The Falcons are a dramatically improved roster from a year ago; it’s by far the best group since Arthur Smith took over in Atlanta. After going 7-10 in back-to-back seasons, the club is primed to compete in the worst division in football for a chance to end a five-year playoff drought.
However, there are contingencies. Will Desmond Ridder be an upgrade over Marcus Mariota? Can an entirely new-look defense with a new coordinator put it together quickly? Has Arthur Smith learned from his past in general decision-making?
Randy Mueller of The Athletic explored this exact topic. Mueller is the director of player personnel for the Seattle Sea Dragons of the XFL and spent time as general manager for the Saints and Dolphins. On his biggest concern about the Falcons:
Thus, my worry is this: Do they have enough bells and whistles at premium positions and game-changing spots? When picking high in the first round in any draft, some teams’ goals are either big guys (tackles or defensive linemen) or fast guys who force teams to either defend you differently (perimeter speed) or allow you to get to the passer on defense. Grinding out touchdowns with RPOs and play-action passes only has so much shelf life.
Can Desmond Ridder overcome his draft pedigree? The Falcons are raving about him
Bijan Robinson is a weapon, so I’ll give them that one. I think he makes you better, especially in this offense. But I need to see more than tight ends being the focal point of a team’s passing game.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder is at best a work in progress for me. I saw in his four games last year the same things I saw in college at Cincinnati: an inconsistent processor of defenses and a lack of accuracy from the pocket. I’m going to leave this one alone and see how his development goes.
And we haven’t even spoken about the defense yet. A new defensive coordinator and scheme should help, but this team was 31st in getting off the field on third downs (only the Bears were worse), 31st in sacks (21) and gave up almost 23 points per game (23rd). Those all are points to improve on.
I’m not sure the Falcons have enough good players yet on either side of the ball. We all need to tell ourselves this is Year 1 of a retool for this front office and staff and to have some patience. Playing in the NFC South helps their cause.
After dealing with salary cap hell for two years due to the transgressions from previous leadership, the new regime is finally out from underneath those bloated contracts. It’s hard to hold what happened in 2021 and 2022 against them. Think of 2023 as the official beginning; there are real expectations, but Mueller is right.
The roster-building philosphy isn’t necessarily ideal, in my opinion. Drafting three skill players in three straight drafts within the top 10 and then making Chris Lindstrom the highest-paid guard in the league, along with Jessie Bates the fourth-highest player at his position, isn’t exactly addressing the premium positions.
Lindstrom is a top-three guard in the league, and Bates is arguably a top-five safety, but those aren’t traditionally premium positions. There are legitimate concerns with Desmond Ridder too. Though I believe he can be a league-average signal caller this season, it won’t be without growing pains.
There are still some things to figure out with these Atlanta Falcons, but it’s reasonable to expect a better record than 7-10 after all the roster improvements. In the worst division in football, playoffs are the expectation.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire