After the recent signing of wide receiver Juwan Green, the Falcons roster is currently three players away from the full 90-man roster required to go into training camp. Those three players will more than likely be on the fringe of the roster, though it would be an incredible story if one of the final three players signed in the offseason made the 53-man roster. More than likely, the Falcons are a few transactions away from creating enough cap space to sign this rookie class and solidifying those 90 players going to camp. There are still some question marks that need answering, but some facets of the team make one think they could finish second in the division in 2021.
Back before free agency and the draft, the wide receivers and off-ball linebackers were two of the strongest position groups on the Falcons. A few months later… they’re still strengths. Unless Julio Jones gets traded, the wideout room in Atlanta is one of the best in the NFL — three receivers deep. Deion Jones, Foyesade Oluokun, and Mykal Walker are three of the most athletic off-ball linebackers in football — each capable of covering a tight end or running back.
The addition of Lee Smith and Kyle Pitts has completely transformed the tight end room, which was once dangerously thin with only Hayden Hurst signed. Pitts, Hurst, and Smith is a formidable three-tight end set. Arthur Smith can mix and match the three of them in 12 personnel. Smith is essentially a sixth offensive lineman, so deploying him with Pitts or Hurst would give this offense more flexibility. Right now, an undervalued strength is the Falcons’ special teams. Younghoe Koo is one of the ten best kickers in the league, and Cordarrelle Patterson might be the best kick returner.
I have two more strengths that may not be as obvious until midway through the season. When kept upright, Matt Ryan is an incredibly reliable veteran who can still produce at an extremely high level. Consistent quarterback play is difficult to find in the NFL, which is why Smith chose Atlanta. The other strength that may not be obvious just yet is the coaching. Smith is a creative genius when it comes to attacking defenses; Dean Pees has found success wherever he’s gone with limited personnel, and Terry Fontenot developed game plans week to week with Sean Payton — one of the most knowledgeable coaches in this league.
At the beginning of the offseason, the defensive back and edge positions were dangerously thin. There was a period when the only safety under contract was Jaylinn Hawkins, and the only pure edge defender was Dante Fowler. The offensive line was also thin even before the cuts of James Carpenter; there had to be multiple additions to each of those groups. Fast forward a few months, those positions were addressed, but the jury is still out.
The team drafted Richie Grant out of UCF and signed Duron Harmon and Erik Harris — solidifying the safety room. Once a weakness was no longer, but one injury to any three of the aforementioned acquisitions could mean bad news for Pees. The cornerback room only has a few new faces — Fabian Moreau and Darren Hall. Behind them… it isn’t good. Kendall Sheffield hasn’t progressed at all, but Isaiah Oliver could potentially fill the void at nickel back.
The offensive line was addressed by tendering Matt Gono, drafting Jalen Mayfield and Drew Dalman, and signing Josh Andrews. The Falcons need a starting left guard and center. Offensive line coach Dwanye Ledford has already made it known that the five best linemen will start. The edge position was lackadaisically addressed by signing reliable veterans Barkevious Mingo and Jonathan Copeland — the latter of which can play inside or outside linebacker.
There are still a few shaky positions, namely: cornerback, interior offensive line, and edge defender. Pees should be able to scheme his pass rushers free, but if not, nobody outside of Fowler can win one-on-ones consistently.
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