Falcons second-year players impressing coaching staff

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For many years, the Falcons have been one of the oldest teams in the league, but last season, things began to change. Atlanta boasted the 13th youngest roster in 2021 after being the oldest roster in 2020, the 5th oldest in 2019, the 2nd oldest in 2018, and the 9th oldest in 2017. Obviously, we know why the Falcons were consistently one of the older teams — Arthur Blank’s frustrating desire to cling to relevancy, coercing Thomas Dimitroff to extend and restructure aging veterans.

It wasn’t a recipe for sustainable success. Teams like the Packers and Patriots are notorious for moving on from aging players, while other organizations are blinded by their own affinity with players due to some unfounded emotional ties. Bill Belichick knows this better than anyone — it’s better to be early than be stuck holding the bag when the music stops.

The Falcons are trying to improve their personnel, but they’re also trying to get younger. And it’s the right approach. The Falcons are building the foundation to field a consistently competitive roster, and the only way to do that is through the draft. Even though the 2021 rookie class was underwhelming outside of Kyle Pitts, the new regime is hopeful those second-year players will contribute in a big way in 2022.

Arthur Smith isn’t one to just throw around praise, so when he compliments individuals, it should be recognized. Earlier this week, the first-time head coach pointed out a few individual second-year players the staff has been impressed with — corner Darren Hall, defensive end Adetokunbo Ogundeji and defensive tackle Ta’Quon Graham.

Hall might not be as relied upon as the other two, but it’s encouraging a lot of the draft class from the regime’s first year is taking strides forward. Ogundeji and Graham will have ample opportunities to carve out significant roles in Dean Pees’ defense this season. The edge unit needs a starter opposite of Lorenzo Carter, and Ogundeji could be that guy. He’s valuable against the run but isn’t as proficient when rushing the passer; thankfully, the Falcons snagged two edge defenders in DeAngelo Malone and Arnold Ebiketie, who are pass rush specialists.

After Eddie Goldman abruptly retired, the Falcons had a glaring hole along the interior defensive line. They don’t exactly have an obvious option to start next to Grady Jarrett. Anthony Rush is someone who could be that guy, but I’m sure the staff and front office would love it if Graham stepped up. Those aren’t the only second-year standouts, though. Avery Williams and Feleipe Franks recently experienced a position change, and both players have looked impressive at their new positions.

The Falcons will need this crop of youngsters to step up because there are no other answers on the roster.

Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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