The Falcons aren’t going to be a very good team in 2022, but the culture Arthur Smith is instilling should have this squad competitive in most contests. The foundation is being laid, and ESPN believes Atlanta has one of the best young cores in football. Scott Spratt recently ranked every team’s core, and the Falcons came in at No. 4 under these parameters:
- Number of starts made by players under 25 years old
- Number of snaps played by players under 25 years old
- Quality of play of players under 25 years old, age-adjusted to capture the fact that a 21-year-old player of X ability will likely improve more than a 23-year-old player of X ability and with extra consideration given to Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections
- Relative importance of positions, in particular with quarterbacks being more important and running backs, off-ball linebackers and specialists being less important than other positions
- Draft value added in the 2022 draft with extra emphasis placed on the premium picks in the first two rounds
- Expected key starters and reserves under 25 years old for teams in 2022
- Team track records of talent evaluation and development
- Significant injuries or suspensions that will affect the 2022 availability of players under 25 years old
Like the Chargers, the Falcons boast the best young players at a pair of positions. Pitts erased any concerns over a top-four tight end selection with a 1,000-yard rookie season. At 6-foot-6 and 246 pounds, he may already be the most difficult coverage assignment in football at 21 years old. And Terrell can make a compelling case that he is the NFL’s best cover corner after his sophomore season. He led cornerbacks with 50 or more targets with a miniscule 3.2 yards per target and a stellar 70.5% coverage success rate. Even rookie receiver London deserves blue-chip consideration. He came off the board eighth overall — nine picks before the Chargers’ first-rounder Johnson — and was the first of an amazing six wide receivers selected in the first 18 picks.
Still, the Falcons land two spots behind the Chargers in the under-25 rankings because of positional value. Quarterbacks carry an outsized importance in the modern NFL, and the Chargers have the best one at 24 or younger in Herbert. The Falcons were well-positioned to bet on their quarterback of the future with the No. 4 and No. 8 picks in the past two drafts. But because of some combination of their former quarterback Matt Ryan‘s extended cap commitment and their pessimism for the prospects in those two classes, the team lacks an expected difference-maker at that most important position. Rookie Desmond Ridder could change that calculus if he hits. He may have been a third-round draft pick, but he was the second quarterback taken in 2022. And previous midround success stories such as Russell Wilson and Prescott became the best bargains in football as they authored repeated top-10 DVOA seasons on base salaries of less than $1 million.
Honestly, you won’t find many national outlets giving the Falcons respect in any capacity, so this is pretty cool to see. The Falcons have a few pillars to build around, but Kyle Pitts and AJ Terrell are premier players at their respective positions. However, nothing matters in the NFL without locking down the quarterback position, so all eyes will be on Desmond Ridder.
Photographer: David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire