Much like any other preseason ranking in any sport, they are all subject to change at a moment’s notice and don’t mean very much. However, unlike the top 25 in a sport like college football, there won’t be very much shuffling after one week. Right now, Bleacher Report’s staff is very bearish on the Falcons:
While I don’t think the Falcons should be anywhere near the top ten (or even the top 15 for that matter), I think they’re being a bit undersold here.
The Falcons traded longtime No. 1 wideout Julio Jones to the Tennessee Titans in June. They also have a new head coach in Arthur Smith and a number of new faces on both sides of the ball.
Even with Jones gone, Ryan still has ample passing-game weapons. Calvin Ridley should slide in as his top target, and the Falcons spent the No. 4 overall pick on tight end Kyle Pitts, making him the highest-drafted player at his position in NFL history.
But an offensive line ranked 24th in the league by Pro Football Focus is a major question mark, as is a defense that allowed the fourth-most yards per game in the league last year.
“The Falcons should be able to score some points this year,” Davenport said. “But my confidence level in their ability to stop opponents from doing the same with impunity is nonexistent. It’s shaping up to be a long season in Atlanta, followed by tough questions about Ryan’s future with the team.”
“There’s just no reason to believe this team will be any better,” Gagnon added. “Ryan peaked years ago, and now he’s lost a Hall of Fame receiver. Pitts could become a star, but tight ends usually need time to develop in the NFL. The Falcons didn’t get any better elsewhere, either. They’re stuck in neutral.”
Yards per game is a pretty weak metric, as those who watched the team knew the defense was much improved under Raheem Morris. If you look at DVOA, which is a much more complete metric, you would see that the Falcons progressed from the bottom of the league to finish 17th. After Raheem Morris took over, the Falcons ranked 9th — and they were the only team to hold Patrick Mahomes under 20 points in his entire career until Tampa Bay did it later that season in the Super Bowl. Morris employed a lot of creative blitzes that fans will see out of Dean Pees.
Dean Pees is going to be an X-Factor this season, and I have confidence the Falcons will field an average defensive unit at worst. They still have a ton of playmakers and one of the best linebacker groups in the entire NFL with Deion Jones, Foyesade Oluokun, and potentially Mykal Walker if he can improve on an incredible rookie season. I expect a big year from AJ Terrell as well, and Grady Jarrett is a superstar.
On the offensive side of the ball, Russell Gage and Calvin Ridley can spearhead a very good offensive unit. Yes, tight ends are slow to develop, but we have never seen a tight end like Kyle Pitts. Arthur Smith will get him out in space and use him in a variety of ways. Don’t be shocked if he’s lined up in the slot on Sunday. I also have faith that Mike Davis will be a very valuable weapon out of the backfield, along with Cordarrelle Patterson and Wayne Gallman.
Make no mistake, this team still has question marks, but I see no reason why they should be behind some of the teams they are behind. Coaching held the Falcons back on multiple occasions in 2020, and I think they will regress towards a 8-9 or 9-8 squad at worst in 2021.