Dale Money July 31st, 2019
Coming off a mediocre 7-9 record, where they missed out on the playoffs. The injuries hit the Falcons defense hard in 2018, names that included Keanu Neal, Grady Jarrett, and Ricardo Allen. In all Eight players would finish on the IR by seasons end. The team made some big shakeups on the coaching side of things. Letting go of three members of their coaching staff, among them offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
Sarkisian never ended up paying off as the replacement to Kyle Shanahan. The Falcons brought back a familiar face in Dirk Koetter to fill the role, Koetter should adapt well into an offense he helped lead to the NFC Championship Game in 2012. Devonta Freeman was a rookie starting behind Steven Jackson the last season he was in Atlanta. How will they jell together?
Make sure to check out all of our other NFL team previews here.
The Atlanta Falcons entered the draft, with an eye on the offensive line. In the first round, they picked up both Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. These two players should help create a solid foundation for the future. Lindstrom is expected to become a starter from the outset. Taking Lindstrom at 14 may seem like a bit of a reach, but I can certainly see it from their perspective.
No sense in running the risk of losing out on him, when their need to bolster the offensive line was crucial. They also signed guards Jamon Brown and James Carpenter to help improve that line even further.
You can not put last season on Matt Ryan, Ryan played as well as you could ask of a quarterback. He was third in passing yards, third in touchdowns, fourth in pass percentage and was fourth overall in passer rating. He will still have his two main receiving weapons, so the passing numbers should stay pretty consistent compared to last year. Julio Jones has not missed a game the past two seasons and is looking to continue a streak of five consecutive seasons with at least 1,400 yards.
Freeman’s return is vital for the Falcons’ playoff fortunes, as it doesn’t seem likely there is anybody that can step up at this stage and lead the team. Last season he battled knee, groin and foot injuries only playing in two games. The production as you can imagine dropped like a rock, ranking 27th in rushing yards as a team. Ito Smith will be expected to try and step forward, taking the role left by Tevin Coleman. Smith ran for 315 yards and four touchdowns before a knee injury ended his season.
Atlanta ranked 31st in defensive efficiency last season, mainly because of the injuries. In 2019 linebacker Deion Jones will be back at full strength, as will Neal, who tore his ACL in Week 1 last season. Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley are tabbed as the teams top two edge rushers. Beasley is two years removed from a 15 sack season, and playing out the last year of the contract. He’s going to have a lot to prove, should he expect the Falcons to invest such a large chunk of cap money.
McKinley has shown the flashes of becoming a real special talent, with the opportunity to bust out. In just his second season, he had the second-highest pressure rate out of players that tallied at least 350 pass-rush snaps. I like for him to take the next step in his maturation. A virtual unknown last year, Foyesade Oluokun would end up earning himself a starting role at weakside linebacker.
The Falcons have plenty of talent at the cornerback spot. Desmond Trufant stayed healthy through 16 games last season, putting in the work after a rocky beginning to the season, anchoring that Falcons secondary down the stretch. He accumulated 66 tackles, 12 pass deflections, and one sack. With the injuries to Neal and Allen, it forced Damontae Kazee into the Falcons’ starting lineup early in the year. He took full advantage of it, exploding for seven interceptions, which tied him for first in the NFL he also had 60 tackles.
53 Man Roster Predictions
QB (3) Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Kurt Benkert
Ryan is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and that’s changing anytime soon. Working under Koetter again will be good for him, I think. It’s looking likely that Schaub will end up retiring with the team that drafted him. How long until Benkert moves up to that backup spot behind Ryan?
RB (4) Devonta Freeman, Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison, Brian Hill
With the loss of Tevin Coleman, everything will hinge on whether Freeman can regain his form after two injury-riddled seasons. He’s only 28 and should have something left in the tank. The departure of Tevin Coleman this offseason left a huge hole. However between, Smith, Ollison, Hill, and Barner. There are a number of guys that are capable to step up and provide some adequate support when called upon.
On the bubble: Kenjon Barner
WR (6) Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Russell Gage, Marcus Green
Jones will skip the full pre-season slate, for the second straight year. He has been working his way back from a chronic foot injury. Gage is returning for his second season and seems to be ahead of Hardy for that fourth spot on the depth chart. With the injury to Jones, he will be looking to make the most of his extra practice time.
TE (3) Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen, Luke Stocker
Paulsen was re-signed and Stocker was brought in during the offseason to fill up the depth behind Hooper. Hooper was sidelined during minicamp to deal with a nagging ankle injury, however, he should be ready to roll in week 1.
On the bubble: Eric Saubert
OL (9) Chris Lindstrom, Alex Mack, James Carpenter, Jake Matthews, Ty Sambrailo, Matt Gono, Kaleb McGary, Wes Schweitzer, Jamon Brown
It looks as though, a sizeable portion of the Falcons offensive line is set. With Matthews, Mack, and Lindstrom occupying the left tackle, center, and right guard positions respectively. Brown and Carpenter are battling for that left guard spot, and the fight for right tackle looks to be between McGary and Sambrailo.
DL (9) Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, Adrian Claybord, Takkarist McKinley, John Cominsky, Jack Crawford, Allen Bailey, Deadrin Senat, Tyeler Davison
On the bubble: Ra’Shede Hageman
Jarrett, having just signed on for four more years, is a dominant force who pressures the quarterbacks and stuffs the run. Beasley will be playing for his own future as well this year, with a new contract looming. Cominsky will have a lot to prove in his rookie year and has done a solid job so far in camp.
LB (6) Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Bruce Carter, Foye Oluokun, Kemal Ishmael, Jermaine Grace
With Jones entering the final year of his rookie contract, the Falcons made sure he wasn’t getting away for at least the foreseeable future. Signing him on for four more years and 57 million. With the injury to Jones last year that opened a window for Oluokun. He finished second on the team in tackles with 91.
CB (6) Desmond Trufant, Damontae Kazee, Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield, Blidi Wreh-Wilson
The Falcons went out and drafted Sheffield in the fourth round, he brings with him a lot of speed and explosiveness. Kazee will probably be moved from free safety to nickel corner. How will that affect his incredible production from last season?
SAF (4) Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, Kemal Ishmael, Sharrod Neasman
So much uncertainty with this group of players, with both Neal and Allen coming back from brutal injuries last year. Both Allen and Neal have performed well in camp so far. With J.J. Wilcox picking up an injury in the first day of practice, this opens things up for Ishmael playing at strong safety.
ST (3) Giorgio Tavecchio, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris
The Matt Bryant era is officially over in Atlanta, Tavecchio will have large shoes to fill, he did perform admirably in Bryant’s absence last season. He will also take over kickoff duties from Bosher.
On paper, the Falcons look better, more talented, and deeper than last season. They made the moves in the offseason that they needed to make. With the new additions to that offensive line, it will just make Ryan and his air attack that much more scary. Hooper and Ridley are still young and blossoming into potential stars. So much of it just boils down to the health of the team, and whether the defense can just hold up. The offense is good enough to beat anybody.
If it wasn’t for the fact they were sharing the division with the New Orleans Saints, I could see them walking away with the NFC South. The more likely scenario is challenging for a wild card.
Questions and comments?
Follow Us on Twitter @thescorecrow
Follow Us on Reddit at u/TheScorecrow
Follow Us on Facebook at The Scorecrow
Follow Us on Instagram at The Scorecrow
Facebook Group where you can read and post articles at The Scorecrow
Reddit Group where everyone can post without fear of being banned at The Scorecrow
Follow Dale Money on Twitter @packerd_00
Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images