After every season, NFL teams all have some degree of roster turnover regardless of the season’s outcome. Roster turnover fluctuates from team to team depending on the method the front office takes in constructing their roster. There are infinite strategies available when assembling a 53-man roster and, depending on the approach, could determine the roster turnover’s effect. Just because a roster has a high turnover rate does not mean it is a bad roster. The roster turnover rate simply highlights the lack of continuity within the personnel, which can have a negative effect, but it is not certain.
We will take a look at Atlanta starters’ – or key contributors’ – production from the 2019 roster that left in some capacity this past offseason. We will then take that analysis and assess how the 2020 Falcon newcomers have faired in comparison. To best examine the value gained or lost at the position, I will use the departed Falcons’ 2019 stats with the 2020 stats from their new team against the Falcon acquisitions’ 2020 starts. Contract figures will be supplementarily applied to better evaluate Atlanta’s personnel decisions.
Based on offensive and defensive snaps from 2019, the Falcons lost almost 4,000 snaps from six players that left this offseason. Mohamed Sanu (379 snaps), Devonta Freeman (658), Austin Hooper (724), Vic Beasley (757), Desmond Trufant (521), and DeVondre Campbell (924) all left this offseason in some way, shape, or form.
Four of those six players were directly replaced by external players either brought in through free agency or the 2020 draft. To better compare all of last season to only three weeks in 2020, snap count percentage will be used – the percentage of available offensive or defensive snaps taken for games each player appeared in.
Mohamed Sanu – 32% of 2019 snaps
Mohamed Sanu was an aging veteran in a crowded and talented wide receiver room. Before Sanu was traded following the Week-Seven matchup against the Titans, he recorded 33 receptions for 313 yards and a touchdown. It was only a matter of time before he was moved because internally, the Falcons were understandably high on Calvin Ridley.
Now, Ridley is second in receiving yards in the NFL while Sanu was released by New England after trading a second-round draft pick for him. He has recently appeared in two games this season with the San Francisco 49ers, accruing approximately 25% of offensive snaps in those matchups. Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage have exceeded expectations thus far while Sanu only has one catch that went for nine yards, making this a well-timed separation for Atlanta.
Devonta Freeman – 56% of 2019 snaps
This is the first of the instances in this article where an arriving player directly replaced a departing player. Freeman had his worst year in 2019, aside from his rookie campaign. He played in 14 games, totaling 656 yards on the ground, scoring two touchdowns, both career lows — outside of the 2014 season. Freeman garnered interest from multiple teams but remained unsigned until recently in what has been a devastating year for running backs going down with injuries.
The Giants did sign Freeman this past week to replace Saquon, who went down with a season-ending injury. Though we cannot speculate on the future production of Freeman and with little to go off of in 2020, I feel safe in saying the Falcons ended up on the right side of this split.
Austin Hooper – 62% of 2019 snaps
Here is another example of snaps from the 2019 Falcons being replaced directly from an external addition. The Falcons were never going to pay Hooper market-value, and the Browns decided it was worth it and gave him $44 million over four years this offseason. Through three games with Cleveland, Hooper has career lows in receptions per game and yards per game – outside of his rookie year.
In his last year with Atlanta, Hooper had career highs in every major receiving category, all while hitting a career-low in games played. Hooper’s usage has increased as he has played 77%, 98%, and 86% of total offensive snaps each week this year with no positive correlation in terms of production.
Vic Beasley – 73% of 2019 snaps
This is the single biggest difference in production from a direct replacement we see in this article. Vic Beasley might be the worst first-round selection in the Thomas Dimitroff era – 2010 first-rounder Sam Baker’s injury-riddled career is the excuse for Beasley to top the list. Beasley never had injury concerns; his play was infuriating to watch with what seemed to be a consistent lack of effort.
After Atlanta decided against offering a new contract, Tennessee signed Beasley to a one-year deal with $9.5 million guaranteed and worth up to $12 million with incentives. He was mysteriously absent from Titans camp for ten days, then finally reported and failed his physical, which landed him on the non-football injury list. In his first game this year, Beasley played in just 25% of the Tennessee total defensive snaps and did not record a single tackle.
It seems Beasley has lost interest in football. There was even a report that he had more interest in becoming a church pastor than playing in the NFL.
Desmond Trufant – 50% of 2019 snaps
The decision to release Desmond Trufant with three years and $35 million left on his contract resulted in the veteran corner signing with the Detroit Lions for $21 million over two years. Like most of these other departures, Trufant was directly replaced externally, but what is different is it came by way of both the draft and free agency.
Trufant has only started in one game for Detroit, where he recorded two tackles on 74% of the defensive snaps against the Bears in week one. Trufant has had trouble staying on the field these past two years. His production — when available — and the lack of current cornerback talent is why his snaps have been the hardest to replace.
De’ Vondre Campbell – 89% of 2019 snaps
I expected Campbell to receive higher compensation this offseason but ultimately signed a $6 million one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. Campbell has the highest usage as a per snap percentage at 100% through the first three weeks. Campbell has recorded 23 tackles, two passes defended, and two tackles for loss in his three games at inside linebacker. Campbell’s snap count was the highest of any departure, but most inside linebacker production is easily replaceable — aside from players like Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner.
Aside from Mohamed Sanu, every player highlighted in this article that departed was directly replaced via free agency or the 2020 draft. De’Vondre Campbell is the only other player who will not directly compare as his snaps have been shouldered by multiple players. To replace 4,000 snaps, Thomas Dimitroff dipped into free agency and the draft to replace the lost production. The acquisitions are AJ Terrell, Todd Gurley, Dante Fowler, Hayden Hurst, and Darqueze Dennard.
Todd Gurley – 54% of 2020 snaps
Todd Gurley was brought in after the Rams decided the burden to bear was not worth it when it came to his contract. He has effectively replaced all of the snaps vacated with the loss of Freeman. Freeman’s sample size is so small it is hard to compare stats through three games, but Gurley is having a better year than his predecessor so far.
With an average of four yards per carry, Gurley’s 2020 average is higher than Freeman’s average per carry in 2019. Atlanta saved $3.5 million under this year’s cap by cutting Freeman and paid Gurley $5.5 million. Atlanta paid Gurley mostly with what they saved from severing ties with Freeman, essentially costing the Falcons $2 million this year.
Freeman’s future cap hit was ludicrous, even more so with the future revenue losses, and Gurley is on a one-year deal. When the production is too close to make a call, look at the finances for reassurance.
Hayden Hurst – 69% of 2020 snaps
Hayden Hurst was traded by the Baltimore Ravens with two years remaining on his rookie deal. His cap hit for the next two years will not exceed $2 million, and compared to Hooper’s $11 million per year in Cleveland, this should be simple math. Hurst has fully replaced Hooper’s snaps, while outperforming him head to head this year. Hurst has more receptions, yards, touchdowns, and averaged more yards per reception in 2020. Although Hurst is underperforming compared to Hooper’s 2019 game averages, he costs significantly less with adequate production.
Dante Fowler Jr. – 59% of 2020 snaps
Atlanta paid Dante Fowler $48 million for three years, while Vic Beasley left Atlanta without a second contract. Atlanta paid at a premium for Fowler, but the value is encouraging. He will only make $3 million more than Beasley this season but will outperform him head to head in a worse defense.
Fowler is the type of player who does not have to be motivated to do his job, whereas Beasley seems to need it. Fowler is a high-energy individual, whose stats might not shock anyone, but his presence is felt. Paying more is not always worse when you are paying for a more effective player.
AJ Terrell – 64% of 2020 snaps; Darqueze Dennard – 86% of 2020 snaps
Isaiah Oliver has played 100% of the defensive snaps this year but was an internal replacement for Trufant. AJ Terrell and Darqueze Dennard were both brought in this offseason to help mitigate the drop off from Trufant to Oliver and Sheffield. Terrell has played relatively bad if you look at the stat sheet but has shown improvement each week.
Terrell was drafted in the first round of the 2020 draft, where most felt the Falcons reached. In-house, the organization is high on this corner’s ability to improve constantly while hardly making the same mistake twice.
Dennard was brought in after six years with the Bengals for $1 million on a one-year contract. He has played more snaps than expected with the absence of Kendall Sheffield. This year he has allowed a similar passer rating when targeted as last year. While Trufant is a much more expensive commodity than Terrell and Dennard, he provides better production and valuable leadership qualities. I expect Trufant to thrive in Matt Patricia’s defense when healthy.
Terrell & Dennard<Trufant