The Falcons haven’t made the postseason since the 2017 season. It’s one of the longest playoff droughts in the NFL, but Atlanta has a legitimate shot at returning to meaningful football in January this season. The NFC South is the worst division in the league, and it’s not particularly close.
All teams don’t have an obvious long-term solution at quarterback, even if Desmond Ridder flashed at times during his four-game audition. The Buccaneers and Saints are old, expensive teams that will likely undergo significant personnel turnover. The Panthers actually have a roster with serious potential under Frank Reich if they can figure out the signal caller position.
The Falcons will need to upgrade several areas, but here are the most critical position groups that they must address to return to the postseason:
3. Offensive Line
The Falcons’ offensive line was one of the biggest surprises in 2022. It went from one of the absolute worst units in 2021 to one of the best in 2022. The Falcons boasted arguably the most impressive rushing attack in football, ranking in the top five in yards per game and yards per carry, which can be attributed to the five big uglies up front. However, at least two of the five positions can be upgraded.
Complacency is a killer. Just because the offensive line did well in 2022 doesn’t mean it can’t be even better in 2023. Center and left guard can easily be upgraded. Drew Dalman performed acceptably and deserves more time to develop, but upgrading the center position has to be in the back of the team’s mind. Having an elite center can completely change an offensive line. It’s arguably the most undervalued position in the sport.
Assuming Desmond Ridder is the starting quarterback, a formidable offensive line is probably the most valuable asset in accentuating a young signal caller’s potential.
The entire Falcons defense needs a makeover. There isn’t a single position group that could go without an upgrade, and the secondary could use a mass influx of talent. Most people would pencil AJ Terrell, Richie Grant, Jaylinn Hawkins, and Casey Hayward as the starters, but that’s complacency at its finest.
The Falcons weren’t good at all, even with those four players starting. Hawkins didn’t take the leap many expected, and Hayward is a 34-year-old coming off a significant injury. I would expect serious competition to be brought in, not just veterans to “compete” like Erik Harris. The Falcons need several more pieces, regardless of the position. The starting nickel is not under contract, at least right now. Hayward could be a potential cap casualty, which would force the Falcons into the market for a starter opposite Terrell, and I would argue Jaylinn Hawkins didn’t do enough to have the starting job in 2023.
The entire secondary needs investment.
1. Defensive Front
More than any other position group, the defensive front needs resources. Free agency and the draft, the Falcons need to add defenders in the trenches, regardless of whether it’s along the interior or on the edge.
Grady Jarrett, Ta’Quon Graham, and Arnold Ebiketie are the players to build around. DeAngelo Malone could take a significant leap in his second year, but it shouldn’t be relied upon. The Falcons need a healthy rotation, which means adding four or five players to the defensive line.
Every successful defense has a plethora of defensive linemen — Eagles, 49ers, etc. The Falcons can take a massive step in that direction this offseason. Bolstering the trenches should be an every-offseason to-do, regardless of how they performed the year prior.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire