The Falcons had some serious personnel turnover this offseason. From trading away Matt Ryan to Calvin Ridley‘s year-long suspension, the team is going to look much different in 2022 than they did in 2021. One consistent theme of the new regime is to have as much competition as possible. Terry Fontenot has acquired a bevy of fringe starters in free agency and through the draft, but which starting positions are up for grabs?
After trading away the greatest quarterback in franchise history, the Falcons turned the page on the Matt Ryan era by signing Marcus Mariota and drafting Desmond Ridder. Now, the two signal callers will compete to be Ryan’s successor. To many, the apparent answer is Mariota. He’s got the advantage of experience in Arthur Smith’s system and as a professional. But don’t count Ridder out. From all the reports, the Cincinnati product has taken an immediate leadership role on the team and is blowing the staff away.
After the league suspended Calvin Ridley for gambling on games, Atlanta boasted the league’s worst receiving core. However, Fontenot has been quite active in bolstering the position group. He used Atlanta’s first pick on Drake London and traded for former Raiders wideout Bryan Edwards. It might not be the most proven group, but the influx of talent is undeniable.
Despite Arthur Smith using 11 personnel (3 WRs) more than any other formation, the Falcons’ offense ran almost half of their plays out of two-receiver sets. So, the obvious answer would be Edwards and London for the majority of snaps, but don’t count out Olamide Zaccheaus stealing opportunities, given his pedigree working from the slot.
These next three are rather obvious. Jalen Mayfield was arguably the worst offensive lineman in football during his rookie season. Granted, switching positions along the line is difficult, especially considering he didn’t just kick inside from left tackle; he’s playing on the opposite side that he’s used to. However, that isn’t an excuse for the coaching staff to trot him back out there just because they spent a third-round pick on him.
Germain Ifedi and Elijah Wilkerson were signed during free agency as both can compete for snaps at multiple positions. The Falcons also drafted Justin Shaffer. All four are set to compete for the starting left guard position, and your guess at who comes out on top is as good as mine.
This position battle is straightforward. Matt Hennessy showed promise when run blocking but left much to be desired in protecting the passer. Drew Dalman is his only competition, but the race to be the team’s starting center is undoubtedly one to pay attention to this offseason.
The team decided against picking up Kaleb McGary‘s fifth-year option, revealing how the staff and front office feel about the former first-round pick. The Falcons brought in Ifedi and Wilkerson to compete at multiple spots this offseason, and right tackle is certainly one of them. I’d be shocked if one of them unseats McGary, but the competition will heat up come training camp.
Lorenzo Carter is the assumed starter along the edge, but who will start opposite him? Ade Ogundeji, Arnold Ebiketie, and DeAngelo Malone are set to compete with each other for that role. Ogundeji is stout against the run but doesn’t have the pass rush acumen of Ebiketie and Malone. I imagine the two rookies will play a prominent role in obvious pass-rushing downs while the second-year Ogundeji will assume the early-downs role.
Interior Defensive Line
Grady Jarrett is obviously one of the starters along the interior, but the spot next to him has no clear answer. Anthony Rush, Ta’Quon Graham, Marlon Davidson, and others will compete for snaps next to Jarrett. Now, those are different kinds of players. Rush is more of a run-stuffing nose tackle whose snaps will come during early downs, while Graham and Davidson are better served on pass rushing downs. Still, the snaps next to Jarrett are up for grabs.
The Falcons actually have a decent linebacking core. Rashaan Evans, Nick Kwiatkoski, Mykal Walker, Deion Jones, and Troy Andersen are set to enter camp competing for just two starting spots. The two obvious candidates are Evans and Jones, but I wouldn’t be so sure. Early reports have indicated Walker is blowing the staff away. Kwiatkoski is still capable of providing solid run defense, and Andersen is an athletic marvel who could really become a difference-maker in Dean Pees’ defense. On top of all the speculation regarding Debo’s future in Atlanta, this position battle should be the most competitive this offseason.
One would think the starting duo on the backend would be Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins, but Erik Harris is the veteran in the room, and the coaching staff is very fond of him. Harris is always in the right place, which Pees demands out of his secondary, and Grant struggled to grasp the playbook during his first year in Atlanta. I’d say odds are it’ll be Grant and Hawkins, but watch out for the ever-reliable Harris to compete for starting reps.
Photographer: David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire
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