The Falcons 7-9 record in 2018 was excused by a multitude of injuries to many of the team’s best players. Their 7-9 mark in 2019 was not so lucky.
A mixture of porous defensive coaching and constant blown assignments led to an unimaginable 1-7 start, essentially eliminating the Falcons before Halloween. Thanks to a few coaching changes – mainly the head coach firing himself as defensive coordinator – Atlanta was able to turn things around in the season’s second half, winning six of their last eight games following their bye week, including wins over the Saints and 49ers on the road. That decision by Quinn to step back was the primary reason he was able to keep his job in 2020, but it will be short-lived if he, Rich McKay, and Thomas Dimitroff cannot find answers to some of the team’s personnel dilemmas.
1. The Defensive Line
I’ve been screaming this from the rooftops at Falcons management for going on a decade now. It never seems like Atlanta ever wants to invest heavily in their defensive line, even though every season, the teams left remaining at the end feature elite defensive fronts. Sure, the Falcons might spend a first-round selection every couple of years, but it’s never been a primary focus, and it’s about time they overkill it this offseason.
Not only did the Falcons have a mediocre (at-best) defensive front in 2019, but most of what they did have won’t be on the roster in 2020. Grady Jarrett remains as the rock in the middle, and the inconsistent Takk McKinley still has at least one more year in red and black, but outside of that, the Falcons could be looking to replace everyone else. Vic Beasley likely won’t be retained, neither will Jack Crawford, and Allen Bailey is a candidate to be cut, while Tyeler Davison and Adrian Clayborn are set to become unrestricted free agents – two guys the Falcons should aim to keep.
Outside of possibly re-signing Davison and Clayborn, the Falcons aren’t going to have a lot of money to add to the position in free agency. To make this group formidable again, they are going to need to draft defensive lineman and pass rushers early and often. If they don’t do that, I don’t see how this defense continues to play at the level it did to end 2019.
2. Interior Offensive Line
It’s embarrassing that Thomas Dimitroff actually went out in search of quality depth on the offensive line in free agency and came back with Jamon Brown and James Carpenter. The latter of the two will probably be cut, and the only reason Brown will survive is because of his contract. Those are the kind of decisions that get most GMs fired, but Dimitroff is extremely lucky Arthur Blank doesn’t like to shake things up often.
Getting Chris Lindstrom back healthy helped this group tremendously at the end of the year and gives the offensive line a much brighter outlook heading into 2020. However, left guard is still a problem, and the answer is not currently on the roster. The Falcons are going to need to either draft a guard in the first three rounds that they believe can start or spend some dollars on a free agent. Unfortunately, I don’t trust Thomas Dimitroff in either situation.
Furthermore, Atlanta has to begin thinking about finding a replacement for Alex Mack in the future. There have been some that have pointed towards cutting the veteran center to save money, but given how weak the offensive line has been the last two seasons on the interior, letting go of the best guy in there doesn’t seem wise. Plus, I don’t see the Falcons finding a player that can play at the same level as Mack at a better price.
The Falcons’ biggest needs are evident; they have to get better in the trenches if they want to return to the postseason. But after that, we are splitting hairs a bit. Atlanta’s cornerback group had their moments, but calling them anything more than average right now would be giving them too much credit.
Isaiah Oliver had an excellent bounce-back second half of the season and seemed to benefit from Raheem Morris becoming the secondary coach. Hopefully, that is a sign of things to come for the corner going into his third season, but he still allowed one of the highest passer ratings in the league when targeted in coverage over the entire season.
Hopefully, Desmond Trufant can remain healthy for an entire year. Despite some of the criticism he receives, he’s been the one constant in the Falcons secondary that can always be relied on for above-average play over the years. Damontae Kazee had a rough time as a corner and appears to be a much more natural safety. Kendall Sheffield could be the solution at the nickel corner spot, although the Falcons should have never let Brian Poole walk over pennies. I also liked what I saw out of Blidi Wreh-Wilson, but you can never have too many DBs, and Atlanta could stand to add to this group before next season.
4. Running Back
Harrison Coburn did a fantastic job of breaking down some of the many running backs the Falcons could eye during the draft. Even if the Falcons roll with Devonta Freeman for one more season, he hasn’t proven he can stay healthy. Atlanta needs to find some fresh legs at the position, and it will probably have to come through the draft.
If they don’t, they might find themselves relying a lot on Ito Smith, Brian Hill, and Quadree Ollison. All three have had their flashes, but they don’t inspire a ton of confidence when Freeman inevitably goes down. The Falcons have taken a running back in every draft that Quinn has been here, but it usually happens in the later rounds. Maybe, it’s time they invest a little higher of a pick and sure up the position for good. However, Atlanta has more urgent needs, and with little money available to spend on free agents, it’s difficult to justify them using anything higher than a 3rd round selection on a running back.