2015 NFL Offseason: Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons (Last Year: 6-10)

2015 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
WR Leonard Hankerson, TE Tony Moeaki, TE Jacob Tamme, OT Tyler Polumbus, G Chris Chester, G Mike Person, DE Adrian Clayborn, DE O’Brien Schofield, OLB Brooks Reed, OLB Justin Durant, CB Phillip Adams.
Early Draft Picks:
DE/OLB Vic Beasley, CB Jalen Collins, RB Tevin Coleman, WR Justin Hardy, DT Grady Jarrett. Falcons Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Steven Jackson, RB Jacquizz Rodgers, WR Harry Douglas, TE Bear Pascoe, OT Sam Baker, G Justin Blalock, G Gabe Carimi, DT Corey Peters, OLB Sean Weatherspoon, OLB Prince Shembo, CB Robert McClain, CB Josh Wilson, S Dwight Lowery.

2015 Atlanta Falcons Offense:
The past two seasons have been very disappointing for the Falcons, but don’t blame Matt Ryan. Atlanta’s franchise signal-caller generated 4,694 yards, 28 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions in 2014, yet the team still couldn’t qualify for the playoffs despite being in one of the worst divisions in NFL history.

The front office simply hasn’t been able to provide Ryan with enough help. There’s Julio Jones, of course, but that’s been about it. Jones, who just turned 26, is entering the prime of his career. He was unstoppable last year, catching 104 passes for 1,593 yards and six touchdowns. He’s expected to see more volume in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Roddy White, meanwhile, will continue to regress. White, 34 in November, has failed to average more than 11.5 yards per reception in the past two seasons. He dealt with some injuries in 2014, but those will continue to pile up as he gets older.

Ryan will need White to play well because he still inexplicably has no one else to throw to. Slot receiver Harry Douglas isn’t even available anymore. It’s a huge mystery as to why the front office couldn’t find a better slot option or a replacement for Tony Gonzalez at tight end this offseason; after all, Maxx Williams was sitting there in the second round, available for the taking. Instead, Ryan will have to settle for throwing intermediate passes to pedestrian players like Tony Moeaki, Jacob Tamme and Levine Toilolo. Tight ends are normally a big factor in Shanahan’s offense, so it doesn’t seem like Atlanta has any sort of plan.

The running back position figures to be better, at least. Steven Jackson is gone, so that’s already addition by subtraction. Jacquizz Rodgers also departed, leaving disappointing rookie Devonta Freeman and breakaway-threat Antone Smith as the team’s sole running backs heading into the draft. To remedy this situation, Atlanta used a third-round choice on Tevin Coleman, who was expected to go in the second frame. It’s unclear if Coleman can handle a full workload, but he was exceptional for Indiana this past season, as he proved that he was capable of going the distance every single time he touched the ball. Freeman didn’t show anything last year, so it should surprise no one if Coleman overtakes him as the team’s starting runner.

Atlanta’s offensive line is also a huge question mark. The greatest areas of concern are on the left side, even though Jake Matthews is stationed there. Matthews, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, had a brutal rookie campaign. Perhaps this was because of a Lisfranc injury he sustained, but Ryan’s blind-side protector still hasn’t resumed practicing and might not be ready for the season opener. Meanwhile, with Justin Blalock gone, the recently signed Chris Chester is expected to start at guard, though that’s not a given. The 32-year-old Chester has been a pedestrian blocker over the past few years.

Two of the other three starters up front are unknowns, with the lone exception being right guard Jon Asamoah. Center Joe Hawley is coming off a torn ACL, though he’s expected to be ready for training camp. Right tackle Ryan Schraeder performed well last season, but he is a former undrafted free agent, so given the small sample size, there’s a chance his play could’ve been a mirage.

2015 Atlanta Falcons Defense:
Rather than adding more offensive weapons or improving Matt Ryan’s blocking, the Falcons spent the majority of their resources bolstering their defense. It’s hard to blame the front office for doing this, given that the “stop” unit surrendered 26.1 points per game in 2014, including 34 to the Panthers in a must-win for the divisional crown in Week 17.

The first two draft picks were defensive players. The No. 8 overall choice was used on a pass-rusher who could fit new head coach Dan Quinn’s system perfectly. That would be Vic Beasley, who could’ve easily gone in the top five without any complaints. Beasley was a terror for Clemson this past season, so he, along with free-agent acquisitions Adrian Clayborn and O’Brien Schofield should be able to help a pass rush that has been lacking for years.

The second draft choice was used on tall cornerback Jalen Collins. Atlanta didn’t have a huge need for the corner position, but Collins could offer an upgrade over the mediocre Robert Alford. The winner of that training camp battle will start across from Desmond Trufant, who is one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. If Alford loses the job, perhaps he can take over the nickel spot, which was occupied by the departed Robert McClain.

Rounding out the secondary are safeties Dezmen Southward and William Moore. This is a position that should have been upgraded this past offseason. Moore missed nine games in 2014 because of a shoulder injury, while Southward, a 2014 third-rounder, struggled in brief action as a rookie. No potential improvements are available, unless seventh-round rookie Akeem King unexpectedly steps up.

One other area that Atlanta tried to bolster this offseason was the linebacking corps. They let go of the oft-injured Sean Weatherspoon and brought in Brooks Reed as a potential upgrade. Reed was miscast as a rush linebacker in Houston’s defense; he doesn’t get after the quarterback well, but he excels in other departments, such as covering and stopping the run. Justin Durant was also signed; he played well last year for the Cowboys before tearing his bicep. Durant can play all three linebacker spots, but he’s missed 16 games over the past couple of seasons. He and Reed will sandwich Paul Worrilow, who needs to improve his game after missing countless tackles in 2014.

The defensive line is basically the same, with Tyson Jackson, Jonathan Babineaux and Paul Soliai returning as starters. Babineaux was the best of the bunch this past season, offering an interior pass rush, though he wasn’t very good in run support. The Falcons have Soliai to handle the run, while Jackson is a jack of all trades, but a master of none. Meanwhile, 2014 second-rounder Ra’Shede Hageman will fight for playing time. The Minnesota product struggled as a rookie, but perhaps his sophomore campaign will be better.

2015 Atlanta Falcons Schedule and Intangibles:
In five seasons, Matt Ryan is 40-17 in the Georgia Dome. However, the Falcons have been 6-10 at home over the past two seasons, so perhaps the magic has worn off.

The Falcons did pretty well on special teams, thanks to Devin Hester. The former Bear took a return to the house and helped the team outgain the opposition on both punts and kickoffs.

Matt Bryant signed a 3-year, $8.5 million contract this offseason, which was well deserved. Bryant has been incredibly clutch over the years, and he was 29-of-32 in 2014, including an impressive 7-of-10 from 50-plus.

Matt Bosher ranked 11th in net average in 2012, but improved, finishing sixth in both 2013 and 2014. He also did a good job of placing punts inside the 20.

Atlanta doesn’t have a very difficult schedule. As of this writing, the team is a Vegas underdog against the Eagles (home), Giants (road), Cowboys (road), Saints (road), 49ers (road), Colts (home) and Panthers (road).

2015 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.

2015 Atlanta Falcons Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2015 Atlanta Falcons Analysis: The Falcons should be better than they were in 2014, when they went 6-10. However, it doesn’t appear as though they’ve made enough improvements to distance themselves from the pack in the NFC South. A divisional victory is still possible, but it appears as though Atlanta will finish at .500, or somewhere close to it.

Projection: 8-8 (3rd in NFC South)

NFL Draft Team Grade: B+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: The Falcons will be hoping that one of the top pass-rushers will fall to them at No. 8. They desperately need to improve their ability to get to the quarterback. Beyond that, upgrades are needed at tight end, running back, guard and safety.

2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: One of the top pass-rushers did indeed drop to the Falcons, as Vic Beasley was somehow available in the eighth spot. Mel Kiper and Todd McShay inexplicably forgot to place Beasley in the first round of their joint mock draft, but Beasley was certainly worth the eighth choice. In fact, it could’ve been argued that he belonged in the top five. The Falcons are going to greatly benefit from his ability to put heavy heat on opposing signal-callers.

Atlanta upgraded one of the other three aforementioned positions, adding Tevin Coleman in the third round. Coleman could have easily gone in Round 2, so he was a bargain at that spot. Other quality picks include Justin Hardy and Grady Jarrett early on Day 3. Hardy will replace Harry Douglas, while Jarrett has terrific athleticism and tons of upside.

My only issue with the Falcons’ haul was their second-round pick. I don’t really have a problem with Jalen Collins, but Atlanta had Maxx Williams just sitting there. Williams fit what they look for in terms of athletic players, and he definitely would have filled a huge need, yet the Falcons passed on him, allowing a smarter front office (Baltimore) to obtain him. I have a feeling the Falcons are going to be kicking themselves after watching Joe Flacco repeatedly fire passes to Williams over the middle of the field on third downs. Williams was exactly what Matt Ryan needed after losing Tony Gonzalez.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

8. Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson: A Grade
This is an awesome pick. Vic Beasley had the talent to be a top-five selection, so the Falcons are getting a slight steal with the eighth-overall pick. Beasley also fits exactly what the Falcons were looking for from a scheme and athletic standpoint. Oh, and most importantly, he fills a huge need. The Falcons had absolutely no pass rush last year, which was disastrous in a division with Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and now Jameis Winston. Beasley was a pass-rushing monster for Clemson, and he should automatically improve Atlanta’s defense.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

42. Jalen Collins, CB, LSU: C+ Grade
Dan Quinn wanted a tall cornerback, and Jalen Collins satisfies that. The Falcons love athleticism, and Collins satisfies that. This seems like a great pick for those two reasons, but it’s not. Colliins is not a very good football player, and he has some character issues. There were better options available for the Falcons who would’ve filled bigger needs. Collins could work out, but he has high bust potential.

73. Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana: A+ Grade
I love this pick. First of all, Tevin Coleman should’ve gone earlier than this. He could have easily be chosen at the beginning of the previous round, so I think he’s a steal at No. 73. Also, Coleman fills a big need. The Falcons only had Devonta Freeman at running back, and he did not look good last year, so Coleman figures to be an upgrade.

107. Justin Hardy, WR, East Carolina: A- Grade
This is a bit surprising to me because Justin Hardy doesn’t possess the sort of athleticism the Falcons look for in their draft prospects. I guess they considered him too good to pass up, as he easily could’ve gone in the third round. Hardy projects as a solid slot receiver, so he should be able to replace Harry Douglas.

137. Grady Jarrett, DT, Clemson: A Grade
Grady Jarrett doesn’t provide a need at all for the Falcons, so why the “A” grade? Because he’s a steal here. Grady Jarrett was mocked in the first round by one draft analyst. I thought that was nuts – I had him in the third – but it just goes to show that Jarrett was highly regarded by some. It’s easy to see why; Jarrett has incredible athleticism and upside.

225. Jacob Rodgers, OT, Eastern Washington: C Grade
I didn’t have Jacob Rodgers getting drafted, but this isn’t a bad choice; Rodgers, a productive player at Eastern Washington, has nice athleticism for a 315-pound lineman. He might be able to develop into a swing tackle.

249. Akeem King, S, San Jose State: B Grade
I mocked Akeem King to the Falcons at one point because I thought he was what they were looking for from an athletic standpoint. King has good upside, but he’s a project right now. He has the potential to become a quality depth player at some point.

Season Summary:
The Falcons had a miserable season in which they lost five in a row and cost themselves a couple of victories because of coaching blunders. They still had a chance to claim the miserable NFC South, but were demolished by Carolina in the finale. Arthur Blank consequently fired Mike Smith and demoted Thomas Dimitroff. Atlanta needs to build back up before the Matt Ryan window closes.

Offseason Moves:
  • Falcons announce retirement of G Justin Blalock
  • Falcons cut OT Sam Baker
  • Falcons sign OT Tyler Polumbus
  • Bears sign TE Bear Pascoe
  • Colts sign S Dwight Lowery
  • Lions sign CB Josh Wilson
  • Bears sign RB Jacquizz Rodgers
  • Falcons sign TE Tony Moeaki
  • Falcons sign TE Jacob Tamme
  • Falcons re-sign DE Kroy Biermann
  • Patriots sign CB Robert McClain
  • Falcons sign DE/OLB O’Brien Schofield
  • Falcons sign DE Adrian Clayborn
  • Falcons sign CB Phillip Adams
  • Falcons sign WR Leonard Hankerson
  • Falcons sign DE/OLB Brooks Reed
  • Falcons sign OLB Justin Durant
  • Falcons re-sign RB Antone Smith
  • Falcons sign G Mike Person
  • Titans sign WR Harry Douglas
  • Cardinals sign DT Corey Peters
  • Falcons re-sign QB T.J. Yates
  • Cardinals sign OLB Sean Weatherspoon
  • Falcons re-sign WR Eric Weems
  • Falcons re-sign S Charles Godfrey
  • Falcons cut WR Harry Douglas
  • Falcons cut G Justin Blalock
  • Falcons cut RB Steven Jackson
  • Falcons re-sign K Matt Bryant

    Team Needs:
    1. Edge Rusher: The Falcons have had glaring defensive issues for a while now, and it all stems from not having a consistent pass-rusher. They just missed out on Khalil Mack last spring, but they can get an edge rusher in the upcoming draft. Re-signed Kroy Biermann; signed Adrian Clayborn and O’Brien Schofield

    2. Two Linebackers: Sean Weatherspoon, an impending free agent, has an extensive injury history. Even if he’s brought back, Atlanta will have to acquire a new inside linebacker; potentially on the second day of the draft. Paul Worrilow struggled mightily last year. Signed Brooks Reed and Justin Durant

    3. Two Safeties: The glaring need the Falcons have in their secondary is at the safety position. Dwight Lowery is a free agent, so if he’s not retained, a safety is needed next to William Moore. Another is needed for depth.

    4. Guard: The Falcons cut Justin Blalock because he wasn’t a good fit for their new blocking scheme. They’ll have to replace him.

    5. Tight End: Matt Ryan missed having Tony Gonzalez as a reliable intermediate target. Atlanta could try to obtain a new tight end on the second day of the draft. Signed Jacob Tamme and Tony Moeaki

    6. Running Back: Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith are nice change-of-pace backs, but the Falcons lack a true starting running back. Re-signed Antone Smith

    7. Wide Receiver Depth: Another receiver should be added with Harry Douglas no longer on the team. Signed Leonard Hankerson

    8. Offensive Line Depth: Atlanta should find some depth up front just in case injuries strike again. Signed Tyler Polumbus

    9. Cornerback Depth: Both Robert McClain and Josh Wilson are impending free agents, so the team will need some new corners. Signed Phillip Adams

    10. Backup Center: Atlanta has to find a reliable backup center. Joe Hawley isn’t a bad player, but he has missed 22 games in the past three seasons. Some weren’t due to injury, but he was hurt most of 2014.

    11. Kicker: Matt Bryant is 40, but he’s still getting the job done. He’s a free agent, so the Falcons will need to re-sign him. Re-signed Matt Bryant

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Justin Durant, OLB, Cowboys. Age: 29.
      Signed with Falcons

      Justin Durant had been playing well for the Cowboys as an every-down strongside linebacker before tearing his bicep in late October.

    2. Brooks Reed, DE/OLB/ILB, Texans. Age: 28.
      Signed with Falcons (5 years, $22 million)

      Brooks Reed never became a consistent pass-rusher – he has 7.5 sacks over the past three seasons – but he can play the run well and is capable of lining up anywhere in a 3-4 linebacking corps.

    3. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Buccaneers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Falcons (1 year, $4.5 million)

      Adrian Clayborn registered six sacks in 2013, but missed all but one game this season with a torn bicep.

    4. O’Brien Schofield, DE/OLB, Seahawks. Age: 28. — Signed with Falcons
    5. Phillip Adams, CB, Jets. Age: 27. — Signed with Falcons
    6. Tyler Polumbus, OT, Redskins. Age: 30. — Signed with Falcons
    7. Tony Moeaki, TE, Seahawks. Age: 28. — Signed with Falcons
    8. Jacob Tamme, TE, Broncos. Age: 30. — Signed with Falcons
    9. Leonard Hankerson, WR, Redskins. Age: 26. — Signed with Falcons (1 year)
    10. Mike Person, G, Rams. Age: 27. — Signed with Falcons

    Atlanta Falcons Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Matt Bryant, K, Falcons. Age: 40.
      Re-signed with Falcons

      Matt Bryant turns 40 in May, so a decline is coming soon. There was no evidence of that in 2014, however, as he was 29-of-32, including 7-of-10 from 50-plus. He continued to be clutch.

    2. Justin Blalock, G, Falcons. Age: 31.
      Announced retirement

      Justin Blalock played very well last year in all regards, but he was released because he was deemed a poor fit in the new blocking scheme. Blalock turned 31 in December, but he can still be a solid starter for a couple more seasons.

    3. Dwight Lowery, S, Falcons. Age: 29.
      Signed with Colts

      Dwight Lowery is a solid, but unspectacular safety whose one weakness has nothing to do with his ability. Lowery has an extensive concussion history. He managed to play all 16 games in 2014, but he missed 20 games in the two prior seasons.

    4. Sean Weatherspoon, OLB, Falcons. Age: 27.
      Signed with Cardinals (1 year, $4 million)

      It’s quite difficult to rank Sean Weatherspoon. He’s a very talented linebacker, but has an extensive injury history. He tore his Achilles in June and was already battling knee issues that caused him to miss nine games in 2013. It’s possible he may never be the same player again.

    5. Kroy Biermann, DE/OLB, Falcons. Age: 29.
      Re-signed with Falcons

      Kroy Biermann registered six sacks this past season, but that number is a bit misleading, given that half of them came in one game against the incompetent Buccaneers. Biermann was inconsistent in terms of getting to the quarterback, but he held up well against the run. He’ll turn 30 in the middle of September.

    6. Corey Peters, DT, Falcons. Age: 27.
      Signed with Cardinals (3 years, $10.5 million)

      Despite tearing his Achilles late last season, Corey Peters was able to return in the middle of September and perform relatively well as a rotational defensive lineman. He’ll be better next year, as he’ll be 100 percent.

    7. Robert McClain, CB, Falcons. Age: 27.
      Signed with Patriots

      Robert McClain was a solid nickel corner in 2013, but regressed this past year, particularly when he was forced outside in the wake of injuries.

    8. Antone Smith, RB, Falcons. Age: 29.
      Re-signed with Falcons

      Antone Smith is an explosive play-maker who can go the distance any time he touches the ball, so there will be interest in his services. Unfortunately for him, he’ll turn 30 right after the season opener.

    9. Harry Douglas, WR, Falcons. Age: 30.
      Signed with Titans (3 years)

      Harry Douglas has posted some solid numbers when either Julio Jones or Roddy White has been out of the lineup, but he’ll turn 31 in September. He doesn’t have much time left in this league.

    10. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Falcons. Age: 25. — Signed with Bears
    11. Josh Wilson, CB, Falcons. Age: 30. — Signed with Lions
    12. Sam Baker, OT, Falcons. Age: 30.
    13. Steven Jackson, RB, Falcons. Age: 32.
    14. Gabe Carimi, G/OT, Falcons. Age: 27.
    15. Bear Pascoe, TE, Falcons. Age: 29. — Signed with Bears
    16. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Falcons. Age: 33.
    17. T.J. Yates, QB, Falcons. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Falcons (1 year)
    18. Drew Davis (RFA), WR, Falcons. Age: 26.
    19. Eric Weems, WR, Falcons. Age: 30. — Re-signed with Falcons (2 years)
    20. Mike Johnson, OT, Falcons. Age: 28.
    21. Cliff Matthews, DE/DT, Falcons. Age: 26.
    22. Charles Godfrey, S, Falcons. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Falcons
    23. Javier Arenas, CB/KR, Falcons. Age: 27.
    24. Jonathan Scott, OT, Falcons. Age: 26.
    25. Harland Gunn (RFA), G, Falcons. Age: 26.


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