After two seasons of less-than-mediocre defensive play, the Falcons went out and overhauled that side of the ball this offseason. The club was equipped with the second most cap space in the league at the start of free agency and spent the majority of it upgrading what was one of the worst defenses in football.
At the opening bell, Terry Fontenot inked long-term deals with Jessie Bates III, Kaden Elliss, and David Onyemata but would go on to add Calais Campbell and Bud Dupree later in the offseason. It’s a formidable group, but there are still question marks surrounding the secondary.
Though A.J. Terrell and Jessie Bates III are elite players at their respective positions, the Falcons are betting a lot that a change of scenery will do wonders for Jeff Okudah. Moreover, the club acquired his former teammate, Mike Hughes, via free agency. Generally, grabbing two guys from the worst pass defense in football isn’t conducive to constructing a stout backend, but the Falcons haven’t done things traditionally.
Richie Grant‘s development will be a critical factor in how this unit does, but PFF isn’t high on Atlanta’s defensive backs, ranking them 23rd in the league and below everyone in the NFC South.
23. ATLANTA FALCONS
Terrell was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in 2021, but his 61.8 coverage grade in 2022 didn’t hold up to that standard. The Falcons signed Bates in free agency to provide a stabilizing piece at the safety position, but Okudah and Hughes have disappointed so far in the NFL and remain question marks for the team.
The Panthers ranked 21st, the Saints 19th, and the Buccaneers ranked 13th, but Falcons fans shouldn’t be too upset with these placements.
Atlanta’s secondary is worse than Tampa Bay and New Orleans. There’s no arguing that. Sure, you could make a case that Carolina’s isn’t superior, but that would just be nitpicking.
The Falcons are betting a lot on Jeff Okudah turning his career around after mostly underachieving in Detriot. Moreover, the jury is still out on Richie Grant. Who knows if he’ll realize his full potential. Terrell and Bates are obviously All-Pro caliber defenders, but there are still a lot of unknowns with this group.
It’s much deeper than it was a year ago, but what should make the secondary much better than in 2022 is the defensive front. It takes 11 guys, and the Falcons made drastic improvements in the trenches, which should, in turn, benefit the coverage.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire