8. Offensive Line
Coming into 2015, this will be the position to look at on the offensive side of the ball. The offensive line has not been anything spectacular, not even average at best, for the past two years. Injuries were apart of the reason this group could not gel as a unit last season, but the talent was nothing special either. The Falcons cut veterans such as Sam Baker and Justin Blalock, and added guys such as Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus. With Shanahan implementing the Zone Blocking Scheme, expect this unit to have growing pains at first, but eventually become a better unit each and every week.
7. Tight Ends
Levine Toilolo was pretty awful in 2014. While the Falcons added Jacob Tamme and Tony Moeaki, this position still has question marks. Will Tamme and Moeaki make a difference in pass-catching and blocking next season? Tamme looks to be the guy that will be Matt Ryan’s security blanket. Moeaki will provide good blocking and also some pass catching, but somebody has to step up for the Falcons at tight end or it could be a huge problem.
6. Running Backs
The reason the running backs are low on the list is because they have very little NFL experience. Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, and Antone Smith will likely be the three running backs on the 53-man roster. Freeman showed potential last season, but only had 65 carries. Smith was a touchdown machine in the few times he touched the ball, before breaking his leg during the 2014 campaign. Coleman is an upcoming rookie, and many Falcons fans believe he can solve the Falcons running back woes. Coleman could put up big numbers this season, but he will experience difficulties adjusting to the National Football League. With no clear-cut starter, this unit ranks sixth on these power rankings.
Without the additions of Brooks Reed and Justin Durant, this unit would have probably been last or close to it. Reed and Durant will look to complement Paul Worrilow, as Dan Quinn looks to turn the linebacking core around. These three guys will have to stay healthy for most of the year in order for the Falcons defense to succeed. Former Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was counted on to be a big time player this year after missing last season, but he bolted to Arizona. This unit will need to be able improve their coverage skills, as past units in the last couple years have struggled in that area. Richard Smith was brought in as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach this season. He has had great success grooming linebackers and turning them into pro-bowlers. Hopefully he can do the same in Atlanta.
The Falcons have a top-five cornerback in the league, and Desmond Trufant will keep up his incredible play. The other likely two starters at cornerback will be Robert Alford and rookie Jalen Collins. Collins and Alford will battle in training camp to start opposite of Trufant. I expect Alford to have a much better year than previous years, as he has potential and experience. Collins is a question mark because he was not a standout college player but does posses the size and skills to be successful in the NFL. William Moore has proven to be a hard-hitting safety in the past, and he will need to stay healthy and be a leader at safety. Ricardo Allen will likely be the free safety, but he will be heavily targeted if he starts, as he has no experience in a regular season game. If Allen does not prove worthy of starting, Kemal Ishmael could possibly move from strong safety to free safety. Ishmael actually had some pretty solid plays last year and is not afraid to put his body on the line. This secondary will do better than expected in the upcoming season.
3. Defensive Line
This unit has been upgraded by draft selections and free agents during the offseason. Vic Beasley will play the “LEO” linebacker, meaning he will be finding ways to hit the opposing quarterback most of the time. The Falcons also signed former first-round pick Adrian Clayborn. Clayborn will be expected to make a difference on the defensive side of the ball. O’Brien Scofield could be a dark horse, as he will be used for pass-rushing situations. Hell, maybe all of the competition will somehow make Kroy Biermann want to improve his game. The defensive tackles will improve also. Paul Soliai and Jonathan Babineaux are the two veterans that have been in the league for awhile, while Ra’Shede Hageman and Grady Jarrett are young fresh talent. Hageman was a second-rounder last season, and looks to see the field a lot more and make a number of great plays. Jarrett was a stud in college, but being behind those three players will make it tough for him to get any playing time. This unit should be a lot better than last season.
T.J. Yates was rated the 25th best backup quarterback in the NFL. Luckily enough, the Falcons have Matt Ryan, one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Ryan has seen mostly everything in his years in Atlanta, besides a Super Bowl. If Ryan can win a Super Bowl, he will be considered elite. He knows how to win, espeically in pressure situations. He has had 20 fourth-quarter comebacks in seven years in Atlanta. Ryan alone leads this unit to number two,
1. Wide Receivers
Having Julio Jones as the number one target will do wonders for a team. Him and Roddy White have proven to be a deadly duo the past couple of years. White’s age has started to effect his game, but Atlanta has targeted young receivers in Leonard Hankerson and rookie Justin Hardy. Devin Hester looks to be another option at slot receiver, as Harry Douglas was cut earlier this offseason to save cap. This unit will also be better due to the play of Matt Ryan, who makes his receivers even better than what they are. Jones will be a top-five receiver if healthy, while I expect White will make his savvy veteran plays that he is known for. Hankerson, Hester, and Hardy will all work together to improve, and I expect them to do well this season. This position is number one due to Julio Jones, but the other receivers will prove to be nice complements to Jones.