Brad Spielberger of PFF recently wrote an article on the best and worst free agency moves for each team, and one of these for the Falcons might come as a surprise. His favorite move from Terry Fontenot were the additions of David Onyemata and Calais Campbell along the defensive line.
Over the past three seasons, Onyemata’s 11.4% pressure percentage ranks 11th among interior defenders. He also earned back-to-back pass-rush grades above 75.0 in 2020 and 2021. Campbell is a Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner and is still playing at a very high level, extending his remarkable streak of season-long grades above 70.0 to 12 years running in 2022, after tallying 34 quarterback pressures and 5.5 sacks on the season.
Grady Jarrett is now surrounded by quality talent along the interior of the defensive line, something that has not been the case for some time.
It’s hard to argue with that. Atlanta’s defensive line has been a laughing stock for the better part of a decade. They have been allergic to generating pressure and sacking the quarterback, but that may not be the case in 2023.
Campbell is well past his prime, but he was productive last season, pressuring the quarterback 34 times with 5.5 sacks. That’s better than anything the Falcons had coming off the edge in 2022, and David Onyemata should make life even easier for everyone. The combination of Grady Jarrett, Campbell, and Onyemata is a nice core. If the Falcons second year pass rushers take a step in the right direction, Atlanta could finally have a competent defensive line for the first time in forever.
The Falcons free agent move Spielberger is the least fond of is the addition of backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke.
Heinicke is an awesome story and a fun player, but he had ample opportunity in Washington this past season, and his 48.9 passing grade ranked 47th out of 48 quarterbacks with 100 or more passing attempts in 2022. The journeyman also led all quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts in turnover-worthy play rate (6.2%) in 2022, a half of a percentage point higher than the next player. He’s not a game-managing backup; he tries to be a gunslinger. And other backup quarterbacks of a similar caliber signed for less.
With Desmond Ridder‘s lack of experience, the Falcons needed to add a veteran backup with starting experience in case things go south. This team will give Ridder every opportunity to compete, but they are expecting to contend in the NFC South. If Ridder isn’t giving them a chance to win, they need a backup with some upside like Heinicke.
I liked the addition as a Plan B. Maybe the Falcons overpaid a bit for the former Washington quarterback, but we’ve seen how valuable backup QBs can be in recent years. The Falcons also like what he brings to the locker room, and after Marcus Mariota essentially quit on the team last year, they probably wanted to make sure whoever they brought in as a backup wasn’t going to leave their second year quarterback high and dry.
Photographer: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire
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