Atlanta Falcons 2021 Season Recapby Jackson Caudell January 12, 2022 0 comments
Expectations were not high for the Atlanta Falcons heading into the 2021 season. This is a team that had just fired its head coach and general manager and was heading in a new direction. Because of the salary cap, Atlanta was not able to make many roster changes heading into the season. Atlanta went 7-10 this season and there were some good things and some not-so-good things to take away from this season. Atlanta had to adjust to some tough circumstances midseason. Their most proven young talent, wide receiver Calvin Ridley, decided to take the rest of the season to focus on his mental health.
Ridley did not return and his future is currently up in the air. The Falcons had to rely on rookies and several guys on one-year deals due to their tough salary cap situation. It will be interesting to see if Atlanta decided to bring any of these players back for next season. Fans should not expect many big changes to the coaching staff this offseason. Continuity is going to be key heading into next season if the Falcons are going to improve. Atlanta will hold the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft. They will also have two second-round picks courtesy of the Julio Jones trade.
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What Went Right
The Falcons overperformed for the talent that was on the roster. To have so many deficiencies, Atlanta managed to beat teams that were on their level or worse. They improved on their record from last season by three wins and they did it with an arguably worse roster. On offense, Atlanta found a way to utilize Cordarrelle Patterson in a fun way that helped the offense. Patterson has been a journeyman throughout his career, but he really found a way to shine in head coach Arthur Smith’s offense. Rookie tight end Kyle Pitts lived up to the hype as the fourth overall pick, even though he struggled to find the end zone. Russell Gage emerged as a go-to option for Matt Ryan and could stay with the team long-term.
On defense, it is tough to find many bright spots from one of the league’s worst units. However, Atlanta has figured out they have one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks in AJ Terrell. Terell should earn All-Pro honors this season and is one of the best young defensive backs in the league. Linebacker Foyesade Oluokun led the NFL in tackles with 192. Adetokunbo Ogundeji had flashes as a rookie pass-rusher and the Falcons have to hope he gets better next season.
What Went Wrong
While the Falcons improved on their record from last season, it is tough to make the argument they were a better team. Atlanta finished with one of the worst point differentials in the NFL and was fortunate to win so many one-score games. Anytime the Falcons faced a playoff contender this year, it resulted in a blowout. It is fair to say that Atlanta was lucky to win seven games. Offensively, there were plenty of things that went wrong. For starters, the offensive line was one of the worst in the NFL. Rookie left guard Jalen Mayfield graded out as of the worst left guards in the league and rarely flashed upside. Center Matt Hennessy and right tackle Kaleb McGary both had their struggles as well.
The running game was inconsistent. Both Patterson and Mike Davis are potential upcoming free agents. Atlanta had one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL, especially once Ridley left the team. Defensively, there are a lot of things that went wrong. Atlanta had the worst pass rush in the league and only finished with 18 sacks as a team. The defense struggled to stop the run consistently and there is a lack of talent overall in the front seven. The safeties were not a bright spot and one of the worst in the league. Outside of Terrell, cornerback lacked depth and none of the rookie draft picks seemed to step up in a significant way.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Matt Ryan
The MVP for the Falcons is an easy choice. Despite a bad offensive line, an inconsistent running game, and one of the NFL’s worst receiving corps, Ryan managed to still have a solid season. It is also worth pointing out that Ryan was in the first year of running Smith’s offense. Ryan has struggled in year one of running a new offense so that should mean good things for next season. With his best receiver out, Ryan still nearly threw for 4,000 yards. Ryan is the greatest Falcon ever and it is seasons like this that show why.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Kyle Pitts
Many wondered when the Falcons took Pitts with the fourth pick if they were making a mistake. A tight end had never been taken that high and the Falcons had a lot of holes on the roster. Pitts did not disappoint this season and showed why he is going to be a force in the NFL for years to come. He finished with 68 catches for 1,026 yards and was close to breaking the rookie tight end receiving record. While only scoring one touchdown, Pitts showed his athleticism and why he is a matchup nightmare for any defense. It won’t be long before Pitts is mentioned alongside the best tight ends in the NFL.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Adetokunbo Ogundeji
It was tough to pick this award, but Ogundeji showed enough upside at times to win it. Atlanta was lacking for pass rush in a big way this year and while he only finished with one sack, he won some battles and was decent against the run. For only being a sixth-round pick, it was crucial for Ogundeji to earn playing time. This will be valuable as he will be asked to take on more responsibility next season and be a more consistent player.
Biggest Surprise – AJ Terrell
Terrell was a first-round pick in 2020, but the leap that he has taken in his second season in the NFL is pretty incredible. If he is not a first-team All-Pro when the teams are named, it will be a major error on part of the voters. Terrell was one of the best shutdown corners in the league and earned the highest grade from Pro Football Focus. While players like Trevon Diggs will get more attention because of interception numbers, Terrell is a better player and showed it this season. Terrell had potential, but it was a surprise to see him take this big of a leap so quickly.
Biggest Disappointment – Dante Fowler Jr
The Falcons made the move to sign Fowler two years ago to help fix their ailing pass rush and he did not help at all in 2020. After taking a salary reduction for the 2021 season, Fowler was the guy that was supposed to help make the pass rush at least competent. He finished with 4.5 sacks and while that did lead the team, that’s not a very high mark. Fowler would disappear for stretches of games and rarely impacted the game in any meaningful way. He is a free agent after this season and it would be a surprise to see him back in Atlanta.
One Burning Question
Will Calvin Ridley be Back in 2022?
Ridley is one of the best receivers in the NFL when on the field and would help the Falcons offense immensely next season. However, it is not clear whether Ridley is going to be back with the team. After taking the rest of the season off for mental health reasons, there have been rumors swirling around about whether Ridley and the Falcons were heading for a split. Atlanta is in great need of young talent and it would hurt if Ridley were to be traded. There are lots of questions about the Falcons roster heading into next season, but Ridley’s status has to be the top one.
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