The Falcons are betting on young, unproven players to fill big voids

NFL: DEC 10 Buccaneers at Falcons

The Falcons clearly feel that Kirk Cousins made them contenders, referencing throughout the offseason that the quarterback position ultimately held the 2023 team back.

Raheem Morris and Terry Fontenot aren’t wrong, in a sense. Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke were the single biggest factors in Atlanta’s shortcomings. Granted, football is the ultimate team sport.

Not only do 10 other guys play on offense, but 11 play on defense and 11 on special teams as well as the coaching facet of the team. All of that contributed to the Falcons’ disappointing season last year.

With that being said, they narrowly missed the postseason and much of the blame lies at the feet of those in the quarterback room. Kirk Cousins should be able to muster enough to help end Atlanta’s postseason drought, but is that really all the goal is? To just make the playoffs?

No, Morris and Fontenot have spoken ad nauseam about competing at the highest level, but the Falcons roster doesn’t exactly scream “Super Bowl contenders” at this point in the offseason.

It seems the Falcons are content with the roster as it stands, and it tells me that the new regime is going to rely heavily on young, relatively unproven players to fill major voids on the roster, all of which rely on the defensive side of the ball.

The Falcons came into the draft with two glaring needs, cornerback and defensive line, but they didn’t fill both. After taking Michael Penix in the first round, the Falcons spent the next three picks on defensive linemen but came away with no corners.

So, let’s begin there. Jimmy Lake and Raheem Morris are going to be relying on A.J. Terrell and two other uninspiring options. Clark Phillips, Dee Alford, Mike Hughes, Kevin King, and Antonio Hamilton will compete for the boundary spot opposite Terrell and the nickel role.

That’s a whole lot of hopes and prayers. Phillips had some moments, but the size concerns that knocked him during the draft process showed later in the season. Alford is a solid piece, but he was unseated by Hughes later in the year. King hasn’t played in years, and Hamilton should be considered an excellent depth piece.

Not exactly a lot of proven commodities at a premium position for the Falcons. That’s a similar theme for the defensive front.

The Falcons are hoping that Grady Jarrett and David Onyemata will provide a force that enables the pieces on the exterior defensive line to develop into solid contributors.

Right now, the Falcons are going to be relying heavily on Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone, Zach Harrison, Bralen Trice, Ruke Orhorhoro, Ta’Quon Graham, and Brandon Dorlus to generate a pass rush next to Jarrett and Onyemata.

The hope is that the former second-round pick, Ebiektie, takes another step in his development, but expecting him to turn into a premier sack artist seems a bit overzealous.

Malone hasn’t taken more than a handful of snaps. Harrison actually might be the diamond in the rough here, while the trio of rookie defenders shouldn’t be relied on too heavily.

The Falcons have a solid defense, but it certainly doesn’t look like a Super Bowl-caliber unit, especially considering how reliant on young, unproven pieces they will be.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire


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