The Falcons have a much-improved roster from a year ago, but that’s what happens when you have actual cap space to participate in free agency.
The most improved areas of the team all come on the defensive side of the ball. The Falcons’ defensive front and secondary were infused with elite talent and depth.
David Onyemata and Calais Campbell headline the additions in the trenches, while Jessie Bates III solidifies the backend as the gem of the free agent class. Still, what’s so impressive is the difference in depth. The acquisitions of Onyemata and Campbell push starters from last year into reserve roles like Ta’Quon Graham.
So, where do all of these position groups rank across the NFL? ESPN recently put out the best and worst units, with the Falcons near the top or bottom of almost every single one.
This one isn’t hard to see. Desmond Ridder is about as unproven as one gets in this league. He’s only started four games and had more uninspiring moments than inspiring ones. Taylor Heinicke is one of the best backups in the league but would be one of the worst starters. Thankfully, the Falcons offense shouldn’t depend too heavily on the quarterback to win them games. All Ridder has to do is act as a point guard and distribute the ball to his weapons.
Running Backs 2nd
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise. The only shocking thing here is they weren’t first; that honor goes to the 49ers, but it’s arguable. Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, and Cordarrelle Patterson comprise the most versatile backfield in the league, and it’s not even close. Robinson will establish himself as one of the best players in the league, not just among running backs.
Wide Receivers 32nd
Once again, this is not shocking. Here’s what ESPN had to say about the shakiest receiver unit in football.
Drake London looked the part of a budding star as a first-round rookie in 2022, but Atlanta’s depth at the position is extremely shaky. Journeyman newcomer Mack Hollins appears to be the favorite for No. 2 duties, but his main contributions figure to be as a run-blocker. The likes of KhaDarel Hodge, Penny Hart, Scott Miller and Frank Darby are next in line. Fortunately, wide receiver won’t be a priority position in Arthur Smith’s run-first scheme.
Tight Ends 6th
Kyle Pitts headlines this unit and Jonnu Smith is one of the better TE2s in the league. The group was dubbed one to watch by ESPN.
Kyle Pitts is entering his third pro season after a 2022 season in which he ranked second among tight ends in target share (27%), but missed seven games with a knee injury. Pitts, who produced 1,026 yards as a 20-year-old rookie in 2021, remains one of the league’s top offensive prospects, but his health will be a topic of discussion leading into Week 1. Atlanta also added Jonnu Smith, who had his best NFL season when he and coach Arthur Smith were both in Tennessee in 2020.
Offensive Line 8th
The offensive line returns four of five starters, which was a top 10 unit in 2022. The Falcons had a revolving door at left guard and have for a while. That era is hopefully over because the club traded up and drafted Matthew Bergeron in the second round. The line is primed to be one of the best in football once again.
Interior Defensive Line 3rd
Another Falcons unit that is one to watch.
Two-time Pro Bowler Grady Jarrett is the notable incumbent and anchor of this group. Six-time Pro Bowler Calais Campbell is 36 years old but is fresh off another strong season and will work from the edge and inside. New defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen brought David Onyemata over from New Orleans, and he’ll play a substantial role. This is a big upgrade for a defense that was 29th in EPA last season.
EDGE Defenders 31st
This isn’t shocking at all. Lorenzo Carter, Bud Dupree, Arnold Ebiketie, and DeAngelo Malone aren’t super imposing. However, it has the potential to be one of the better groups in football if its youngsters take leaps forward in their respective developments. Dupree also has the potential to bounce back in a contract year as he seeks another long-term deal.
Off-ball Linebackers 26th
Kaden Elliss and Troy Andersen aren’t well known around the league, but I think this unit surprises a lot of people this year. The Falcons linebackers are versatile and athletic. We’ll look back at the Elliss free agent signing as one of the better acquisitions of the new regime.
This ranking isn’t a surprise either. A.J. Terrell is about the only player worth a damn in this group. Jeff Okudah was had for a fifth-round pick for a reason. Mike Hughes hasn’t been very good as a pro. Clark Phillips is just a rookie; Darren Hall has proven to be a solid reserve piece, and Dee Alford is still developing. It’s much better depth than a year ago, but the top end talent is no better.
Jessie Bates launched this group from one of the worst last year to a top 10 group this year. His presence alone is valuable but will also improve Richie Grant’s ability.
I don’t think this is the third-worst roster in football. In fact, if you take a mathematical approach, like how GPAs are calculated, the Falcons would rank around the 17th-best roster. However, that’s not how it works. Quarterback is the most important position in football… by a large margin. Even still, it doesn’t make Atlanta’s roster the 29th-best.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire