RB Steven Jackson, DE Osi Umenyiora.
Early Draft Picks:
CB Desmond Trufant, CB Robert Alford, DE Malliciah Goodman, TE Levine Toiolo, DE Stansly Maponga. Falcons Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
RB Michael Turner, FB Mike Cox, OT Tyson Clabo, OT Will Sviek, C Todd McClure, DE John Abraham, DE Lawrence Sidbury, DT Vance Walker, CB Brent Grimes, CB Dunta Robinson, CB Chris Owens, S Chris Hope.
2013 Atlanta Falcons Offense:
Matt Ryan is entering his contract season, so the Falcons are obviously working to give him a long-term extension. Ryan will likely seek something close to the 7-year, $130 million contract that Aaron Rodgers received in late April, and Atlanta will probably give it to him. Ryan is worth every penny.
This Atlanta organization was in shambles prior to the 2008 NFL Draft. The front office had a choice between Ryan and Glenn Dorsey, but went with the former because it believed that he would become a franchise quarterback capable of stabilizing things in the wake of the mess that the previous signal-caller caused with his dog-fighting escapades. Ryan took the reins and transformed into everything the Falcons expected him to become, and more. Ryan is coming off his best year yet, generating 4,719 yards, 32 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He led the team to the NFC Championship - a game that he could have won if it wasn't for a late injury that he sustained.
Ryan was able to explode statistically because of his outstanding supporting cast. Veterans Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez were still rock solid, but Julio Jones' emergence made all the difference. In his second season out of Alabama, Jones hauled in 79 receptions for 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns. The huge receiver was a monster in the NFC Championship, recording 11 receptions for 182 yards and a pair of scores. He's just going to keep getting better and better.
The one thing Atlanta's offense lacked last season was a reliable ground attack. Michael Turner was running on fumes last season, averaging a meager 3.6 yards per carry, the worst figure of his 9-year career. The Falcons absolutely had to do something about this, so they dumped Turner and signed Steven Jackson from St. Louis. Jackson is about to turn 30, but he still looks like he has about two strong seasons left in the tank. He just rushed for 1,042 yards behind an injury-ravaged Ram offensive line. He also caught 38 balls for 321 yards. Atlanta didn't have that sort of element from its starting running back with Turner, so it'll be interesting to see how they incorporate Jackson's receiving ability.
The area of concern on the Falcons' scoring attack is the offensive line. The team dumped solid right tackle Tyson Clabo this spring. Atlanta wouldn't have done this if it didn't think that either Lamar Holmes (2012 third-round pick) or Mike Johnson was capable of stepping in, but it's still a concern because neither player has ever made a single start at the position.
The other four starters on the offensive line return, though there's some uncertainty with what the Falcons plan on doing at center and right guard. Todd McClure, Atlanta's long-time center, announced his retirement this offseason, so 2012 second-rounder Peter Konz could slide in there with Garrett Reynolds playing in the other spot. The second option is to have Konz at right guard and Joe Hawley at center. Considering how poorly Konz played at right guard, the first scenario would be ideal. Plus, Reynolds is better than Hawley, so having him on the field makes more sense. Regardless, Sam Baker and Justin Blalock have the left side of the line locked down. Both played very well in 2012.
2013 Atlanta Falcons Defense:
The Falcons had some financial difficulty this offseason, so they had to let go of three prominent veterans on defense. They were only able to sign one in return.
It's going to be a challenge for Atlanta to pressure the quarterback. John Abraham and his team-leading 10 sacks are gone, leaving Kroy Biermann as the top returning sacker (four in 2012). The Falcons signed Osi Umenyiora to replace him, but the former Giant was brutal this past season, recording just six sacks. Umenyiora, 32 in November, looked like all of his explosion had been sapped away. He might be able to rebound, but if he can't, Atlanta will have to count on two rookies to pressure opposing quarterbacks: fourth-rounder Malliciah Goodman and fifth-rounder Stansly Maponga. There are some other young defensive ends on the roster like Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews. Someone will have to step up.
The Falcons at least know that they'll be willing to count on defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux to disrupt passers. Babineaux registered 3.5 sacks in 2012, which is a solid number for a player at his position. He'll start next to either Peria Jerry or Corey Peters, both of whom are coming off pretty disappointing campaigns.
It's clear that Atlanta's already-low sack total of 29 could decrease in 2013, which will put tons of pressure on an extremely young cornerback group. Veteran Asante Samuel is still there as a starter - as usual, he was sound in coverage but struggled in run support last year - but two of the other top three corners are rookies: Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, who were chosen in the first and second rounds, respectively. Both obviously have tons of promise, but there will almost certainly be growing pains. Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson, the other two departed veterans, will be missed.
With Trufant and Alford having no experience, Samuel and the two safeties will have to step up. William Moore is the better of the two safeties, but his durability is a big concern; he has missed 22 games in his four-year career. Thomas DeCoud, meanwhile, has been solid the past few seasons and was rewarded with a 5-year, $18.7 million contract on March 6.
The linebacking corps is also a concern for Atlanta, though Sean Weatherspoon is one of the top players on this defense. The problem is that he's complemented by two pedestrian talents. Akeem Dent flopped in his first season as the middle linebacker, while Stephen Nicholas, who should not be playing three downs, was brutal in coverage. Making matters worse, the Falcons have zero depth here.
2013 Atlanta Falcons Schedule and Intangibles:
In four seasons, Matt Ryan is 34-7 in the Georgia Dome. That's an impressive record on paper, but it didn't seem to matter much when the 49ers defeated them in the NFC Championship on Jan. 20.
The Falcons were pretty mediocre in terms of the return game. No touchdowns were scored for or against them.
Matt Bryant has been one of the top kickers in the NFL over the past three years. He was 28-of-31 in 2010, 27-of-29 in 2011 and 33-of-38 last season. He's a perfect 7-of-7 from 50-plus in that span. He's also very clutch.
Matt Bosher struggled to place punts inside the 20, but he ranked 11th in net average.
Atlanta has a pretty tough schedule. It has to deal with five teams that made the playoffs in 2012 (49ers, Seahawks, Patriots, Packers, Redskins) in addition to battling the improving Saints and Panthers twice each.
2013 Atlanta Falcons Rookies:
Go here for the Falcons Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2013 Atlanta Falcons Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2013 Atlanta Falcons Analysis: The Falcons will always be competitive as long as Matt Ryan is under center, but this team is definitely worse than last year's version because of its declining defense. Atlanta has one of the worst stop units in the NFL, and that may ultimately cost them the division now that the Saints have their head coach back on the sidelines.
Please note that the overall grade is not an average of all the individual grades. Other things are taken into account like team needs and goals.
Goals Entering the 2013 NFL Draft: Atlanta's offense is pretty much set, save for some depth issues. What the Falcons need to concentrate on is their defense. They need help at every level. Two defensive linemen, a linebacker and two cornerbacks have to be obtained.
2013 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Thomas Dimitroff is a strong general manager who likes to attack needs without reaching. He utilized his strategy extremely well again this year.
The Falcons absolutely had to shore up two areas: defensive end and cornerback. Given what Dimitroff tends to do, it's no surprise that he doubled up on corners right away and then selected a pair of pass-rushers on Day 3.
The corners are both very good prospects. Dimitroff traded up eight spots for Desmond Trufant, which was probably a necessary move because a couple of teams drafting ahead of him needed a corner. Robert Alford provided much more value at No. 60, given that there were reports that he would be a "top-42 lock." The defensive ends, meanwhile, both fit the range. Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga complement each other very well.
Almost all of Atlanta's other selections were pretty solid. I wish the Falcons would've found some help at linebacker, and I wasn't crazy about Kemal Ishmael (No. 243), but that was an extremely late pick not worth fretting about.
2013 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
22. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: B+ Grade
I like Desmond Trufant a lot. I mocked him to the Falcons quite frequently at No. 30, but I guess Atlanta felt like he wouldn't fall to them. Moving up eight spots to land him is definitely acceptable. Trufant should be an instant starter across from Asante Samuel, as he fills a huge need.
60. Robert Alford, CB, Southeastern Louisiana: A Grade
There was a report a few weeks ago that Robert Alford wouldn't make it past the 42nd pick. Well, he did, and the Falcons have to be thrilled. Alford, who provides solid value, really helps fortify the cornerback position along with Desmond Trufant. Atlanta's former greatest weakness now has to be considered a strength.
126. Malliciah Goodman, DE, Clemson: B Grade
The Falcons needed a defensive end despite signing Osi Umenyiora in free agency. Malliciah Goodman projects as a solid complement for the former Giant, and he fits the range.
133. Levine Toilolo, TE, Stanford: B- Grade
This is a slight reach for Levine Toilolo, but that's not a big deal at the end of the fourth round. Toilolo could be viewed as the heir apparent for Tony Gonzalez whenever the future Hall of Famer chooses to retire.
153. Stansly Maponga, DE, TCU: B Grade
The Falcons continue to draft well. This is another pick that makes sense, as Atlanta had to double dip at the defensive end position. Stansly Mapgona fits the range as a fifth-round prospect.
243. Kemal Ishmael, DB, Central Florida: C+ Grade
Why not add another defensive back? Teams can never use enough of them. Kemal Ishmael will provide some help on special teams.
244. Zeke Motta, S, Notre Dame: B Grade
Speaking of defensive backs, Zeke Motta provides more value than Atlanta's other compensatory seventh-rounder. The Falcons didn't have much depth at safety.
249. Sean Renfree, QB, Duke: A- Grade
Sean Renfree is a very smart quarterback who could be developed and flipped into a mid-round pick or better. Why not take a chance on him?
The Falcons finally got over the hump and won in the playoffs. They were yards away from advancing to the Super Bowl, but Matt Ryan's shoulder injury - as well as a great 49er team - ruined those chances.
Giants sign TE Michael Palmer
Dolphins sign OT Tyson Clabo
Falcons cut OT Tyson Clabo
Falcons sign LB Brian Banks
Dolphins sign CB Brent Grimes
Falcons sign DE Osi Umenyiora
Browns sign CB Chris Owens
Raiders sign DT Vance Walker
Patriots sign OT Will Svitek
Falcons re-sign TE Tony Gonzalez
Falcons sign RB Steven Jackson
Falcons re-sign OT Sam Baker
Falcons announce retirement of C Todd McClure
Colts sign DE Lawrence Sidbury
Falcons re-sign S William Moore
Falcons re-sign G Garrett Reynolds
Falcons re-sign RB Antone Smith
Falcons cut RB Michael Turner
Falcons cut DE John Abraham
Falcons cut CB Dunta Robinson
Two Defensive Ends: The Falcons can't put any pressure on the quarterback whatsoever. John Abraham and Ray Edwards were released in the past six months. The front office could double dip at this position during the draft. Signed Osi Umenyiora; drafted Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga
Running Back: This is an obvious need. Michael Turner was cut, so the Falcons need to bring in a replacement. There will be plenty of backs available on Day 2 of the 2013 NFL Draft. Signed Steven Jackson
Linebacker: The Falcons' play at linebacker must improve. Stephen Nicholas can't be on the field on all three downs, while Akeem Dent was a disappointment in his first season as a starter. The team needs to find a linebacker capable of playing all three downs with Sean Weatherspoon. Signed Brian Banks
Defensive Tackle: Atlanta will look for a defensive tackle to complement Jonathan Babineaux this offseason. Someone like Kawann Short makes sense at the end of the first round this April.
Cornerback: Depth is needed. Brent Grimes is a free agent coming off a torn Achilles. Dunta Robinson, meanwhile, was recently cut. Drafted Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford
Right Tackle: Tyson Clabo was a surprising release. He'll have to be replaced.
Tight End: Tony Gonzalez will likely retire this offseason. If that's the case, Atlanta may draft a tight end early. If he comes back, a successor could be found. Re-signed Tony Gonzalez; drafted Levine Toilolo
Interior Lineman: The Falcons will need a new right guard or center, depending on where they want to put Peter Konz. Todd McClure retired. Luckily, this upcoming draft is deep in terms of interior blockers. Re-signed Garrett Reynolds
Left Tackle: Sam Baker finally got over his chronic back issues, which is why he played well in 2012. However, he's now a free agent who must be retained. Re-signed Sam Baker
Strong Safety: William Moore is another free agent who has to be brought back. Re-signed William Moore
Wide Receiver: Atlanta has to find receiving depth, especially with Roddy White turning 32 in November.
2013 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Steven Jackson, RB, Rams. Age: 30. Signed with Falcons
Steven Jackson ran like he had plenty left in the tank this past season, averaging 4.1 yards per carry behind a battered offensive line. However, he turns 30 and has 2,385 career attempts under his belt. He could fall off at any moment.
Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants. Age: 31. Signed with Falcons
Osi Umenyiora had some decent games this past season, but was mostly invisible. It's fair to wonder if Umenyiora's talents have eroded. He'll be 32 in November.
Atlanta Falcons Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
William Moore, S, Falcons. Age: 28. Re-signed with Falcons (5 years, $30 million)
William Moore missed the final quarter of the season with a hamstring injury, but he performed extremely well in all facets otherwise.
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Falcons. Age: 37. Re-signed with Falcons
Tony Gonzalez somehow recorded 93 catches for 930 yards and eight touchdowns as a 36-year-old. He's expected to retire, but if he comes back, he'll still probably be able to play at a high level.
Sam Baker, OT, Falcons. Age: 28. Re-signed with Falcons
Sam Baker was deemed a bust prior to this season because of years of underachieving, but he actually played well in 2012. The difference was that he was finally over his back problems. Remember though that those things tend to linger and resurface.
Tyson Clabo, OT, Falcons. Age: 31. Signed with Dolphins
Tyson Clabo was Atlanta's top lineman last year, so even though he was due $4.5 million over the next three seasons, his release was a surprise. I do not have him rated highly, however, because he'll be 32 in October. He could begin to regress quite soon.
Todd McClure, C, Falcons. Age: 36. Announced retirement
Todd McClure is still getting the job done despite being in his mid-30s, but he could completely drop off soon.
Brent Grimes, CB, Falcons. Age: 30. Signed with Dolphins (1 year)
Brent Grimes would be ranked much higher if he weren't coming off a torn Achilles' tendon. He'll be 30 in July, so it'll be tough for him to bounce back.
John Abraham, DE, Falcons. Age: 35.
John Abraham still got the job done as a 34-year-old last season, registering a team-high 10 sacks. He was cut because of his $7.25 million cap number. He can still start, but it's fair to wonder how much he has left in the tank, given that he'll be 35 in May.
Dunta Robinson, CB, Falcons. Age: 31. Signed with Chiefs (3 years)
Dunta Robinson was due $8 million in 2013, so there was little doubt that he would be cut. Robinson plays the run well, but has been torched in coverage the past two seasons.
Mike Cox, FB, Falcons. Age: 28.
Mike Cox came on as a solid run-blocker at the end of the season.
Michael Turner, RB, Falcons. Age: 31.
Michael Turner is still capable of being a functional No. 2 goal-line back, but his days of being a starter are finished. He's lost all explosion.