RB Michael Turner, TE Ben Hartsock, TE Marcus Pollard, TE Jason Rader, C Alex Stepanovich, DT Grady Jackson, DT Kindal Moorehead, DT Simon Fraser, NT Rashard Moore, CB Von Hutchins, CB Dominique Foxworth, S Erik Coleman, S Deke Cooper, S Blue Adams, S Coy Wire, K Jason Elam.
QB Matt Ryan, RB Thomas Brown, WR Harry Douglas, TE Keith Zinger, OT Sam Baker, DE Kroy Biermann, OLB Robert James, ILB Curtis Lofton, CB Chevis Jackson, CB Wilrey Fontenot, FS Thomas DeCoud.
QB Byron Leftwich, RB Warrick Dunn, WR Joe Horn, WR Jamin Elliott, TE Alge Crumpler, TE Dwayne Blakley, TE George Cooper, OT Wayne Gandy, DT Rod Coleman, OLB Demorrio Williams, OLB Marcus Wilkins, CB DeAngelo Hall, CB Lewis Sanders, S Chris Crocker, S Jimmy Williams, S C.J. Gaddis.
2008 Atlanta Falcons Offense:
Atlanta's 2007 campaign was so miserable, I wouldn't even know where to begin to describe it. Do I start with Michael Vick killing dogs for pleasure (and the hundreds of idiots who defended him, citing that our government was racist), or should I discuss how fraudulent head coach Bobby Petrino completely destroyed the chemistry in the locker room? Or maybe I could talk about how the four quarterbacks Atlanta had on its roster were a dog-killer; a guy obsessed with eating caviar and playing the piano; a fat man who has retired to eat cheeseburgers; and signal caller drafted by quarterback guru Brian Billick. And then you have Arthur Blank's cheesy moustache - that accounted for five losses itself.
Instead of talking about how miserable the Falcons were and how much of a surprise it was that they won four games, let's discuss the future. Atlanta tied the success of its next 5-10 seasons to Matt Ryan, whom it chose with the No. 3 pick in April's draft. As I've made it clear numerous times, I wasn't a big fan of the selection. I don't think Ryan is going to be a huge bust, though I can't see him being the next great quarterback either. I just believe that throwing a young quarterback into an offense with a horrific offensive line and barely any weapons can only hurt the player's progress. See David Carr if you don't know what I'm talking about.
The Falcons' offensive front was one of the NFL's worst last season. It was responsible for the team's miserable ground attack ranking (26th) and the 47 sacks it surrendered to Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich and Chris Redman. So, Atlanta must have done something to improve this group, right? Well, for starters, it traded up to No. 21 overall and reached for Sam Baker. Baker will win the left tackle job somewhat soon, but how effective will he be considering he's a rookie and was a mere second-round prospect? The Falcons also signed center Alex Stepanovich via the free-agent market. Stepanovich is a solid reserve, but has never shown the ability to start. He'll play behind the mediocre Todd McClure.
Other than that? Nothing. Atlanta failed to acquire upgrades to the offensive line, with the exception of Baker. The right side of the front is void of talent; guard Kynan Forney is terrible, while Todd Weiner, who turns 33 in September, is coming off two knee surgeries. The only provent talent in this group is left guard Justin Blalock, who was forced to play out of position last season in the wake of Weiner's injuries.
Someone else the Falcons' miserable offensive line won't be doing any favors for is Michael Turner. Atlanta shelled out $34.5 million over six years for Turner, who played exceptionally well when LaDainian Tomlinson tore his MCL in the postseason. Turner is a talented runner, but he won't have any lanes to sprint through. Last year's starter, Warrick Dunn, averaged a meager 3.2 yards per carry.
Whether Ryan starts in September or around Thanksgiving, he'll be looking at Roddy White early and often for two reasons. First, White came out of nowhere to catch 83 passes for 1,202 yards and six touchdowns last year. White's production was really remarkable considering the three guys who were throwing him the football. Second, every other player in Atlanta's receiving corps either stinks or is inexperienced. Michael Jenkins, currently slated to start across from White, dropped so many catchable balls last year, he made Titans wide outs look like Hall of Famers. Laurent Robinson, entering his second season, could supplant Jenkins. He had seven receptions, 114 yards and a score in a Week 16 contest at Arizona, but responded with one catch the following contest.
Meanwhile, rookie Harry Douglas will also be competing for playing time. The Louisville product reportedly looked good in minicamps, but we'll see what happens once the pads come on. As for Joe Horn, don't be surprised if the 36-year-old is cut. Horn had just 27 receptions, 243 yards and one touchdown in 2007.
At tight end, Alge Crumpler is gone, but that doesn't matter. Crumpler looked old, slow and sloppy last year, as it was evident all of his injuries finally caught up to him. Like Jenkins, Crumpler dropped a ton of balls. He'll be replaced by the duo of Ben Hartsock and Martrez Milner. Hartsock is an effective blocker, but Milner's career numbers include two starts, nine catches and 50 yards.
The Falcons were 29th in offense last season, as they averaged 16.2 points per game. With a rookie quarterback, an unimproved line and a one-man receiving corps, I can't see their scoring attack making any major strides.
2008 Atlanta Falcons Defense:
The Falcons may have stunk big time last year, but they at least should be credited with being consistent. They were 29th in both offense and defense in 2007. That's tough to do.
Believe it or not, but Atlanta's stop unit could be even worse this season. The team lost four members of its secondary, including DeAngelo Hall, who was traded to the Raiders for a second-round pick. There's no denying that Hall played like an idiot sometimes - he committed 67 penalty yards on a single drive in a 27-20 loss to the Panthers in Week 3 - but he's a very talented corner who will be missed.
Four players will be competing for the right to replace Hall and start across from second-year Chris Houston. The current favorite is Von Hutchins, a reserve with the Texans, but only because he has the most experience. Brent Grimes has been getting snaps with the first team, but he has appeared in two games in his NFL career. The third candidate is David Irons, who was chosen in the sixth round in the 2007 NFL Draft. Irons appeared in 15 contests and recorded 13 tackles in 2007. The final corner is rookie Chevis Jackson, selected in the third round in April.
As horrid as Atlanta's cornerback situation is, safety is even worse. Erik Coleman, a New York Jets reject, is currently slated to start at free safety, but could soon be replaced by third-round rookie Thomas DeCoud. Lawyer Milloy, 35 in November and way past his prime, occupies the strong safety position.
Of course, the Falcons' secondary didn't get any help from a front four that produced just 25 sacks in 2007. Ten came from John Abraham, so I can't even imagine what'll happen if he gets hurt. Jamaal Anderson is expected to make more of a contribution, as he's entering his second season. However, we've seen no proof Anderson can rush the passer, as he recorded a grand total of zero sacks as a rookie. Granted, Anderson is better against the run, but I doubt Atlanta was planning on drafting a Phillip Daniels clone with the seventh-overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft.
While Anderson provides somewhat of a ray of hope at defensive end, the tackle position seems utterly hopeless. Jonathan Babineaux played somewhat well at under tackle, as he was second on the squad with three sacks. Meanwhile, the nose tackle position is up in the air. Kindal Moorehead, Montavious Stanley, Tim Anderson, Rashad Moore and Trey Lewis will all be competing for the starting gig.
Whoever becomes the nose tackle won't offer much protection to the linebackers. Luckily, this is Atlanta's strongest defensive group - and not merely by default. Michael Boley, who was just a fifth-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, has become of the top strongside linebackers in the NFL. Keith Brooking, 33 in October, will move from the middle to the weak side to make room for second-round rookie Curtis Lofton, who's already penciled into the starting lineup. Brooking, meanwhile, may have lost a step, but he's still an effective player and the leader of the defense.
I was disappointed the Falcons eschewed Glenn Dorsey because a player of his caliber would have allowed Atlanta's talented linebackers to make tons of plays. They'll suffer the consequences in 2008. The defensive line will once again fail to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks, putting way too much stress on a horrible secondary. The Falcons could be lucky to match their 29th defensive ranking this year.
2008 Atlanta Falcons Schedule and Intangibles:
Like the Panthers and Saints, the Falcons can't seem to win at home; they're 47-49 at the Georgia Dome since 1996. They're 3-5 as hosts each of the past two seasons. Really, what's up with NFC South teams sucking in their own house?
The Falcons beat the Panthers in a Week 10 matchup. After that, they were 1-6, with their only victory coming against Seattle's backups. The significance of this? Five of those six losses were by double digits, as the team showed no signs of life down the stretch. I can't really blame Atlanta for quitting though, as fraudulent head coach Bobby Petrino unceremoniously abandoned a sinking ship.
Atlanta hasn't returned a punt or kickoff for a touchdown in three years. The team also allowed a touchdown on special teams. It looks like new head coach Mike Smith is once again going with the duo of Adam Jennings and Jerious Norwood.
The Falcons also had kicking problems in 2007, as Michael Koenen and Morten Andersen combined to go 4-of-9 from beyond 40 yards. In response, they signed Jason Elam, who was 10-of-14 from that distance last season. Elam just turned 38, so there should be some concerns about his leg strength diminishing.
Koenen can't place-kick his way out of a paper bag, but he's a very effective punter. He averaged 43.5 yards per punt and nailed 30 inside the opposing 20.
Atlanta won't finish 0-16. Not with its schedule. Winnable games include Detroit, Kansas City, Chicago, Oakland and St. Louis.
2008 Atlanta Falcons Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2008 Atlanta Falcons Analysis: Since the division was created in 2002, every team that finished with the worst record of the four has claimed the NFC South the following year. That trend will come to an end in 2008.
Atlanta fans don't have much to look forward to in 2008, but the good news is that the past is behind them. There isn't much more to analyze. The Falcons stink, but they're done free falling. They can only get better from this point on.
Projection: 2-14 (4th in NFC South)
2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Matt Ryan: I'm not sure how much Matt Ryan is going to play as a rookie, but it shouldn't really matter in regular leagues. I wouldn't draft him too high in keeper leagues either; he has no one to throw to besides Roddy White, and he's not an elite prospect in the mold of a Carson Palmer.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,600 passing yards. 8 passing TDs. 100 rushing yards. 1 rushing TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 144.
Michael Turner: The Falcons didn't spend $34.5 million on Michael Turner so he could split carries with Jerious Norwood. He'll get the bulk of the workload, but he'll struggle with no running lanes to scamper through. Atlanta has one of the worst offensive lines in all of football.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,050 rushing yards. 150 receiving yards. 7 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 162.
Jerious Norwood: Jerious Norwood won't get as many opportunities to carry the ball with Michael Turner in the picture. His receptions should rise, but not enough to warrant draft consideration until the later rounds.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 400 rushing yards. 350 receiving yards. 1 total TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 81.
Martrez Milner: Martrez Milner will be Atlanta's new pass-catching tight end now that Alge Crumpler was cut. Milner has nine career receptions. Look elsewhere.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 300 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 42.
Roddy White: After accomplishing nothing in his first two NFL seasons (952 yards, three touchdowns), Roddy White came out of nowhere to register 83 receptions, 1,202 yards and six touchdowns despite the garbage Atlanta had at quarterback. White was consistent all year, though his end-zone opportunities were limited as a result of playing in a stale offense. White's 2008 numbers are a bit unpredictable because we have no idea what to expect from Matt Ryan.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,025 receiving yards. 5 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 132.
Laurent Robinson: I'm predicting that Laurent Robinson will be the starting receiver across from Roddy White, using the momentum he gained from his 7-catch, 114-yard performance in Week 16. Still, with a rookie quarterback at the helm and a new ball-control offense, Robinson's numbers will be limited.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 600 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 78.
Michael Jenkins: The Michael Jenkins era is quickly coming to an end in Atlanta. And it can't come sooner; I can't imagine how frustrated Falcons fans must feel watching Jenkins drop a dozen balls each week.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 275 receiving yards. 1 TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 33.
Jason Elam: Jason Elam just turned 38, so his days of hitting 50-yard field goals has probably come to an end. Still, Elam is very accurate from 40-49. Since 2003, he's 42-of-56 (75 percent) from that distance. Keep in mind he kicked at Mile High; he'll be even more efficient inside the dome.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 26-29 FG (0-2 50+). 24 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 112.
Atlanta Defense: The Falcons would be a solid fantasy defense if they could get sacks, pick off passes and hold teams to single-digit scoring totals on occasion. They need to work on those things.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Bottom 10 Defense.
2008 NFL Draft Grade:
Curtis Lofton was a solid pick in Round 2, as he gives Mike Smith a lot of flexibility with Keith Brooking ... Chevis Jackson and Thomas DeCoud are solid defensive backs who will help an Atlanta secondary hurting for depth.
Hey, I'll eat crow if I'm wrong. I'm not infallible (see Kroy Biermann write-up for proof.) No one is. But in my opinion, Matt Ryan's definitely not worth the No. 3 overall pick. If I had to compare him to a quarterback in the NFL, I'd say Jake Delhomme. Not terrible, but very mediocre. Atlanta should have went after Brian Brohm or Chad Henne in the second round, and either traded down or picked Glenn Dorsey/Sedrick Ellis. For more on why I don't think Ryan's the greatest thing since sliced bread, scroll down a bit and read my "2008 NFL Draft Picks" section ... Sam Baker? Ugh. Atlanta shouldn't have traded up for him. Major reach ... The Kroy Biermann pick was so bad I confused him for a running back from Montana instead of an end from Duke ... Not enough help on the offensive line.
Grade give on 4/28/08: C-
2008 NFL Draft Picks:
3. Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College
Ugh, where do I begin? Matt Ryan is not a top-five prospect. You don't take a quarterback when you have nothing on your offensive line (see David Carr for a reason.) Atlanta could have obtained Brian Brohm or Chad Henne atop Round 2. Ryan failed to complete 60 percent of his passes last year. He tossed 19 picks. The entire reason he was the No. 1 quarterback prospect was the final two minutes against Virginia Tech. Well, Ryan was horrendous for the other 58 minutes, and as a kicker, he lost to the Hokies in the ACC Championship! Ryan would have been the No. 4 quarterback in 2006. The Falcons reached. (Pick Grade: D)
21. Sam Baker, OT, USC
The Falcons traded up for Sam Baker? Why? They probably could have obtained him in the second round. If not, then Carl Nicks or Anthony Collins. There was no reason for the Falcons to make this move. (Pick Grade: F)
37. Curtis Lofton, ILB, Oklahoma
Finally, a pick that makes some sense. The Falcons need an inside linebacker for when Keith Brooking moves on. Also, if Stephen Nicholas struggles, they can move Brooking to the weak side, allowing Curtis Lofton to step in. (Pick Grade: A)
68. Chevis Jackson, CB, LSU
A potentially solid replacement for DeAngelo Hall, but I thought 68 was a bit early for Chevis Jackson. There were better corners available. (Pick Grade: B)
84. Harry Douglas, WR, Louisville
Somewhat of a reach, but not a terrible pick. I guess this spells the end for Joe Horn and Michael Jenkins. (Pick Grade: C)
98. Thomas DeCoud, FS, California
Great value at the bottom of Round 3 at a position of need. (Pick Grade: A)
138. Robert James, OLB, Arizona State
Reach No. 4 for Atlanta in this draft. It's not a good day to be a Falcons fan. Did the Falcons need another linebacker? How about a lineman to, I don't know, protect Matt Ryan? (Pick Grade: D)
154. Kroy Biermann, DE, Montana
The Falcons just took my 38th-ranked defensive end in the fifth round. Fits well with reaching for Matt Ryan and trading up for the free-falling Sam Baker. Good job, guys.
(Note: Thanks to e-mailer Mike C. for pointing out that I had Kroy Biermann as a running back from Montana instead of an end. Biermann is my 38th-ranked end, but on a long Day 2, I got him confused with Lex Hilliard. I blame Roger Goodell for starting the thing at 10 a.m.) (Pick Grade: F)
172. Thomas Brown, RB, Georgia
Solid depth at running back for the Falcons. (Pick Grade: B)
212. Wilrey Fontenot, CB, Arizona
Smart move getting another corner. (Pick Grade: B)
232. Keith Zinger, TE, LSU
Not on my board, but it's the seventh round. (Pick Grade: C)
Let's see - the starting quarterback electrocuted and senselessly beat innocent dogs; the backup quarterback ate too many cheeseburgers and hence was too fat to elude defenders in the pocket; while the coach bolted in the middle of the night, leaving the team completely disoriented and confused. Other than that, Atlanta's season was just fine and dandy.
Falcons acquire CB Dominique Foxworth from Broncos for undisclosed draft pick
Falcons sign TE Marcus Pollard
Falcons cut WR Joe Horn
Falcons re-sign OT Doug Datish
Falcons sign DT Grady Jackson
Falcons sign S Blue Adams
Falcons sign S Coy Wire
Falcons cut C Doug Datish
Falcons sign S Deke Cooper
Falcons cut S Jimmy Williams
Falcons cut TE George Cooper
Falcons cut SS C.J. Gaddis
Falcons re-sign FB Corey McIntyre
Falcons re-sign DE Chauncey Davis
Falcons re-sign P Michael Koenen
Falcons re-sign OLB Michael Boley
Falcons re-sign DT Montavious Stanley
Falcons sign K Jason Elam
Falcons traded CB DeAngelo Hall to the Raiders for a 2nd-round pick and a 2009 5th-round pick
Falcons re-sign OT Tyson Clabo
Falcons sign TE Jason Rader
Falcons re-sign QB Joey Harrington
Falcons sign C Alex Stepanovich
Falcons re-sign DT Tim Anderson
Falcons sign DT Kindal Moorehead
Falcons sign DT Simon Fraser
Falcons sign NT Rashad Moore
Falcons cut QB Joey Harrington
Falcons cut RB Warrick Dunn
Falcons sign RB Michael Turner
Falcons sign TE Ben Hartsock
Falcons sign S Erik Coleman
Falcons sign S Von Hutchins
Falcons re-sign QB Chris Redman
Falcons cut TE Alge Crumpler
Falcons cut QB Byron Leftwich
Falcons cut OT Wayne Gandy
Falcons cut DT Rod Coleman
Falcons cut CB Lewis Sanders
Falcons cut OLB Marcus Wilkins
Falcons cut WR Jamin Elliott
Two Offensive Tackles: The Falcons definitely need a quarterback, but something they need to do first is repair an offensive line that surrendered 47 sacks last season. One of their second-round selections could be used to remedy this need. Drafted Sam Baker; re-signed Tyson Clabo
Quarterback: Byron Leftwich sucks. Chris Redman is a free agent. Michael Vick won't be coming back outside anytime soon. Joey Harrington actually wasn't terrible for the Falcons in 2007, but the fact remains that he enjoys caviar and plays the piano for crying out loud. That's simply unacceptable. Seriously though, the Falcons need a franchise quarterback going forward. That could be Andre' Woodson or Chad Henne in Round 2. Drafted Matt Ryan; re-signed Chris Redman and Joey Harrington
Two Defensive Tackles: I think everyone was confused when Grady Jackson was released last year. Because of that move, the Falcons need a starting nose tackle. They could also use an under tackle to push Jonathan Babineaux. Signed Grady Jackson, Simon Fraser, Rashad Moore and Kindal Moorehead; re-signed Montavious Stanley
Running Back: Warrick Dunn is just about finished his NFL career. The Falcons still have Jerious Norwood, but he's more of a change-of-pace back than anything. Darren McFadden is a serious option in the first round, but the Falcons will probably go with someone like Ray Rice, Tashard Choice, Matt Forte or Jamaal Charles later on. Signed Michael Turner; drafted Thomas Brown
Middle Linebacker: With Keith Brooking moving to the inside, Atlanta will need to obtain a quality middle linebacker - perhaps someone like Phillip Wheeler in the third round. Drafted Curtis Lofton
Cornerback: Not really sure why the Falcons traded DeAngelo Hall, but they did, so they'll need a corner. Drafted Chevis Jackson
Kicker: The Falcons can't be serious with Morten Andersen. He's nothing more than a fossil at this point. Signed Jason Elam
Right Guard: Another offensive line upgrade is needed over Kynan Forney. I'm surprised he wasn't cut with the rest of the Falcons.
Tight End: As predicted, Alge Crumpler was cut. Spending much of the season out of shape, Crumpler simply dropped too many catchable balls. The Falcons need to give their new quarterback a reliable tight end to throw to. Signed Ben Hartsock, Marcus Pollard and Jason Rader; drafted Keith Zinger
Wide Receiver: Roddy White has emerged as a No. 1 target, but Atlanta needs a secondary option at wide out; not some inconsistent scrub like Michael Jenkins who drops every other ball thrown to him. A wide out can be obtained in the fourth or fifth round of this deep draft. Drafted Harry Douglas
Center: Part of Atlanta's old zone-blocking scheme, a heavier, stronger center could be a nice upgrade over Todd McClure. Signed Alex Stepanovich
Secondary Depth: The Falcons don't have much in terms of depth in their defensive backfield, but this is way down the list. Drafted Thomas DeCoud and Wilrey Fontenot; signed Erik Coleman, Von Hutchins, Deke Cooper, Blue Adams and Coy Wire
Atlanta Falcons Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 20): $16.8 million
Michael Boley (RFA), OLB. Age: 26. Re-signed with Falcons (1 year, $2.017 million)
One of the few great players the Falcons have in their back seven. They must retain Michael Boley at all cost, even if it means putting a first- and third-round tender on him.
Chris Crocker, S. Age: 28. Signed with Dolphins (1 year, $1.15 million)
Chris Crocker isn't the best safety in the world, but he's a solid, capable starter. The Falcons have way too many needs to look for an upgrade, so they should re-sign him if he's not asking for too much.
Michael Koenen (RFA), P, Falcons. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Falcons (1 year, $1.417 million)
Chris Redman, QB. Age: 31. Re-signed with Falcons (2 years, $5 million)
Chris Redman proved he can be a capable backup quarterback in this league with a strong finish to his 2007 season.
Rod Coleman, DT. Age: 32.
Done as a starter, Rod Coleman could be an effective backup somewhere. That said, he'll probably be looking for starting money.
Alge Crumpler, TE. Age: 30. Signed with Titans (2 years, $5.25 million)
Fat. Sluggish. Out of shape. Unfocused. Unable to make easy catches. Some words to describe the overrated Alge Crumpler. I've been saying the Falcons should have cut Crumpler all year. Glad they finally listened.
Joey Harrington, QB. Age: 29. Re-signed with Falcons
Joey Harrington didn't play that bad last year. He completed 61.8 percent of his passes and compiled 2,215 yards in 12 games despite seeing Alge Crumpler and Michael Jenkins drop every ball in sight. Still, teams might shy away from Harrington, as his love for caviar and piano playing drops his stock quite a bit.
Jimmy Williams, S. Age: 24.
Chosen in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft, Jimmy Williams completely flopped in the NFL, starting just seven career games. However, Williams is really young, so I expect someone else to take a shot on him.
Chauncey Davis (RFA), DE. Age: 25. - Re-signed with Falcons (1 year, $927,000)
Divisional Rival History: Carolina Panthers: Another road-dominated NFC South rivalry. The visitor has claimed the past five. New Orleans Saints: For years, the Saints had trouble defeating the Falcons because Aaron Brooks couldn't find a way to beat his cousin, Michael Vick. I guess it's no coincidence that New Orleans is 4-0 against Atlanta in the wake of Brooks leaving for Oakland. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buccaneers swept the Falcons in 2007, winning by a combined score of 68-10. Michael Vick was 2-5 against them, excluding the games Bruce Gradkowski started.