2019 NFL Offseason: Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons (Last Year: 7-9)

2019 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
RB Kenjon Barner, TE Luke Stocker, G Jamon Brown, G James Carpenter, DE Adrian Clayborn, DT Tyeler Davison.
Early Draft Picks:
G Chris Lindstrom, OT Kaleb McGary, CB Kendall Sheffield, DE John Cominsky. Falcons Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Tevin Coleman, G Andy Levitre, G Ben Garland, DE Brooks Reed, DE/OLB Bruce Irvin, DT Terrell McClain, CB Robert Alford, CB/ST Justin Bethel, K Matt Bryant.

2019 Atlanta Falcons Offense:
It was astonishing that the Falcons didn’t fire Steve Sarkisian last offseason. One of the worst offensive coordinators in the NFL, Sarkisian was mostly responsible for the regression of Atlanta’s offense following its Super Bowl appearance. Matt Ryan still posted stellar numbers last year – he threw for 4,924 yards, 35 touchdowns and only seven interceptions – but the team once again struggled in the red zone. For a while, it didn’t seem as though All-Pro receiver Julio Jones would catch any touchdowns. Jones hauled in a bunch of scores toward the end of the season, but the damage had already been done.

Sarkisian was finally axed this offseason. The Falcons will move forward with new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who coached Ryan in the past. The familiarity means that there won’t be any sort of adjustment period, which is obviously a huge positive. Another reason for Atlanta fans to be hopeful is that the front office rebuilt the offensive line this offseason. The Falcons’ blocking was superb when the team made its run to the Super Bowl, but it has dropped off since. The front office obtained a couple of guards in free agency – Jamon Brown and James Carpenter – and then used the No. 14 overall selection on guard Chris Lindstrom. The athletic Boston College product should be able to start right away, leaving Brown and Carpenter to battle for the other guard job. One of them will start next to Alex Mack, one of the top centers in the NFL.

The Falcons weren’t done addressing their offensive line after taking Lindstrom. They traded up into the end of the opening frame to select Kaleb McGary. The Washington prospect was a slight reach, but there’s a chance he’ll unseat Ty Sambrailo as the starter on the right side. That shouldn’t be difficult to do, as Sambrailo is a pedestrian player. McGary figures to bookend Jake Matthews, a solid blind-side protector.

With more time in the pocket, Ryan should be able to find Jones for more touchdowns. Of course, if Jones’ scoring total doesn’t rise, it might be because No. 2 receiver Calvin Ridley has taken a big leap. Ridley was very productive at times as a rookie, but was inconsistent as well. That’s to be expected from a first-year wideout, so Ridley figures to be markedly better in 2019, especially considering that he’ll have superior coaching support. Mohamed Sanu will be a solid third receiver again, while the athletic Austin Hooper should be able to build momentum from his strong 2018 campaign.

Devonta Freeman will obviously benefit from the improved blocking as well. Freeman played just two games last year, thanks to numerous injuries. Freeman should bounce back with a big year, especially with Tevin Coleman gone.

2019 Atlanta Falcons Defense:
Freeman was one of countless Atlanta players to suffer an injury last year. At one point, it seemed as though the Falcons were missing half of their starting defense. As a result, Atlanta finished 31st in defensive efficiency in 2018. Only the Buccaneers were worse.

Deion Jones was the best player to miss extensive time. One of the top linebackers in the NFL, Jones and his ability to cover sideline to sideline were missed. As a result, the Falcons were killed by receiving backs and tight ends each week. Jones, who missed Weeks 2-12, returned in December, but wasn’t quite the same. He’ll be 100 percent in 2019, so Atlanta will be far better on this side of the ball. Jones will start alongside Foyesade Oluokun and De’Vondre Campbell. A sixth-round pick in 2018, Oluokun did relatively well as a rookie last season, and he should improve because he’s so young. Campbell, meanwhile, should be relegated to two downs because he’s forceful versus the run, but often is lost in coverage.

Keanu Neal was another player who barely played in 2019. Neal tore his ACL in Week 1, and was never seen again. Fellow safety Ricardo Allen was also lost in September, thanks to a torn Achilles. Both are expected to be 100 percent (or close) by the opener, which would do wonders for Atlanta’s pass defense. If there’s a silver lining in regard to Neal and Allen suffering injuries, it’s that Damontae Kazee performed well in their absences. The Falcons won’t be able to handle both of their safeties going down again, but they should be fine if one gets hurt, thanks to Kazee.

As for the rest of the secondary, the Falcons will be using a new starting cornerback across from the talented Desmond Trufant. Isaiah Oliver was chosen in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He didn’t play much as a rookie, but saw his snaps increase in December. If Oliver improves, as expected, and Jones, Neal, Allen and Trufant all remain healthy, it will be very difficult to throw on Atlanta in 2019.

The question is whether or not the Falcons will be able to apply plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They were expected to address the defensive line in the past two drafts, but did not. They at least were able to retain Adrian Clayborn in free agency after losing him the previous offseason. Clayborn was missed in 2018, so his presence could negate the loss of Bruce Irvin, who signed with the rival Panthers. Atlanta will be hoping for either Takk McKinley or Vic Beasley to improve, as both disappointed last year.

Atlanta’s best defensive lineman will continue to be Grady Jarrett, who also missed some action this past season. Granted, it was only a couple of games, but Jarrett is very important to Atlanta’s stop unit. He’s amazing as both a pass rusher and a run stopper. Atlanta has a mix of other defensive tackles to play next to Jarrett, including Deadrin Senat, Jack Crawford and Tyeler Davison.

2019 Atlanta Falcons Schedule and Intangibles:
In eight seasons, Matt Ryan is 53-28 in the Georgia Dome. However, the Falcons have been a middling 26-24 at home over the past six years, so perhaps the magic has worn off.

The Falcons were poor on special teams in 2017, but were close to the opposition in both return aspects.

Matt Bryant has been incredibly clutch over the years, but the Falcons inexplicably released him. They’re going with Giorgio Tavecchio instead. Tavecchio was a perfect 5-of-5 last year in relief of an injured Bryant, but the Falcons could regret moving on from their reliable kicker.

Matt Bosher ranked 14th and 15th in net average over the past two seasons.

Atlanta has a very difficult schedule, as it has to battle every team from the NFC West and AFC South, two of the toughest divisions in the NFL.

2019 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.

2019 Atlanta Falcons Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2019 Atlanta Falcons Analysis: The Falcons are coming off a lost season. They suffered numerous injuries early in the year and then went on to lose a high number of close games. They had four losses in their first 10 games by six points or fewer. If Atlanta has better injury luck in 2019, there’s a good chance the team will qualify for the playoffs. In fact, it shouldn’t be surprising if the Falcons make a run at the Super Bowl.

Projection: 10-6 (Tied 1st in NFC South)

2018 Projection: 9-7. 2018 Actual Result: 7-9.
2017 Projection: 13-3. 2017 Actual Result: 10-6.
2016 Projection: 5-11. 2016 Actual Result: 11-5.

NFL Draft Team Grade: C- Grade

Goals Entering the 2019 NFL Draft: Atlanta’s defense was decimated by injuries last year, but that doesn’t mean the team doesn’t need upgrades on its stop unit. The defensive line in particular is very soft, so multiple draft choices must be used to strengthen that area. Meanwhile, the offensive line needs help as well for the offense to return to its 2016 glory days.

2019 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Atlanta’s plan this offseason has been very clear. The team wanted to get tougher in the trenches, especially on the offensive side of the ball. They signed two guards, then used two first-round selections on offensive linemen. They executed their plan, but took a flawed approach in doing so.

The problem is that the Falcons obtained poor values. Chris Lindstrom was a borderline first-round prospect who was projected to go No. 23 at the earliest. Yet, the Falcons used the 14th-overall choice on him. Taking a guard that early doesn’t seem very wise. Meanwhile, Kaleb McGary was an even greater reach at the end of the opening frame, especially when considering that the Falcons traded up for him. There were several talented tackles still available, so there was no reason for Atlanta to surrender resources.

Furthermore, the Falcons used just one pick on a defensive lineman. It was a good one, as John Cominsky was a bargain at the end of the fourth round. However, there weren’t enough upgrades added to the defensive front. I liked some of the late picks, but when considering the two reaches and the lack of focus on the defensive line in a class packed with great players in that area, I can’t get behind what Atlanta did on draft weekend.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

14. Chris Lindstrom, G, Boston College D- Grade
Look, I understand why the Falcons didn’t select Andre Dillard over Chris Lindstrom. Atlanta desires to be more physical, so Lindstrom would qualify as such over Dillard. However, the value here is zilch. Selecting a guard in the top half of the opening round is highly questionable, especially when considering that teams in the 20s believed Lindstrom would be available to them. I suppose this pick is a byproduct of Christian Wilkins being snatched off the board. It’s a panic move for sure. I like Lindstrom, and he should turn out to be a solid protector for Matt Ryan, but once the Dolphins snatched Wilkins, the Falcons should have moved down six or so spots. They would’ve been able to obtain Lindstrom or someone comparable there.

31. Kaleb McGary, OT, Washington D- Grade
I nearly made this my fourth “F” grade of the night, but the other three were slightly worse. Still, this is a horrible selection, mostly because of the trade. Kaleb McGary is a player I consistently slotted in the 50-75 range of my mock draft. He was regarded as a Round 2-3 prospect, so had the Falcons chosen McGary in the second frame, that would’ve been fine. Trading up for him, however, seems unnecessary and ridiculous, and after what happened in the first round, I have to wonder if Atlanta’s front office created its draft board after a long night of drinking.

111. Kendall Sheffield, CB, Ohio State B Grade
Kendall Sheffield is an extremely raw prospect. He has immense upside because of his athleticism, but he’s a project for sure. The Falcons will need to develop him, or he won’t do anything. However, he’s worth the risk here in the fourth round.

135. John Cominsky, DE, Charleston A Grade
This is a great pick at the end of the fourth round. John Cominsky could’ve been chosen a round earlier than this, but there’s obvious concern with his level of competition. However, Cominsky is a highly athletic player with immense upside. He holds up very well against the run and has the potential to emerge as a potent pass rusher.

152. Qadree Ollison, RB, Pittsburgh D Grade
Qadree Ollison is a tough runner, but offers very limited athleticism and upside. I didn’t think Ollison would be drafted, so this is a reach. The Falcons needed a backup running back after losing Tevin Coleman, but they could’ve done better.

172. Jordan Miller, CB, Washington B Grade
Jordan Miller is a long cornerback (6-1, 186) with above-average athleticism, so there’s some potential with him. However, he needs to be developed. He lacks strength, gets injured too often and misses way too many tackles. This is an OK choice at the end of Round 5.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The 2018 Falcons never had a chance. They suffered a torrent of injuries in the first couple of weeks of the season, which ruined any chance they had of making the playoffs again. This may have been a blessing in disguise, however, as it led to the firing of Steve Sarkisian.

Offseason Moves:
  • Falcons sign DE Adrian Clayborn
  • Falcons sign TE Luke Stocker
  • Falcons sign G Jamon Brown
  • Falcons sign G James Carpenter

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Defensive Tackles: This has been a problematic area for Atlanta over the past couple of seasons. Two defensive tackles will be needed if top free agent Grady Jarrett doesn’t return. Even if Jarrett’s extended, defensive tackle will be a big-time need.

    2. Edge Rusher: Vic Beasley has regressed exponentially in the past couple of seasons. He’s a shell of his former self for some reason, so the Falcons should think about bringing in a talented edge rusher. Signed Adrian Clayborn

    3. Two Guards: One of the primary reasons the Falcons nearly won the Super Bowl two years ago was their prolific offensive line. They must go back to having a dominant blocking unit, and for that to happen, two guards will need to be obtained if Andy Levitre leaves via free agency. Signed Jamon Brown and James Carpenter

    4. Linebacker Depth: The Falcons have to improve their depth at linebacker, which is something that was learned when Deion Jones was out of the lineup for about three months.

    5. Cornerback Depth: Here’s another area of Atlanta’s roster that must become deeper. If one of Desmond Trufant or Isaiah Oliver suffers an injury next year, Atlanta will be in trouble.

    6. Backup Quarterback: Matt Schaub is an impending free agent, but he needed to be upgraded anyway. Re-signed Matt Schaub

    7. Kicker: The Falcons let go of Matt Ryan for some reason.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2019 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Patriots. Age: 31.
      Signed with Falcons (1 year)

      Adrian Clayborn is a rock-solid defensive end with no weaknesses. He logged a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2017, though six of them came in one game where Dallas’ inept coaching staff didn’t adjust for Tyron Smith being injured. He predictably saw that number dip to 2.5 in 2018, but still played well overall. Unfortunately, Clayborn turns 31 in July, so he’ll regress rapidly in the near future.

    2. Jamon Brown, G, Giants. Age: 26.
      Signed with Falcons (3 years)

      Jamon Brown has been a starter for the Rams and Giants over the past couple of years. Brown’s not horrible, but he shouldn’t be a starter. That said, he’s only 26 in March, so he still has some potential.

    3. Luke Stocker, TE, Titans. Age: 31.
      Signed with Falcons (2 years)

      Luke Stocker doesn’t catch many passes, but he’s an excellent blocking tight end.

    4. James Carpenter, G, Jets. Age: 29. — Signed with Falcons (4 years)
    5. Kenjon Barner, RB, Panthers. Age: 30. — Signed with Falcons

    Atlanta Falcons Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Grady Jarrett, DT, Falcons. Age: 26.
      Franchised by Falcons

      Grady Jarrett is one of the top 4-3 defensive tackles in the NFL. He’s absolutely dominant in the interior, both as a pass rusher and a run stopper. He’s turns just 26 in April, so he could continue to improve his game. He’s set to earn a huge contract soon.

    2. Matt Bryant, K, Falcons. Age: 44.
      Despite his age, Matt Bryant is still a fantastic kicker in the NFL, and he’ll be missed in Atlanta. Bryant was 20-of-21 last year, hitting 4-of-5 tries from beyond 50.

    3. Bruce Irvin, DE/OLB, Falcons. Age: 31.
      Signed with Panthers (1 year)

      Bruce Irvin was problematic in Oakland’s locker room, which is why the team got rid of him. Irvin was slow to adjust to the Falcons, but found his stride late in the year when he recorded 3.5 sacks in the final four games. Irvin could begin slowing down, however, as he turns 32 right before Thanksgiving.

    4. Tevin Coleman, RB, Falcons. Age: 26.
      Signed with 49ers (2 years, $10 million)

      Tevin Coleman had the opportunity to have a dominant year as the sole ball-carrier in Atlanta when Devonta Freeman went down with an injury. Coleman disappointed, however, gaining only 800 rushing yards. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry, but that is a misleading stat which came to light because of a couple of long runs versus Arizona’s abysmal defense.

    5. Brian Poole (RFA), CB, Falcons. Age: 26.
      Brian Poole played well as the team’s slot cornerback in the past, but didn’t fare as well this past season for whatever reason. He could bounce back next year.

    6. Andy Levitre, G, Falcons. Age: 33.
      Andy Levitre was one of many talented Falcons to be lost to injury in the first couple of weeks of the season. Levitre was definitely missed, but he’ll turn 33 this offseason, so he could be in decline soon.

    7. Robert Alford, CB, Falcons. Age: 30.
      Signed with Cardinals (3 years, $22.5 million)

      Robert Alford played well in 2017, but struggled mightily last year. That could be a byproduct of the Falcons’ diminished pass rush, but Alford’s age (31 in November) is beginning to become a factor.

    8. Brooks Reed, DE, Falcons. Age: 32.
      Signed with Cardinals (1 year, $2 million)

      Brooks Reed, 32 in February, has lost some of his pass-rushing skills recently, but he’s still a very solid player in run support.

    9. Ty Sambrailo, OT, Falcons. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Falcons (3 years)
    10. Terrell McClain, DT, Falcons. Age: 31.
    11. Ben Garland, G, Falcons. Age: 31.
    12. Justin Bethel, CB/ST, Falcons. Age: 29. — Signed with Ravens
    13. Steven Means, DE, Falcons. Age: 28.
    14. Sharrod Neasman (RFA), S, Falcons. Age: 27.
    15. Derrick Shelby, DE, Falcons. Age: 30.
    16. Logan Paulsen, TE, Falcons. Age: 32. — Re-signed with Falcons
    17. Jordan Richards, S, Falcons. Age: 26.
    18. Justin Hardy, WR, Falcons. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Falcons
    19. Zane Beadles, G, Falcons. Age: 32.
    20. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, S, Falcons. Age: 29.
    21. Matt Schaub, QB, Falcons. Age: 38. — Re-signed with Falcons (2 years)
    22. Kemal Ishmael, OLB, Falcons. Age: 31.
    23. Bruce Carter, ILB, Falcons. Age: 31. — Re-signed with Falcons

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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