Falcons experience monumental jump up post-free agency NFL power rankings

NFL: JAN 23 NFC Divisional Round Rams at Buccaneers

Coming into the offseason, the Falcons were undoubtedly one of the worst teams in the league, and it had nothing to do with their No. 8 overall pick, which they’ve had for three straight draft cycles.

It was all about one factor — the quarterback position. Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke were squarely in the bottom five of the worst signal callers in the NFL.

They had to upgrade significantly, or it would result in another underwhelming season. What that meant was a serious run at a veteran to win right now or a serious run at one of the top prospects in the draft.

The latter seemed possible for a short period, but it quickly became clear that the Bears, Commanders, and Patriots wouldn’t be moving off their respective picks. The Falcons were left with one option, in my opinion — making a run at Kirk Cousins or Baker Mayfield, the best available options to win in the present.

Eventually, Atlanta outbid Minnesota once Tampa Bay re-signed Mayfield. The Falcons were willing to go further in guarantees, average annual value, and years than the Vikings. Arthur Blank, Terry Fontenot, and Raheem Morris got their guy in Kirk Cousins.

It’s the biggest change in quarterback play this offseason, going from Ridder to Cousins. He was playing like one of the best players at his position in the league before an Achilles injury ended his season. If he can return to that level of play, he’ll be the best quarterback in the division and maybe the conference.

The Falcons split with the Saints and Buccaneers last season while trotting out Desmond Ridder. It’s clear why they’re favorites now. It’s not because Cousins is head and shoulders better than Derek Carr and Baker Mayfield; it’s that he’s head and shoulders better than what the Falcons had last year, and they were in the driver’s seat to win the division until Ridder pissed away a late-game lead against the Panthers.

That’s exactly why they experienced the largest jump in NFL.com’s offseason power rankings, moving up 13 spots.

The Falcons are probably now the favorites (or perhaps co-favorites, with the Bucs) to win the NFC South. That’s what landing Kirk Cousins does for this team, assuming he’ll be all the way back from his Achilles injury at the start of camp, ahead of his age-36 season. The risks here are obvious. But Atlanta couldn’t afford to sit back and hope the right rookie QB would be within range to make a trade up and then hope again that said rookie is ready to start right away, something Desmond Ridder wasn’t able to prove in Year 2. I still want to see some pass rush added here, but almost everything else is at least in middling shape or better for a team that has clear and reasonable playoff aspirations, even if it appears right now to be short of Super Bowl expectations.

This has them sixth in the NFC, behind the (2) 49ers, (4) Lions, (6) Eagles, (8) Packers, and (10) Cowboys. I don’t have any issue with that, and I think it’s fair until the Falcons step on the field and show everyone differently.

Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire


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