Atlanta Falcons 2021 Team Previewby Mason Thompson August 20, 2021 0 comments
The Atlanta Falcons endured a disappointing 2020 season that started with an 0-5 start leading to the firing of Dan Quinn. Following the firing of Quinn, the Falcons finished the year 4-7 and were looking for a new head coach and general manager duo to bring the Falcons back to the playoffs following a few disappointing seasons in a row.
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To kickstart the rebuild, the Falcons hired Terry Fontenot as the new general manager and Arthur Smith as the new head coach. The offense has continued to be built well in Atlanta, but the same couldn’t be said about the defense. Dean Pees enters to help the horrendous defense. The first big move the Falcons made during the offseason was restructuring Matt Ryan‘s contract. With his contract restructured, that was a big blow to the chances that the Falcons would take Ryan’s successor with the fourth overall pick in the draft. In free agency, many veterans Atlanta was relying on weren’t retained to keep any salary-cap space. The few additions made were Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson, Erik Harris, Duran Harmon, Fabian Moreau, Brandon Copeland, and A.J. McCarron.
With the fourth pick in the draft, the Falcons had an opportunity to find the quarterback of the future and could have taken Justin Fields. Instead, Atlanta elected to take Kyle Pitts. In the second round, the defense was the focal point, specifically a safety unit that lacked upside. With that in mind, Richie Grant was an excellent choice with the first day two selection. In the third round, the focus returned to the offense as the team selected Jalen Mayfield.
Day three was spent patching holes on the defensive side of the ball once again with the first four selections. Darren Hall, Ta’Quon Graham, Adetokunbo Ogundeji, and Avery Williams were all selected on day three to help the depleted defense. The final pick was used on Arizona State’s Frank Darby, who should compete for one of the final roster spots.
There have been rumors for multiple years that the Falcons had taken phone calls about trading Jones. During the offseason, those rumors swirled the summer months. After drafting Pitts, it was seen as the Falcons were competing when they didn’t take a future franchise quarterback. Unfortunately, things got confusing when the Falcons traded their star receiver to the Titans for a second-round pick in 2022 and a fourth-round pick in 2023.
With Jones out of the picture, it opens the door for Calvin Ridley to become the number one receiver in the offense. It also opens the door for Russell Gage to take the number two role instead of the third role, which he has played well in the last two years. Olamide Zaccheus will also have a more expanded role. The biggest thing with Jones out of the picture is the direction the Falcons are going, and if they are competing, rebuilding, or somewhere in the middle.
Of course, the offense starts at the quarterback position. Matt Ryan is still one of the top 12 quarterbacks in the league, and the Falcons chose not to select the quarterback of the future with their first-round pick, even with it being a high selection. With Jones and Alex Mack gone, Ryan is now the man in charge of the locker room alongside Jake Matthews. The passing attack should still go strong with Ridley, Gage, Zaccheus, Pitts, and Hayden Hurst at Ryan’s disposal.
The running game and offensive line are concerns. Davis was the big-name free agent signing and will likely start the season as the starting running back. Qadree Ollison, Patterson, and undrafted backs Caleb Huntley and Javian Hawkins will factor in, but the running back spot is a bit of a question mark before the season. The offensive line outside of Matthews and Chris Lindstrom is a concern. Matt Hennessy will be taking over the center spot with the departure of Mack but will have to fend off rookie Drew Dalman to get the starting job. The left guard spot is a major question mark between Josh Andrews and Jalen Mayfield ongoing. In the first pre-season game, Andrews didn’t play well at all. Mayfield will need to pick up the pace to win the starting role.
For years, Quinn’s defense was never good. Bringing in Pees has already shown some progress from the defense. There are a few standouts like Grady Jarrett and Deion Jones, but the majority of the defense needs help. The unit is young, and the lack of a consistent pass-rush and development from the young cornerback group is very concerning. The off-ball linebackers weren’t a problem as that was the only spot where the Falcons didn’t use a pick on in the draft. The whole unit needs a ton of work, and it won’t be a seamless transition for Pees to greatly improve the defense.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
Behind Ryan, there is a serious question as to who the Atlanta backup quarterback will be. It’s almost like they should have kept Kurt Benkert around or something. Anyways, McCarron and undrafted rookie Feleipe Franks are currently battling for the backup role, and all reports out of camp are saying that neither is looking all that great. With McCarron’s experience, he will likely win the role unless someone else is added to the group, which it sounds like would be a good idea.
The question in this group is which of the two free agents between Hawkins and Huntley make the 53-man roster. Patterson will have his role as the pass-catching back and the receiver-hybrid of the group. Davis will likely get the first crack at the starting role, but the others should factor in as well. With Smith making his way over from Tennessee, a fullback is necessary, so Smith makes the roster.
Ridley, Gage, and Zaccheaus will likely get the bulk of the pass-down work. Sharpe makes his way to the Falcons with Smith due to his familiarity with the scheme from his time with the Titans. The last few spots will be a battle between many players. that include Darby, Christian Blake, and Austin Trammel. With Darby being the draft pick and having some swagger to his playing style, he gets the edge over the rest of the group.
With Pitts and Hurst, the Falcons can run many different offensive formations to get them both on the field at the same time. Pitts is a glorified receiver, so he will likely be spending most of the time out wide instead of as an in-line tight end. Smith will make the roster as the veteran of the group, and Raine has shown plenty of progress as a rookie to make the final 53-man roster.
The starting five is almost set beside the left guard battle. Matthews is quietly one of the best tackles in the league, and Lindstrom is one of the most underrated players in the league. McGary needs to show he can be a full-time starter at right tackle instead of being one of the worst starters in the league. Hennessy needs to show the new regime he should be the starting center over Dalman. The battle between Andrews and Mayfield will be the one to watch during camp for the starting right guard spot. Other than Matthews, the offensive line is very young, and if they reach their potential, the Falcons will have a much better offensive line than it seems right now.
Jarrett, Davison, and Davidson are locked to make the roster. The trio of young players are looking to find roles this season and beyond. Jarrett is far and away the best player on the defensive unit and is one of the most underrated players in the league. Davidson was used incorrectly under Quinn last season, so hopefully, Pees can get the most out of him.
Fowler is the best of the group by far. Unfortunately, there isn’t much else in the pass-rush group outside of him. Ogundeji shouldn’t be getting starter snaps but might have to in Atlanta this season. Means will likely be the base starter, and Tuioti-Mariner as well. The pass-rush group needs reinforcements desperately.
The linebacker group is far and away the best group on the defense. Jones is arguably a top-ten linebacker in the league. Jones, with Oluokun, the Falcons have a great pass-coverage duo in the middle of the defense. Similar to the first two, Walker is also a pass-rush specialist. Etheridge makes the roster purely on his special teams ability, and Copeland makes it as a veteran that can play in many different roles.
The cornerback room is very young. Moreau has the most experience of any player in the room, with five years of experience at his belt. Terrell had a good rookie season after starting the season very slow. Sheffield has dealt with many injuries since entering the league. The rookie tandem of both Hall and Williams will both make the roster to help out the young unit.
Adding Harmon and Harris gives Atlanta a veteran presence in the safety room. Which will help until Grant gets up to speed. The trio should make it easier this year in the new scheme.
There are no major surprises in the special teams unit.
One Player to Add
With the backup quarterback position seemingly non-existent in terms of anyone sticking out. With the San Francisco 49ers releasing Josh Rosen, the Falcons should take a look at the former first-round quarterback to try and see if he has anything left in the tank or if he truly can’t make it in the big league.
2021 Outlook & Odds
The new coaching staff and a lot of unknown revolving around the Falcons this year don’t bode well with them, along with a much-improved division. Atlanta’s over/under is set at 7.5 wins, which is an ambitious mark for an Atlanta team that is seemingly trying to move forwards by going backward.
Season Prediction: 5-12 and Miss the Playoffs.