Did the Falcons actually improve their defense this offseason?

NFL: NOV 26 Saints at Falcons

The Falcons came into the offseason with a talented, yet underachieving roster that many described as the proverbial ‘quarterback away’ from competing.

When Raheem Morris took over in Atlanta, he quickly acknowledged the elephant in the room that they needed a new quarterback. The Falcons went from a shortage of quality signal callers then went to a surplus in a matter of months.

The Falcons went from Desmond Ridder to Kirk Cousins and Michael Penix in one of the most dramatic changes in a quarterback room I’ve ever seen. However, what it did was signal to the rest of the league, and to their organization for that matter, that they believe they’re ready to compete.

Unfortunately for those believers in Raheem Morris, Kirk Cousins, and this loaded offense, the defense may have regressed in a big way this offseason.

Firstly, the loss of Ryan Nielsen cannot be understated. We are all excited about Morris and Jimmy Lake, but what Nielsen did for Atlanta’s defense cannot just be expected to continue under the new coordinator.

Secondly, and more importantly, the personnel got younger and that’s it. Better? Debatable. The Falcons didn’t bring in any notable free agents and brought in a slew of Day 2 and 3 draft picks. There’s a lot riding on young, inexperienced pieces.

Below are the starters from 2023 that won’t be on the field in Week 1 this year:

  • Calais Campbell
  • Bud Dupree
  • Jeff Okudah

So, who will be replacing them? Here are some options:

  • Zach Harrison, Ruke Orhorhoro
  • Lorenzo Carter, Bralen Trice
  • Clark Phillips, Kevin King, Antonio Hamilton, Dee Alford, Mike Hughes

That’s not a ton of attrition. The Falcons are returning the big pieces in A.J. Terrell, Jessie Bates, David Onyemata, Grady Jarrett, and Kaden Elliss. However, those changes could be considered downgrades in a lot of ways.

Success in the NFL usually depends on teams drafting and developing, and that’s exactly what Atlanta’s success hinges on defensively. We will see how it turns out, but right now, I’m not sure if it got better.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire


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