Falcons with the most to prove in 2022

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The Falcons experienced considerable roster turnover this offseason. The team officially closed the book on the Matt Ryan era after trading him to the Colts, then signing Marcus Mariota and drafting Desmond Ridder. Atlanta is also set to enter 2022 without Calvin Ridley, who was suspended by the league for the entire season. There is also a ton of speculation surrounding Deion Jones‘s future with the organization. Long story short, this team will look much different this year. With so many new faces, which Falcons have the most to prove?

Marcus Mariota

Playing quarterback at any level is a high-pressure job, and Mariota’s situation is even more intense. He’s in line to replace the greatest signal caller in franchise history. The former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 2 overall pick has spent the last two seasons in Las Vegas but spent time with head coach Arthur Smith in Tennessee, so the familiarity is there. Ideally, Mariota will resurrect his career in Atlanta as Ryan Tannehill did under the leadership of Smith. The pressure to become a starting-caliber quarterback is on, because rookie Desmond Ridder is biting at his heels.

Bryan Edwards

Edwards’ first few years in the league didn’t go as he probably had planned. However, the former third-round pick finished the 2021 season with a career-best 571 receiving yards and three touchdowns while averaging 16.8 yards per catch. Nobody should be surprised if Edwards sets career-highs in every major receiving stat. I would even guarantee the former Raider eclipses 34 receptions, 571 yards, and three touchdowns. He just never got the opportunities in Vegas; now, he’ll have plenty of chances in Atlanta.

Jalen Mayfield

Mayfield notoriously had one of the worst rookie years in recent memory. He was a right tackle at Michigan but was slotted in at left guard and thrown to the wolves; he certainly took his lumps. Mayfield wasn’t horrid as a run blocker, but his pass sets leave much to be desired. There aren’t many players on the team with more to prove than Mayfield. The Falcons drafted Justin Shaffer and signed Germain Ifedi and Elijah Wilkinson to compete with him. It’s put-up or shut-up time for Mayfield. With a pocket full of cash next offseason, the team could look to sign his replacement in free agency if he doesn’t improve enough.

Kaleb McGary

It feels like I write this same thing every offseason. McGary has consistently disappointed after being selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. It was a reach at the time, so comparing him to other first-rounders is negligent. Atlanta declined to pick up his fifth-year option, so this will likely be the last season McGary plays in a Falcons uniform. Not only is he competing for his job this year — Ifedi and Wilkinson will look to compete at right tackle — but he will also be auditioning for jobs next season as he prepares to test free agency following the season.

Marlon Davidson

Davidson has yet to really establish himself after being selected in the second round a few years ago. The Auburn product did deal with injuries his rookie season, then the tumultuous season in 2020 that saw Dan Quinn fired after an 0-5 start. 2021 was his firstĀ normalĀ season, and it resulted in a career-high 270 snaps. He’s set to compete with Ta’Quon Graham for reps, but this will be a pivotal year for him regarding his future in Atlanta.

Deion Jones

Debo’s career has been a strange one. He burst onto the scene as a rookie and quickly became one of the most exciting linebackers in football. And it always seemed like he showed up when the lights were brightest, namely against the Falcons’ biggest rivals, the Saints. However, each season since signing his massive extension has been more disappointing. Now, with trade rumors circulating, the stakes have never been higher for the former LSU Tiger. He needs to show some signs of returning to what we saw a few seasons ago, or his time in Atlanta will be short-lived.

Richie Grant

Grant’s rookie season has been well-documented. He struggled to get on the field as he was unable to retain Dean Pees’ defensive scheme. The former second-rounder has a ton of upside and is still one player I’m most excited to see succeed, but this is unquestionably a critical juncture in his career. He’ll have to earn his defensive coordinator’s trust out there, but it’s nothing physical; it’s all mental.

David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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