offensive line is banking on a lot of development from four young players. Jake Matthews is the oldest of the group and is one of the top ten or fifteen tackles in the league. In the new offense that Smith is bringing over, Matthews should do very well. At the other tackle spot, Kaleb McGary needs to show some more development as a former first-round selection. He has shown some flashes but needs to consistently show that he is a starter instead of a low-tier starter that the Falcons could always look to replace.
The interior of the offensive line is where things get fun. Mayfield was a selection in the third round that could push McGary for the right tackle spot but will likely start at left guard when he beats out Willie Wright for the starting job. At the center spot, Matt Hennessy will take over for Mack, who departed during free agency. Chris Lindstrom is becoming one of the most underrated players in the league at the right guard spot. From a team-building standpoint, the future looks bright along the offensive line, and this ranking is projecting a lot, but there will be some growing pains within the offensive line.
Matt Gono is the swing tackle for the offensive line. Dalman was a selection in the fourth round and will likely back up along the interior of the offensive line.
Run Defense – 79, 22nd (2 percent Overall, 5 percent Defense)
The Falcons will run a 3-4 scheme under Pees. The defensive line starts with Grady Jarrett, who is a better pass-rusher than a run stopper but isn’t a slouch in run defending by any means. Marlon Davidson is a player that could have a big step up this year alongside Jarrett. Tyeler Davison will likely be the starting nose tackle in the system and is just another run defender that most teams already have.
Behind those three, the depth isn’t very good. John Cominsky is a hybrid interior defensive lineman/edge rusher. The same could be said about Graham and Jonathan Bullard. Deadrin Senat was a day two selection a few years back that hasn’t lived up to the hype either.
Dante Fowler is much better as a pass-rusher than a run defender. He seemed to be a liability in run defense and it just isn’t something he likes to do by the looks of it. Brandon Copeland was a nice addition but isn’t a stout run defender. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Barkevious Mingo are fine, but not players you want playing a bunch of snaps.
While the linebackers are great from a coverage standpoint, they lack the size to give an extra push in the run defending portion. Both Deion Jones and Foyesade Oluokun fall into this description and will be talked about a bunch in the linebacker portion of the article. Mykal Walker is another undersized linebacker as well that is the third man in the rotation.
Pass Rush – 71.5, 31st (12 percent Overall, 25 percent Defense)
Jarrett and Fowler are the only players worth making a note here. Copeland and Davidson are fine low-level pass-rushers, and Davidson is looking to finally post some pass-rushing production after not producing in that regard last year. Cominsky can maybe take a step up in his third year with the team, but it hasn’t been seen yet this far into his career. The edge rushers behind Fowler and Copeland aren’t great either. The Falcons are mainly relying on Jarrett and Fowler to carry the pass-rush unit this year. While Jarrett does have the ability to do so, it has been seen that Atlanta desperately needs to give him some help for the pass-rush unit to be even in the middle of the pack in regards to the rest of the league.
Linebackers – 83, 12th (5 percent Overall, 13 percent Defense)
Jarrett and Jones are the two best players along the defense. Unfortunately, the general public doesn’t quite understand how good either of the two is due to the lack of other players on the defense. Jones is one of the best cover linebackers in the league and doesn’t get enough recognition in this regard. Oluokun makes big plays using an aggressive style of play in key situations. Walker could get more playing time on early downs due to keeping both him and Oluokun more healthy. Erroll Thompson was added as an undrafted free agent as a bigger-bodied linebacker that could push for playing time on early downs.
Secondary – 67, 32nd (13 percent Overall, 27 percent Defense)
Like the pass rush, the Falcons desperately needed help in the secondary. Their top four cornerbacks are super young, and while they added some veterans at the safety position, neither of them appear to be high-caliber starters for Atlanta this year. A.J. Terrell was Atlanta’s first-round selection last year and had a solid end to his season last year. As a former second-round pick, Isaiah Oliver hasn’t lived up to his potential after being a favorite to many on Draft Twitter. The coaching staff used Oliver in the slot last year, which was weird considering he is a better fit as an outside cornerback. Kendall Sheffield fell in the draft in 2019 after a pre-draft injury caused him to miss a bit of the 2019 season. He had a few solid plays last season and showed he could be one of the starters in the secondary this year.
Does Moreau or Hall Take the Starting Spot From Oliver?
Fabian Moreau was another favorite of many during the pre-draft process, but like Sheffield, he suffered a horrific knee injury at his pro day and slipped in the draft as a result. He has shown flashes during his time with Washington but never seemed to manage to stay on the field. In Atlanta, Moreau has the opportunity to snag one of the starting spots away from Oliver and prove to the rest of the league that he still is the same player he once was in his collegiate days.
Like Moreau, Hall could battle for one of the starting spots in camp and the preseason. The former San Diego State cornerback has a familiar face on the Atlanta coaching staff that must’ve given him a good review to get him selected in the fourth round. Williams could potentially battle with Sheffield for the starting slot role and will factor in on special teams.
Things don’t get better as we move to the safety spot. Both Harmon and Erik Harris were added in free agency, and they are nothing more than replacement level starters. Thankfully, those options can be upgraded as soon as next season. Unfortunately, the whole secondary as a whole is relying on a lot of young players to develop that haven’t yet. Grant is the player that is getting a lot of praise right now, and a lot of excitement is building around him. He will provide an immediate impact on the defense and should have no problem adapting to the NFL. Jaylinn Hawkins could battle with Harris for the third safety role. Dwayne Johnson Jr.and Marcus Murphy were added as undrafted free agents. Like Hall, Johnson also makes his way to Atlanta via the San Diego State trend.
There are so many question marks across the secondary, mainly who will starting at the second outside cornerback spot. Both Oliver and Moreau will likely get a ton of snaps this year, but one of them needs to stand out for the secondary to be anything better than a below-average unit.
Coach and Culture – 73.75, 26th (15 percent Overall, 21 percent Offense, 30 percent Defense)
The hiring of Smith brings back the Shanahan-Esque offense to Atlanta. Smith’s offense in Tennessee was predicated around running the football with one of the best running backs in the league and using a lot of play-action off of it. Unfortunately, Atlanta doesn’t have one of the best running backs in the league and even has one of the worst running back rooms in the entire league. While Ryan, Matthews, and Ridley remain, the departure of Jones is massive, along with the new front office. The Falcons rank 22nd in offensive coach and culture.
Here is where things get worse. The defense has been abysmal for years, and Quinn couldn’t save it. Now, it is up to Pees to fix the lackluster defense with few inspiring players on the unit. The pass rush and secondary will be the downfall of the defense and look for the Falcons to aggressively tackle the defense in the next draft. Atlanta ranks 27th in defensive coach and culture.
While the Falcons have been in “win-now” mode for some time, they haven’t done that. The defense has been horrible and has wasted the offensive firepower the offense had with Ryan, Jones, Ridley, etc. The ongoing argument, if the Falcons should’ve taken Fields over Pitts, will continue to roll on with the offense having enough talent to potentially keep them from another top-five pick this season.
Atlanta, unfortunately, plays in the NFC South, which has gotten a lot more talented heading into the 2021 season. The Falcons open up with an easy game against the Eagles, followed by games against the Bucs, Giants, and Washington. A game against the Jets in London awaits them in Week 5 before their bye week. After returning from the bye, they have three winnable games against the Dolphins, Panthers, and Saints. After the midway point, the Falcons have a difficult stretch against the Cowboys, Patriots, Jaguars, Bucs, Panthers, and 49ers before rounding out the season with games against Detroit, Buffalo, and New Orleans.
According to Odds Shark, the Falcons have an over/under of 7.5 wins. Bet the under. Atlanta is going to have an explosive offense, but once again, the defense will hinder them from winning many games.
Season Prediction: 5-12
*NOTE* Some teams higher in the rankings will have worse records than others. The rankings aren’t based upon the record but the overall talent of the roster.