Three Falcons made ESPN’s Top 100 Players of 2022 list. Todd McShay predicted last year that Kyle Pitts would make this year’s list, and he was correct. AJ Terrell and Grady Jarrett join him as the only Falcons to make the list, which was comprised by asking an ESPN panel of more than 50 NFL experts to rate players based on how good they will be in the 2022 season compared to their peers — with emphasis placed solely on expectations for this upcoming season.
46. A.J. Terrell
CB | Falcons
2021 rank: NR
Terrell emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL last season. Rarely targeted, Terrell allowed three touchdowns. This season, he has been looked at as a leader and a face of the Falcons, as the club moves on from the Matt Ryan era. — Michael Rothstein
Signature stat: Terrell was next-level in coverage in 2021 — according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Terrell allowed a 41% completion rate as the nearest defender, which was the lowest by any DB in the NFL (minimum 30 targets). He also limited opposing players to 4.1 yards per target as the nearest defender in 2021, the lowest mark in the NFL.
What they are saying: “He’s versatile. It’s not just one element of his game that you can nitpick at. And I think that’s what makes veterans veterans. That’s what makes the greats greats. You can’t just find that one niche that, you can say, like he was it. Think about a guy like Randy Moss. He’s known for Mossing, jumping over them. But what else did he have to do? He had to use his speed, he had to get open, and then he had to do the Mossing. So there were other elements of his game he had to perfect to do what he’s known for. Guys in this league, what makes them great, is the consistency behind it.” — former Falcons wide receiver Geronimo Allison
Terrell was left off the NFL Top 100 Players list that the players vote on but included on this list voted on by NFL experts. I’m not quite sure who those experts are, but they certainly got this one right. Terrell is undoubtedly one of the 100 best players in the league; just read his stats. However, he’ll have to mail in a comparable season this year to prove it wasn’t a fluke.
70. Kyle Pitts
TE | Falcons
2021 rank: NR
In his second season, Pitts is already among the top tight ends in the NFL. His 2021 season was one of the best for a rookie tight end, and he should now be the focal point of a Falcons offense transitioning from Matt Ryan to Marcus Mariota. Between his improved route running and better understanding of what’s expected of him, he’s on his way to stardom. — Michael Rothstein
Signature stat: Last season, Pitts became the second rookie tight end in NFL history to record 1,000 receiving yards (Mike Ditka, 1961). Additionally, his 68 receptions in 2021 rank third among rookie tight ends all time.
What they are saying: “He really makes it easy on us. For a guy his size, his catch radius, his length, his ability to get in and out of cuts, makes it easy on us. His body language as a receiver makes it simple. So we know when he’s coming in and out of breaks, we know when he’s going to break down.” — Mariota
As McShay predicted, Pitts makes the list after breaking a bevy of franchise records. He had the most contested catches of all tight ends, which isn’t surprising given his size and ball skills. Pitts set the single-season receiving yards record by a tight end in franchise history and became Atlanta’s all-time rookie receiving yards leader, a title previously held by Julio Jones for a decade.
98. Grady Jarrett
DT | Falcons
2021 rank: 55
Jarrett decided he wanted to remain with his hometown team for the long haul in the offseason, signing a three-year contract extension. He has been a team stalwart and is a commanding presence on the front of the Falcons’ line, even as the team transitioned defenses last season under coordinator Dean Pees. Jarrett had 59 tackles, 12 quarterback hits and one sack last season but consistently faced double- and triple-teams from opposing offensive lines — in part because he was by far the most impactful front-seven defender Atlanta had. — Michael Rothstein
Signature stat: Over the past five seasons, Jarrett ranks in the top five among defensive tackles in the NFL in quarterback hits (78), tackles for loss (46) and forced fumbles (5).
What they are saying: “He’s a dynamic guy with polished moves. So your hand and body position has got to be right every time, because he’ll make you wrong. And he’s just strong. He’s got good technique, quick, strong — kind of checks all the boxes. Keeps you on your toes. If you’re leaning forward, he’ll feel that and pull you through.” — Falcons center Drew Dalman
Despite a down 2021 campaign by his standards, Jarrett is still one of the best defenders in the league. Over his career with the Falcons, the Clemson product has totaled 359 tackles, 26.5 sacks, 54 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, and 89 quarterback hits. The two-time Pro Bowler also just agreed to terms on a three-year $49.5 million extension with the Falcons earlier this offseason, which locks Jarrett in for what could be the rest of his prime.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire
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