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2019 Team Report: Atlanta Falcons

Offensive Philosophy

New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter-- the Falcons' third coordinator in the last four years-- oversaw pass-heavy offenses in Tampa Bay, but comes to Atlanta praising the benefits of balance. Head coach Dan Quinn has also spoken this offseason about the importance of re-emphasizing the run game. With a former league MVP under center and a glut of talented receivers, however, there's reason to believe that the team will continue to skew toward the pass as Koetter returns some of the downfield elements to the team's West Coast scheme that were scaled back under previous offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matt Ryan
Backup(s): Matt Schaub, Kurt Benkert

Starting QB: Matt Ryan enjoyed a bounce-back season in 2018 under the coordination of Dirk Koetter, setting a career high in yards (4,923) and his second-most touchdowns (35) and yards-per-attempt (8.1). Ryan's three rushing touchdowns helped fuel his best overall production in his 11-year career. Ryan was one of the best quarterbacks under pressure in 2018. Outside of blips in the radar, notably 2013 and 2015, Ryan has been a stalwart among the NFL's upper echelon of quarterbacks. With Julio Jones continuing his strong run of production, Mohamed Sanu an underrated option, and 2018 first-round pick Calvin Ridley entering Year 2 with Devonta Freeman returning from injury, Atlanta's passing game is one of the easier to project with a high-floor and ceiling combination for 2019.

Backup QB: Matt Schaub began his NFL career as the backup quarterback during the Michael Vick era before a sustained stretch as the starter for the Houston Texans. Schaub enters his third season with Atlanta as a backup to Matt Ryan in recent years, totaling 10 regular season passes thrown behind iron man Matt Ryan. Schaub offers a veteran presence but minimal functional upside if pressed into action.

Running Backs

Starter: Devonta Freeman
Backup(s): Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison[R], Brian Hill
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Devonta Freeman missed all but two games in 2018 with a groin injury, sending the previous starting line stalwart for the Falcons' offense to the sideline. Freeman was previously one of the more productive two-way running backs in the NFL. While undersized compared to the positional prototype, Freeman runs big inside and has been optimized when at his best in space for Atlanta's potent offense. Tevin Coleman departed in free agency, a notable depth chart change from 2019 as second-year back Ito Smith is penciled in as the secondary option to Freeman's starting status. Freeman's usage has waned since his more than 22 touches per game peak in 2015 to 16-17 touches per contest his past two healthy seasons.

Backup RBs: Ito Smith was a two-way producer out of Southern Miss, but an undersized and lagging athlete for his frame. Smith flashed functionality with Smith and Tevin Coleman forming a committee as Devonta Freeman missed a chunk of 2018. As the season and touches wore on, Smith struggled to create on his own or muster impactful plays. Smith profiles as a decent backup option in the NFL but more fit for as a role player than pressed into a larger role. Qadree Ollison offers a prototypical frame and receiving ability as a Day 3 incoming rookie, who projects as more of a high-volume runner than Ito Smith if Freeman were to miss extended time.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley
Backups: Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Russell Gage, Marcus Green [R], Olamide Zaccheaus [R]

Starting WRs: Julio Jones continued his historic career production in 2018 with his fifth season averaging at least 100 receiving yards per game and his eight touchdowns marked the second-most of his career. Jones and Mohamed Sanu formed a quality tandem for two years before the infusion of first-round pick Calvin Ridley into the mix as one of the strongest trios of receivers in the NFL. Jones' volume did not suffer with a hearty 170 last season as Atlanta's overall passing volume ballooned from their tepid marks in 2016-2017. Jones' durability has been a marvel, missing a mere two games over the past four seasons despite being managed on a snap-to-snap basis in-game and curtailed practices for years as a well-developed veteran. Calvin Ridley joined an already-strong Falcons passing game in 2018 as a first-round rookie but surged to 92 targets and a viable Year 1 impact. Ridley was efficient on deep routes, however, was not heavily used downfield compared to his total routes. With Atlanta's offense returning intact, even adding back Devonta Freeman from injury, an uptick for Ridley would come at the expense of Julio Jones' lofty targets from a year ago (170) or taking over the secondary receiver role from Mohamed Sanu (94 targets), who played heavily in the slot compared to Ridley sparsely working from inside the formation.

Backup WRs: Mohamed Sanu was the second receiver for Atlanta in 2018, but all signs point to second-year Calvin Ridley usurping the older veteran in 2019. Sanu has been a short-to-intermediate option and in the red zone for three years in Atlanta offering a stable presence on one of the better passing games in the NFL. Justin Hardy has been a role player through four seasons with the Falcons, yet to show much beyond a short-range chain-mover with minimal athleticism for his size or upside beyond a WR4/5 NFL depth chart perch.

Tight Ends

Starters: Austin Hooper
Backups: Luke Stocker, Eric Saubert

Austin Hooper logged his best season statistically in 2018 with 71 receptions, but a meager four touchdowns and sub-10.0 yards-per-reception leave Hooper as one of the least inspiring starters in the NFL from an upside and big-play standpoint. Closing in on the end of his rookie contract, Hooper is at a crossroads to earn a significant new deal from the Falcons. Luke Stocker is a low-upside veteran backup with more blocking acumen than offering anything down the seam or beyond 10 yards from the line of scrimmage.

Place Kicker

Giorgio Tavecchio: Matt Bryant had been the answer at kicker for Atlanta for a decade, but he won't be their kicker in 2019. Giorgio Tavecchio filled when Bryant got hurt late in the season, and the team decided to not bring Bryant back. Tavecchio was the Raiders kicker in 2017, but was spotty and used sparingly, with only 21 field goal attempts and 16 makes - including two misses from 30-39 yards. He didn't miss a kick in three games with Atlanta, including two makes from 50+ and eight extra points, which was enough to sell the team on his services, which will come almost three million dollars cheaper than Bryant's. Given the consistent opportunity and ideal indoor setting for kicking, Tavecchio is a solid choice for a last round kicker pick. Bryant still wants to play and should catch on somewhere before or during the season.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Justin Hardy, Ito Smith, Calvin Ridley

Last year's top kickoff returner, Marvin Hall, is now in Chicago. Atlanta's most likely response is to expand the role of punt returner Justin Hardy and let him be a two-way return specialist, but running back Ito Smith received practice reps last offseason and may push for the job in 2019.

Punt Returners: Justin Hardy, Calvin Ridley

Justin Hardy was the team's top punt returner in 2018 and remains on the roster heading into 2019. Receiver Calvin Ridley plays a prominent role on offense, but the team dabbled with him on returns a little bit last year as well.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Jake Matthews, James Carpenter, Alex Mack, Chris Lindstrom [R], Kaleb McGary [R]
Key Backups: Jamon Brown, Ty Sambrailo, Matt Gono, Adam Gettis, Sean Harlow, Wes Schweitzer

The strength of the Falcons' line is at center, where Alex Mack was again named a Pro Bowl starter. Jake Matthews at left tackle was also named to the Pro Bowl, as an alternate, rewarding the faith the team showed by signing Matthews to an extension before last season. The team revamped the right side in the offseason. Ty Sambrailo replaced a struggling Ryan Schraeder last season and was given an extension. However, he will most likely be the swing tackle behind first round pick Kaleb McGary out of Washington State. Another first round rookie Chris Lindstrom out of Boston College will likely start at right guard. Left guard Andy Levitre was replaced by former Jets guard James Carpenter, with Jamon Brown and Wes Schweitzer likely providing depth. This line grades as an average line initially but once the guards find their place the Falcons' line should once again challenge for a top tier ranking.

Team Defense

The Falcons defense was quiet for fantasy last year until facing Lamar Jackson, Josh Rosen, and Taylor Heinicke in the last third of the season. They had a few loss early when Keanu Neal went down and then lost Deion Jones for a good part of the year, so perhaps those late outbursts could be a sign of better things to come this year. The team released Robert Alford and will replace him with 2018 second round pick Isaiah Oliver. They have continuity at every level of the defense otherwise and should improve this year with better injury luck. Opening on the road at Jacksonville and Minnesota isn't exactly a recipe for a hot start, but we'll keep them in consideration as a strong streaming candidate when the matchups or momentum dictate it.

Defensive Line

Starters: NT Grady Jarrett, DT Deadrin Senat, DE Vic Beasley, DE Takkarist McKinley
Backups: DE Michael Bennett, DE Jack Crawford, DT Tyeler Davison, DE Adrian Clayborn, DT RaShede Hageman, DL Steven Means, DL Chris Odom, DL Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, DL Justin Zimmer, DE John Cominsky

Starting DL: Defensive lineman Grady Jarrett received the franchise tag from the Falcons brass this offseason, with team owner Arthur Blank vowing to lock down the premiere interior player for the long term. Jarrett's excellent play warrants such a move; a consistent disruptor, he is the straw that stirs the drink for Atlanta's defense. The player who joins him on the interior is still a mystery, though second-year space eater Deadrin Senat is expected to compete with Jack Crawford for the role. Crawford, who has the flexibility to play both end and tackle, played 624 snaps last season to Senat's 370. The future of Vic Beasley, who Atlanta selected with the eighth pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, remains up in the air. The long-limbed pass rusher has moved back to defensive end from linebacker to find his most productive spot but has been a disappointment for the team since tallying 15.5 sacks in 2016. Some reports indicate Beasley could be moved on this offseason. Entering his third year, Takkarist McKinley will be expected to take another step forward after totalling seven sacks in 2018.

Backup DL: The Falcons re-signed Adrian Clayborn this offseason after the former Falcon was released by New England. At 31 years of age when the season kicks off, he is expected to contribute as a rotational player. Jack Crawford and Tyeler Davison played over 400 snaps each last season and should reprise their roles as dependable backups. Ra'Shede Hageman was signed this offseason after a series of legal troubles, leading to a two-game suspension from the league. Despite the looming missed games, Atlanta will give him an opportunity to impress. John Cominsky was added via the NFL Draft and profiles as an athletic behemoth capable of filling in at multiple spots.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Deion Jones, SLB DeVondre Campbell, WLB Foye Oluokun
Backups: LB Bruce Carter, LB Kemal Ishmael, LB Duke Riley, LB Jermaine Grace, LB Richard Jarvis

Starting LBs: Deion Jones missed 10 games last season with a foot injury, removing arguably Atlanta's most impactful player from the line-up. A return to full health will be a major boost for a defense that sorely missed him. De'Vondre Campbell and Duke Riley deputised admirably in Jones' absence last season, and the duo should keep their positions despite average play at times in 2018. Foyusade Oluokun, who played 525 snaps to cover for Jones, has the potential to unseat Campbell or Riley if things break in his favour.

Backup LBs: Bruce Carter played just 78 snaps last season and made minimal impact, his signing more a response to Atlanta's linebacker woes than anything else. Kemal Ishmael is an experienced operator who can contribute in a pinch. Overall, the Falcons lack depth at this position, however.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Desmond Trufant, CB Isaiah Oliver, FS Ricardo Allen, SS Keanu Neal
Backups: CB Taveze Calhoun, CB Kendall Sheffield, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Chris Cooper, CB Jordan Miller, S Damontae Kazee, S Sharrod Neasman, S Ryan Neal, S Afolabi Laguda

Starting DBs: As if losing Deion Jones to injury wasn't enough to drill a hole through the middle of Atlanta's defensive heart, the injury to Keanu Neal proved a step too far. The safety tore his ACL in September, but all signs point to him returning to the field by Week 1 in what is a considerable boon for Dan Quinn's unit. Alongside Neal it is expected Ricardo Allen, who is also returning from injury (Achilles), will take up the free safety role. Desmond Trufant remained a consistent thorn in the side of opposing receivers in 2018, bringing a high level of play to bear. The spot opposite Trufant belongs to second-year pro Isaiah Oliver - for now. Oliver played just 241 snaps as a rookie, but the team released veterans Robert Alford, Brian Poole and Justin Bethel this offseason, a sign of their comfort with Oliver's contribution.

Backup DBs: Damontae Kazee opened some eyes in the organisation last season, logging 991 snaps and performing very well in Keanu Neal's stead. His veteran presence will be important. The team addressed a lack of bodies at cornerback by adding Kendall Sheffield of Ohio State and Jordan Miller of Washington in the later rounds. Both should immediately compete for backup roles.

Last modified: 2019-05-24 15:13:02