The Falcons are finally committing to a rebuild. After one season under the new regime, Atlanta traded away Matt Ryan, ridding of the most bloated contract on the books. The front office still has Deion Jones to deal with, but outside of that, they have completely cleaned house. Julio Jones, Dante Fowler, and Ryan are accounting for a record-setting amount of dead money as Atlanta aims for a fresh start in 2023. This season will probably result in another top ten draft pick.
Despite boasting a 7-10 record and not being eliminated from postseason contention until Week 17 in 2021, they had one of the worst point differentials in the league with even worse supporting statistics. Five of their seven wins came against organizations who selected in the top six of the draft. The Falcons put up 303.8 total yards per game (28th), allowed 27.0 points per game (29th), and totaled a league-low 18 sacks — less than T.J. Watt (22.5) and Robert Quinn (18.5) had individually. On top of all that, they’ll enter 2022 with a substantial downgrade at the quarterback position.
It’s safe to say the Falcons are among the worst rosters in the league. However, Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports believes Atlanta boasts the absolute worst personnel in football.
Arthur Smith is essentially starting from scratch for a second straight season, and this time, he doesn’t have Matt Ryan’s veteran savviness to at least mask the offense’s thin weaponry. Kyle Pitts and Drake London could form a solid big-boy duo at pass catcher, but there’s still a general lack of explosiveness here.
Regardless of whether it’s Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder at QB, this is shaping up to be a plodding old-school attack with Cordarrelle Patterson and Damien Williams as the “featured” ball-carriers. Arnold Ebiketie and A.J. Terrell are promising youngsters at premium positions on defense, but that unit as a whole isn’t particularly deep, either. Few teams feel more firmly entrenched in purgatory, until a real post-Ryan gamble occurs under center.
It’s difficult to argue, honestly. But I’ll give it my best shot, Falcons fans.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Falcons have two pieces on the line that could start on most NFL teams — Jake Matthews and Chris Lindstrom — but that’s it. As far as weapons go, Terry Fontenot has done a fantastic job of creating something out of nothing. Before the offseason kicked off, the best receivers on the team were a tight end and converted running back. Now, it looks much different — Pitts, London, Patterson, Edwards, Firkser, and Zaccheaus is a decent arsenal.
The most important position on the field, though, is quite bleak. Desmond Ridder could turn into a franchise quarterback, but at this point, he’s still developing. And we know what Marcus Mariota is — a backup. Matt Ryan has always solidified the signal caller position in Atlanta, and now Arthur Smith won’t be able to lean on the veteran.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons’ defense has certainly improved since 2021. Eddie Goldman and Grady Jarrett are a formidable duo on the inside, and Atlanta may have one of the best cornerback tandems in football in AJ Terrell and Casey Hayward. Outside of those units, it is either unproven youngsters or lackluster veterans.
The EDGE group is beaming with potential, but the only proven commodity (which is a stretch) is Lorenzo Carter, who has never totaled more than 5.0 sacks in a season. Behind him, it’s just a lot of potential. Ade Ogundeji is an interesting piece; however, his long arm is about the only pass rush move he possesses right now. Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone seem like they could turn into productive pass rushers, but they’re rookies. It isn’t exactly an imposing unit.
The linebackers and safeties are even worse, though. Rashaan Evans should be decent under his former defensive coordinator, Dean Pees. But there are a lot of question marks behind him. Deion Jones has been borderline unplayable in recent seasons, Mykal Walker hasn’t been a full-time starter his entire career, Nick Kwiatowski’s best season came in 2017, and Troy Andersen is probably a year away from assuming a three-down role.
At safety, everything hinges on the development of Jaylinn Hawkins and Richie Grant. It can’t be assumed both players will take a significant step forward, despite flashing at times in 2021. Erik Harris is a solid veteran and won’t be detrimental to the defense’s overall success, but he certainly isn’t a positive impact player.
I wouldn’t say the Falcons have the worst roster in the league, but they are undoubtedly in the conversation with the Bears, Texans, Lions, Jaguars, and Giants for the bottom of the barrel.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire