The Falcons 2022 campaign went very similar to the season they had in 2021, but with one significant difference — Marcus Mariota was the quarterback instead of Matt Ryan. That’s a helluva a drop-off, and the dead cap hit the Falcons had to incur by trading Ryan left them with the least amount of money dedicated to their active roster entering the season. All things considered, the Falcons were supposed to be one of the worst teams in the league, and instead, they were slightly below average — right where they were a year ago.
That’s a successful step in the rebuild, but entering 2023, expectations will be much higher. The Falcons will have as much cap space as any team in the league and a top ten draft pick to improve their roster. In a weak NFC South, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be competing for the division until the very end. Anything else would be a failure. Here are the areas that must be addressed for them to turn the corner in 2023.
6. Offensive Line
I do think the Falcons could bolster the interior of their offensive line, and they need to make bringing back Kaleb McGary a priority this offseason. However, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Falcons rolled with a very similar group in 2023. They featured one of the best rushing attacks in football, were pretty good in pass protection, and still have plenty of young talent that could develop and become high quality starters.
5. Wide Receiver
Despite abysmal quarterback play, Drake London proved he has what it takes to be a #1 wide receiver in this league. With Kyle Pitts back next season, the Falcons will have a nice one-two punch, but they must keep adding to help whoever the next quarterback of this team is going to be. I like the idea of bringing back Olamide Zacceaus as a #3, but they need to add a legit #2 option across from London.
Linebacker is no longer a sexy position, so I don’t see the Falcons spending a ton of money or using a top pick on one, but this unit really struggled this season. Mykal Walker flashed some promise at the beginning but was eventually replaced by the rookie Troy Andersen, who needs a lot of work before he’s even considered an average starter. Rashaan Evans has been pretty good, but he’s a downhill linebacker that’s a liability in coverage. The Falcons need to add at least one starter and some depth to this unit.
For the most part, the Falcons entire defense needs bolstering. The only two players that are building blocks are A.J. Terrell and Grady Jarrett. The rest could be replaced at a moment’s notice in the coming years. In a pass happy NFL, the Falcons only having one reliable corner is a critical reason why this defense has been so horrendous. Casey Hayward should be back next year, so could Isaiah Oliver, and Darren Hall showed some chops, but this group needs another star and plenty more depth. In today’s NFL, you need at least four high-quality corners. The Falcons might have two.
And that’s just the corners. I’m not sure the Falcons have a starting-caliber safety on their roster. Richie Grant has shown some promise, and having some better talent at corner should better accentuate his skill set, but the jury is still out on his future. I once thought Jaylinn Hawkins had a chance to be a full-time starter in this league, but those days are coming to an end. The Falcons need to find his replacement this offseason.
2. Pass Rush
The Falcons pass rush was once again the worst in the league. They have the worst group of defensive linemen by a large margin. It’s actually laughable at this point, and it’s been this way for more than a decade. You could make an argument that this is the top priority of the offseason, and Arthur Smith has already said it must be addressed before the start of next season. The Falcons need everything across the defensive line. Grady Jarrett is fantastic, and there are a few young guys with potential, but the rest is a mess. They need to add at least three players to this group through the draft and free agency.
I’m not saying the Falcons must go out and trade for Derek Carr or Lamar Jackson, even though I do believe there’s a chance they pursue one of those options. They could also draft somebody in the first round or roll with Desmond Ridder as the team’s starter in 2023. I wouldn’t be against adding a backup and giving Ridder the reins for another year. He’s shown enough to warrant that over his first three starts. However, until the Falcons find their franchise quarterback, this will always be the team’s top priority every offseason. Ridder could be that guy, but there’s no way anybody can say that after what we’ve seen thus far.
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