The Falcons came into the offseason with a roster littered with holes; thankfully, the club boasted the second most cap space in the NFL. And they have spent it, filling most of the roster needs.
Kaleb McGary was brought back to fill the void at right tackle; Mack Hollins is seemingly set to assume the WR2 role. They added difference-makers at all three levels of the defense — Jessie Bates III, Kaden Elliss, and David Onyemata. Atlanta also went out and filled the starting nickel position by signing Mike Hughes. There were other depth and role signings, but there are still areas that need addressing.
Pro Football Focus recently identified each team’s needs following the first couple of waves of free agency. “A dominant edge player is at the top of the list for them, as would be a good pass-rushing interior defensive lineman. They could also use another reliable receiver to go along with Drake London (though they could also just use Kyle Pitts more, or both).”
Ah, yes! A dominant edge player is at the top of the list; this is something I’ve talked about recently. Just go down to the corner store and get a dominant edge defender. It’s easy! The fact is there aren’t any available on the free agent market. There’s nobody to fill that void, and the Falcons would be wise to be patient and not overpay someone in free agency.
Moreover, a good pass rushing interior defensive lineman is exactly what David Onyemata brings to the table. Grady Jarrett, Ta’Quon Graham, and Onyemata are three effective interior pass rushers; there’s no room for another starting-caliber player. I agree the interior defensive line needs more bolstering, but it’s just to strengthen the rotation.
The offense could use another reliable receiver to go along with Drake London, but the run-heavy scheme Arthur Smith runs doesn’t dictate the position to vault to the top of the list of needs.
No, the more significant need than all of those is left guard. Unlike the others, it’s a starting position, and the Falcons don’t have encouraging internal options. Matt Hennessy, Jalen Mayfield, and Justin Shaffer could battle it out, but the Falcons will likely bring in some form of veteran competition.
A combination of Hennessy, Elijah Wilkinson, Colby Gossett, and Chuma Edoga held down the position throughout the 2022 season, and they did a good job. So it doesn’t have to be some high-profile free agent, not that there are any left anyways.
Dalton Risner and Rodger Saffold are two targets that would be immediate upgrades over what the Falcons currently have.
The latter is still playing at a high level, coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl campaigns with the Bills — the first two of his career. Saffold started 16 games for Buffalo this past season, so he’s still reliable, which the Falcons didn’t have at the position in 2022.
Risner is someone I just recently profiled:
The Denver native is suspect in pass protection, which will always result in lesser contracts. But for Atlanta, it’s a great fit because he’s always been a great run blocker. The Falcons run the ball as much as any team in the league, and Risner would complement an ascending offensive line.
The Falcons could sign either of these guys, Elijah Wilkinson or any other veteran free agent. It could come from the draft too; it doesn’t matter where. The position just needs more competition.
Photographer: Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire
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