Terry Fontenot has been particular and exact with his free-agent signings in his first offseason as Falcons general manager. His ‘type’ has usually been reliable veterans willing to sign one-year deals, but in the rare case, Mike Davis was signed to a two-year contract — the most total capital Fontenot shelled out this offseason. The roster is now starting to take form a little over a week away from the draft, and Fontenot has kept true to his word — that the Falcons will sign free agents from positions of need and draft based on the best player available. He has done a masterful job filling the holes on the roster to give himself the flexibility to take whichever path he sees fit come the draft.
The only new offensive addition since my depth chart analysis from a couple of weeks ago is Cordarrelle Patterson, who is listed as a running back on the team roster page. Since Ito Smith has now been released, the running back depth chart is Mike Davis RB1, Cordarrelle Patterson RB2, and Quadree Ollison RB3. The committee approach Arthur Smith has vowed to use in Atlanta will be spearheaded by Davis and Patterson, who I think can be an effective one-two punch in this system.
The guys that will be paving the way for those running backs seem almost set in stone, but the depth surely needs addressing. From left to right, the offensive line is comprised of Jake Matthews, Matt Gono, Matt Hennessy, Chris Lindstrom, and Kaleb McGary — the most competitive starting lineup the roster currently has to offer. Josh Andrews was brought in but has to be more of a camp body than anything. Dwayne Ledford is one of the best in the business, so I expect exponential improvement throughout the season from Hennessey and McGary, and Fontenot may add a body or two before the draft.
They’ll be protecting Matty Ice, who is the only quarterback on the roster. His backup will come from the fourth overall pick or a veteran free agent because I can’t see Arthur Smith being comfortable with a late-round rookie as Ryan’s first replacement. The wide receiver group is as good as solidified with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Russell Gage as the starting X, Z, and Y positions, respectively, with backups Christian Blake, Olamide Zaccheaus, and Chris Rowland also under contract.
The last position group is the tight ends, which are good enough to go into Week 1 with but isn’t a particularly threatening group outside of Hayden Hurst. The depth chart reads Hurst, Lee Smith, Ryan Becker, and Jaeden Graham — in that order. Hurst is reliable in both the pass and run games, but the group would be much better if Smith were TE3 instead of TE2, which would signal another addition is needed.
Moving onto the defensive side of the ball, which needed the most help in terms of personnel. The secondary is starting to take shape as the front seven was already closer to completion with Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson, Tyeler Davison, Deadrin Senat, John Cominsky, Jonathan Bullard, and Steven Means — the last two being the most recent additions. Dante Fowler is the only threat of an edge rusher on the roster, but he has to improve drastically to have any chance of signing more than a one-year deal next free agency. Behind him is Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, and opposite of Fowler will be a combination of Barkevious Mingo and Brandon Copeland.
The second level of the defense is a bit top-heavy, though Copeland’s versatility enables him to play both outside and off-ball linebacker. Deion Jones will be commanding the Will and Foyesade Oluokun will play the Mike. Mykal Walker will be the first man up and surely push for playing time as he showed well in limited snaps his rookie year. Dean Pees’ loves linebackers flexible enough to cover tight ends and running backs man-to-man, and Walker was one of the highest graded at just this at his position.
Moving on to the third level of Pees’ defense, which was the position group that needed the most addressing, bar none. Fontenot signed Erik Harris earlier in free agency to a team-friendly one-year deal, and his ceiling is low — meaning the Falcons know exactly what he’ll give them. Then the Falcons recently signed Duron Harmon to add to the safety room, and I couldn’t be happier — this from my piece on what Harmon brings to Atlanta:
Harmon does everything well but nothing exceptionally. Although he will play free safety, his ability to provide elite run-support is among the best in the league at his position. It is rare to be as reliable as Harmon is against the run, doing a great job filling gaps because of his cerebral way of playing the game — quick and accurate diagnostic skills, regardless of his alignment. The physicality he displays makes playing in non-traditional free safety alignments possible.
Behind them is TJ Green — a new addition — and Jaylinn Hawkins, who shouldn’t be written off even if he’s only played 72 snaps at safety; he’s a steady contributor on special teams and could compete for the fourth safety spot. The cornerbacks weren’t as glaring of a need as the safeties, but the starters aren’t entirely reliable. Fabian Moreau and A.J. Terrell will likely start as the boundary corners unless Fontenot drafts a cornerback in the first or second round, but neither has been consistent in defending elite wide receivers. Behind them will be a combination of Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield, and Ty Hall, who will compete for the nickel role.