ESPN ranks Falcons skill group in elite territory and best in division

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The Falcons spent most of their cap space on the defensive side of the ball, inking deals with Jesse Bates III, Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, and Kaden Elliss, to name a few.

Offensively, four of five starters return on the offensive line, with most of the skill group returning. Kyle Pitts, Drake London, Tyler Allgeier, and Cordarrelle Patterson were already a formidable group, then the front office went out and acquired Bijan Robinson and Jonnu Smith.

The Falcons now have three top 10 picks as offensive weapons, forming one of the most talented skill groups in football. Bill Barnwell of ESPN ranked the unit as the 10th-best in the league.

10. Atlanta Falcons

This is a very big three. When everyone’s healthy, the Falcons will roll out a top-10 pick at running back (Bijan Robinson), wide receiver (Drake London) and tight end (Kyle Pitts). No team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 has had a top-10 homegrown player at those three positions at the same time. A few have done it with imported players; the only one since 2010 is the 2014 Lions, who had Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson and Eric Ebron.

We can leave aside the quarterback situation and the cost it took to get those three players to Atlanta, so let’s talk about how fun this offense can be. Robinson enjoyed glowing reviews coming out of college and was regarded as one of the best players in the 2023 draft, independent of position. Tyler Allgeier was exceptional in this offense last season, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 0.7 rushing yards over expected per snap, so running back should not be an issue. The Falcons should have the league’s best one-two punch at halfback if Robinson lives up to expectations.

The Falcons threw the ball 24 times per game in a league in which the average team threw more than 33 times per contest, so receiving numbers were depressed for their two standouts. Taking a closer look suggests there’s the potential for big numbers there. London was targeted on a whopping 30.9% of his routes, the fourth-highest rate in football, and averaged 2.3 yards per route run. Give London the 573 routes Garrett Wilson ran for the Jets as opposed to the 379 London ran and his numbers prorate to 109 catches for 1,309 receiving yards.

Coming off a 1,000-yard season as a rookie, Pitts was seen as a potential challenger to Travis Kelce’s throne in Year 2. It didn’t go as well. Pitts’ catch rate dropped below 50%, and he finished with just 356 yards and two scores before suffering a season-ending knee injury. I’m still optimistic, given that he was averaging 1.8 yards per route run and commanding a target share north of 30% before the injury. The catch rate will bounce back, and if the Falcons throw more often Pitts and London will be able to produce big numbers.

In part, that will be because there isn’t much in the cupboard after them. Mack Hollins played a ton of snaps for the Raiders as their third wideout last season, but he ranked 70th in target rate and 74th in yards per route run. Jonnu Smith joins after two frustrating years with the Patriots, but he’s probably best as a blocking tight end. This group is going to go as far as the big three will take it.

I’d argue that Cordarrelle Patterson will get more touches than Mack Hollins, but I digress. It’s still an impressive unit, especially considering where it was a couple of years ago.

The Falcons experienced the second-biggest jump in Barnwell’s rankings from a year ago, leaping 17 spots. Moreover, Atlanta ranks highest in the NFC South, with New Orleans the next closest at 14th.

It’s a respectable mark for the Falcons, but I have been extremely high on this group from the jump and believe it will rank higher by the season’s end. Arthur Smith’s task of spreading the ball around will be challenging, but the versatility of Kyle Pitts, Bijan Robinson, and Cordarrelle Patterson should give him endless possibilities.

Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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