Falcons rookies will play a vital role in team’s overall success

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The Falcons roster is compromised of a variety of players in terms of their career trajectories. Some veterans are clearly closer to the end of their careers than the beginning — Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Duron Harmon, and Jake Matthews — with plenty left in the tank. Some players are in the midst of the prime years in their career — Calvin Ridley, Grady Jarrett, Mike Davis, and Deion Jones. There are those younger players who are still developing but are on the cusp of their primes — Chris Lindstrom, Younghoe Koo, and Russell Gage. There are also a few players whose second, third, or fourth-year steps have to be meaningful for this team to compete in 2021 — AJ Terrell, Kaleb McGary, Matt Hennessey, Fabian Moreau, Hayden Hurst, Marlon Davidson, and Isaiah Oliver. But if the Falcons have any hopes of making the playoffs this season, the 2021 draft class will have to provide valuable production.

The Falcons rookie class represents some vital positions on the team given the systems Arthur Smith and Dean Pees have in place. Beginning with the offensive rookies, the mechanism that makes Smith’s scheme go is the offensive line, and Atlanta has the potential of starting two first-year offensive linemen — Drew Dalman and Jalen Mayfield. For the Falcons’ offense to have any resemblance to the 2016 group that led the team to the Super Bowl, the offensive line play will have to improve. Dalman has all the intangibles of starting at center right away, and the coaching staff seems confident in its ability to develop Mayfield into a starting-caliber guard.

Kyle Pitts also plays a critical position in this offense. Most tight ends don’t drastically change games, but Pitts is different. First and foremost, no offensive play-caller deploys tight ends quite like Arthur Smith does. He has a fascination with the position he coached for so many years before and makes it an important position in his offense. Pitts will soon be the offense’s focal point, even with Julio Jones on the roster still. He’ll be tasked with blocking, receiving, and being a decoy from anywhere in the formation — his success will propel Smith’s offense to maximum effectiveness.

Even if those three rookies don’t play or don’t play well, the story with the Falcons has always been on the defensive side of the ball. The Falcons’ defense is much less solidified compared to the offense in terms of starters. Atlanta could see several rookies contribute on defense — Richie Grant, Darren Hall, Ta’Quon Graham, and Adetokunbo Ogundeji. Grant and Hall have the shortest road to the field as far as the defensive rookies are concerned, but Graham and Ogundeji both have the ability to earn reps on early downs, given their prowess against the run.

Grant and Hall will be instrumental in the coming years in the Falcons revival of the secondary. The former will be relied upon much earlier than the latter, and the second-round pick could start as early as against the Eagles in the opener. Hall’s development could take more time, but he could be a two-position starter in this league, and injuries to a corner or safety could thrust him into the starting lineup sooner than later.

Defensive backs are more important in Dean Pees’ scheme than defensive linemen because the former Titans, Ravens, and Patriots defensive coordinator is a master of scheming pressure. Grant and Hall’s roles within the defense will be vast given their positional flexibility, but how early they see the field will depend on their development within the system.


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