PFF: Falcons roster biggest strengths, weaknesses, and X-factor

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The Falcons kicked off a new era in Atlanta with a total regime change before the 2021 season. After failing to make it into the playoffs, leadership hit the reset button. For the first time in more than a decade, the Falcons will have someone other than Matt Ryan under center. Over the past couple of seasons, Falcons fans have said goodbye to Julio Jones, Russell Gage, Ricardo Allen, and plenty of other mainstays. The roster has been stripped, and the only holdover from the Thomas Dimitroff era is Deion Jones.

Grady Jarrett and Jake Matthews received new deals from the new regime, which makes Jones’ contract the only bloated deal left over from the Thomas Dimitroff era. An offseason surgery has put all trade and cut speculation on hold surrounding the former LSU Tiger as the team builds toward the future around young drafted players and veteran free agent additions. Nobody expects the Falcons to make much noise in the NFC this year, and you can add Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus to that list, who believes Atlanta boasts the second-worst roster in football, which is a step up from CBS Sports’ dead last ranking.

Biggest strength: The cornerback duo of A.J. Terrell and Casey Hayward Jr. could be one saving grace on a roster with a whole lot of question marks. Sixty-five cornerbacks played at least 400 coverage snaps during the 2021 regular season, and no two players in that group allowed fewer receiving yards per game than Terrell (12.5) and Hayward (22.8). Another season like that from Terrell would further cement his status as one of the league’s top corners at just 24 years old.

Biggest weakness: The Falcons’ defensive line is in a better spot than it was a season ago. However, it still has the potential to be Grady Jarrett and a bunch of other guys if second-round pick Arnold Ebiketie doesn’t hit the ground running. Even Jarrett wasn’t quite as effective last season as he has been throughout much of his career. Jarrett’s 67.6 PFF grade in 2021 was his first sub-80 grade since the 2016 season (62.7).

X factor for 2022: There’s a reason that the Falcons were repeatedly linked to wide receivers leading up to the 2022 draft. They were in desperate need of playmakers to complement Kyle Pitts after losing Julio JonesCalvin Ridley and Russell Gage over the past few seasons. Drake London was billed as a contested-catch receiver, but that’s not all he can do. He was the only wide receiver in the 2022 draft class with top-five marks in contested catches (19) and missed tackles forced after the catch (22) last season — and he did it in just eight games.

I agree with one of these three points. The cornerback tandem of Terrell and Hayward is the biggest strength on the Falcons roster; in fact, it’s not particularly close. The Falcons decided not to re-sign Fabian Moreau, who was a more than serviceable starter opposite Terrell, and instead upgraded by giving a former Pro Bowler a two-year deal.

However, that’s where the agreeableness ends. The Falcons’ biggest weakness is still going to be the offensive line, which it was last year. The defense’s pass rush was laughably bad in 2021, recording fewer total sacks as a unit than T.J. Watt and Robert Quinn had individually. Still, the facet of the team that had the most negative effect on winning was the offensive line.

Jalen Mayfield, Matt Hennessy, and Kaleb McGary played like reserve players as Matt Ryan took as many hits as any quarterback in the league. On top of the porous pass protection, the unit rarely gave ball carriers rushing lanes, forcing them to make something out of nothing on nearly every attempt. It severely hampered Arthur Smith’s play calling. But worst of all, the front office decided to roll with the same starting five.

I also believe the biggest X-factor will be Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder, whoever starts at quarterback. Drake London will only be as productive as the man throwing him passes. The Falcons’ offense has long benefited from the veteran savviness of Matt Ryan but won’t have that crutch to lean on in 2022. If the signal caller position underwhelms, this team could be vying for a top-three pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Thanks for reading this article about the strength and weaknesses on the Falcons roster. 

Photographer: Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire

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