The Falcons currently have 42 active contracts for the 2021 season. There will be around seven or eight rookies brought in through the draft — depending on Terry Fontenot’s strategy. A few free agents should round out the final 53-man roster, but this team will look eerily similar — in terms of personnel — as 2020 due to the team’s standing with the salary cap. There are clear holes on this team, but some weaknesses can turn into strengths in one offseason.
Look at the Packers a couple of years ago; the edge position was the team’s weakest group. In one offseason, Brian Gutekunst signed Za’Darius Smith, and Preston Smith then went overkill by drafting Rashan Gary. The group had one of the highest pressure rates in the NFL in 2019 and turned into Green Bay’s strength. This isn’t an article on how to fix the weaknesses, but rather point them out.
The offense is better suited to make a playoff run than the defense, but both sides of the ball have their strengths and weaknesses. The wide receiver room might be the strongest position group on the team, with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Russell Gage returning. The only other position group that could rival the receivers are the linebackers — off-ball to specific. Deion Jones, Foyesade Oloukon, and Mykal Walker are arguably the best linebacker corps in the NFL. The Colts, Buccanneers, and Seahawks rival the Falcons linebackers, but each team loses a significant free agent this offseason while Atlanta returns all three.
The only other two positions the Falcons are “set” at are tight end and quarterback. This is kind of a loaded statement because neither positions have depth but have notable starters in Matt Ryan and Hayden Hurst. Arthur Smith will surely use more 1-1 personnel if he only has one starting-caliber tight end on the roster — this will inevitably change, though.
Believe it or not, the Falcons’ special teams will be a strength come 2021. Younghoe Koo isn’t currently under contract, but even then the group will still be something to lean on this season. The set of possible returners is what brings this entire group of. Brandon Powell (restricted free agent), Chris Rowland, Olamide Zaccheaus, and Tyler Hall will all compete for kick and punt returns this season.
There is no question the defensive line is the biggest weakness as the roster stands right now. The only other position that can compare is defensive backs — safeties and cornerbacks. The defensive line is missing two starters, in the interior next to Grady Jarrett and on the exterior opposite of Dante Fowler Jr. The defensive line depth isn’t horrible on the interior but the depth at edge is pitiful.
The defensive backs are in a similar situation as the defensive line. Ricardo Allen is a starter currently rostered, and Jaylinn Hawkins will offer valuable depth. Still, the Falcons need a starting safety and another depth piece — hopefully a versatile nickel safety for Dean Pees’ system. A.J. Terrell will be a starter for a long time to come, but there are question marks everywhere else. No starter, no depth; Kendall Sheffield could be a #3 cornerback, but that’s a stretch after a mediocre 2020. Isaiah Oliver could get cut even before his rookie contract expires, and he should probably be moved to safety. The Falcons need another starter opposite Terrell, and they need multiple depth pieces — again, another versatile nickel corner would be valuable in Pees’ system.
The running backs are a weakness but not as concerning as the other two are. Ito Smith is fully capable of playing in a running back by committee approach, so the Falcons already have their #2 running back. Running backs are a dime a dozen, hitting on one in the third round could turn this position into a strength if Smith is used properly in Arthur Smith’s offense.
There are obviously positions that weren’t mentioned such as the offensive line. I feel indifferent on the offensive line; it is not a strength, nor is it a weakness. The group could use an upgrade; I am all in on taking Penei Sewell with the fourth overall pick, but not addressing the line until the third round wouldn’t surprise me. The group is average right now but could very well fall to become a weakness if the young linemen — Kaleb McGary and Matt Hennessey — don’t develop or rise to be a strength by selecting Sewell.