Falcons: What are the crucial questions heading into the 2021 season?

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Covering the coaching and general manager search has been fun, but now that the Falcons have their guys in place, it is time to get to the nitty gritty. Atlanta has the type of personnel to turn things around in just one year, but I don’t have to tell you there are a ton of holes. It will take a nearly perfect offseason to get the Falcons back to the playoffs, but it can be done if Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith can find the answers to these questions.

Who is going to rush the passer?

I’ve already talked about this in depth. If the Falcons plan on turning around their defense, they have to find people that can sack the quarterback. I expect Dante Fowler Jr. to be back, and I think he will benefit from Dean Pees’ defense. However, he showed last season he can’t do it on his own. Outside of him, Grady Jarrett is really the only one that can be consistently relied to get after the passer. That’s not going to fly in a Dean Pees’ defense. The reason he was so successful in Baltimore and New England is because he had a ferocious and deep defensive line. I expect Fontenot to make that the number one priority this offseason, bringing in multiple draft picks and free agents.

Who is going to play safety?

Safety is not the most important position on the football field, but it becomes a much bigger priority when you literally have nobody with experience on the roster. The Falcons are losing Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal to free agency, and Ricardo Allen very well could be cut. That leaves Atlanta with rookie Jaylinn Hawkins on their roster heading into 2021, who barely played last season. It’s possible the Falcons bring back Kazee or Neal, or perhaps they decide not cut Ricardo Allen, but either way, they need to find some youth at the position.

How will the Falcons patch up their interior offensive line?

The Falcons offensive line is not in the worst shape. They have two great pieces in Jake Matthews and Chris Lindstrom, and Kaleb McGary has flashed some potential and is — at the very worst — average. Center and left guard are the two question marks. Matt Hennessy was supposed to be the heir apparent to Alex Mack, who appears to be on his way out. However, we will see if the new regime thinks the same. Left guard will have to come from than outside; however, I love the idea of drafting Penei Sewell 4th overall, which would give the Falcons one of the best offensive lines in the NFL on paper. That’s key in an Arthur Smith offense.

What will the Falcons do with Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield?

After AJ Terrell, the Falcons have nothing at corner. Their next best options are Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield. Oliver has been decent over the last two seasons but way too inconsistent, and Dean Pees may feel it is best to move him to safety full-time. Sheffield, on the other hand, might be on his last chance. He was awful last season, and with a new regime, he probably won’t get as much slack. Either way, the Falcons need to completely revamp their cornerback room going into next season.

How fast can Matt Ryan adapt to Arthur Smith’s offense?

I think we can all agree that it is a blessing that Dirk Koetter is finally out of Atlanta. However, changing offenses always comes with some growing pains. We’ve seen it happen time and time again over the Matt Ryan era. I’m optimistic these two will pick things up quickly, given the fact that Ryan has run a similar style of offense under Kyle Shanahan and his experience, but you can’t just assume things will go seamlessly because they won’t.

How will the Falcons approach their running back situation?

As of now, Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison are the only running backs signed heading into 2021. Everyone knows that’s not going to cut it, but how will the Falcons approach the position? Do they try to find their stud running back in the first two rounds of the draft, or do they load up in the later rounds, taking two or even three running backs on Days 2 and 3.

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