Atlanta Falcons (Last Year: 7-9)
2020 NFL Season Preview:
RB Todd Gurley, WR Laquon Treadwell, TE Hayden Hurst, G Justin McCray, DE Dante Fowler, LB Deone Bucannon, CB Darqueze Dennard.
Early Draft Picks:
CB A.J. Terrell, DT Marlon Davidson, C/G Matt Hennessy, LB Mykal Walker, S Jaylinn Hawkins. Falcons Rookie Forecast
RB Devonta Freeman, TE Austin Hooper, OT Ty Sambrailo, G Wes Schweitzer, DE Adrian Clayborn, DE Jack Crawford, DE/OLB Vic Beasley, DT Tyeler Davison, LB De'Vondre Campbell, CB Desmond Trufant, S J.J. Wilcox, P Matt Bosher.
2020 Atlanta Falcons Offense:
Time is running out for the Falcons. They reached the Super Bowl during the 2016 season, but they've struggled to reach the playoffs since, doing so only once in the past three years. With Matt Ryan and Alex Mack now in their mid-30s, and Julio Jones turning 31 this offseason, this might be one of the final chances for the Falcons to make another deep run into the playoffs.
Ryan, now 35, should continue to play very well, but it's notable that he's now the third-best quarterback in the division, behind Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Another issue could be the offensive line. The Falcons used a pair of first-round picks on blockers in the 2019 NFL Draft, and yet they had trouble keeping pass rushers out of the backfield. It didn't help that guard Chris Lindstrom missed 11 games, or that right tackle Kaleb McGary wasn't 100 percent because of a heart condition. Left guard was a position that was a liability as well. That could change if third-round rookie Matt Hennessy can play well immediately.
The two rookies not living up to expectations were just part of the problem. For some reason, the two top blockers, Mack and Jake Matthews, had a decline in performance. Mack turns 35 during the season, so the regression could be permanent. It's unclear what happened with Matthews, but perhaps there was an undisclosed injury.
Assuming the offensive line improves this year, the Falcons should be able to establish a better rushing attack. It'll help that Todd Gurley projects to be a major upgrade over Devonta Freeman. Gurley is an excellent back when healthy, but he can't handle a full workload anymore because of arthritis in both knees. His touches will be closely monitored, but he'll provide a nice boost in the backfield when on the field.
While Freeman wasn't a substantial loss, it could be argued that Austin Hooper is. Hooper turned into a reliable, intermediate weapon for Ryan. He's now in Cleveland, so former first-rounder Hayden Hurst will take his place. Hurst hasn't done anything in the NFL yet, but perhaps he'll be a late bloomer. If not, Ryan will just rely more on Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, a duo that should continue to wreak havoc upon opposing secondaries. Jones' age could be a factor, but it's only a very slight concern at the moment.
2020 Atlanta Falcons Defense:
The Falcons began the 2019 campaign with a 1-7 record, but managed to go 6-2 down the stretch. This was a remarkable turn-around. One factor for this was better play from the offensive line, which includes Chris Lindstrom's return from injury. Another major catalyst was Atlanta's decision to transition assistant coach Raheem Morris from the offense to the defense, where he became the secondary coach. Morris had always coached the stop unit, so Atlanta's decision to move him to offense was quite puzzling.
It was no surprise that the Falcons were much better against the pass after making this swap. It would be reasonable for Atlanta's secondary to maintain this level of play under normal circumstances, but that is not the case. Top cornerback Desmond Trufant is gone, which created a huge hole at the position. Atlanta filled that need with the No. 16 overall pick, A.J. Terrell. The Clemson product is very physically gifted, but happens to be a bit raw. Having Morris to coach him up will be key. Morris will need to do wonders with the other starting cornerback, Isaiah Oliver, who struggled as a second-round rookie last year. There's also some hope that Kendall Sheffield, a fourth-rounder from 2019, can make an improvement as well.
Perhaps making up for Trufant's departure is Keanu Neal's return from injury. Neal was lost in Week 3 last year to a torn Achilles. Neal figures to be ready by the opener, but he's been injured so often that it's fair to wonder if he'll ever be 100 percent. If so, this is bad news for a safety group that is comprised of mediocre talents otherwise like Damontae Kazee and Ricardo Allen.
With the secondary potentially downgraded severely, the pass rush will have to come alive, especially in matchups against Drew Brees and Tom Brady. This area has been a weakness for several seasons, but there is hope now in the wake of the Dante Fowler signing. It'll be interesting to see if Fowler can keep performing well without Wade Phillips, but the former No. 3 overall pick finally blossomed last year with the Rams. Takk McKinley, another former first-round pick, has been underwhelming thus far, so he'll need to make a big leap as well.
While the Falcons obtained Fowler in free agency, they neglected to fill another big need on the defensive line. They've needed help next to the outstanding Grady Jarrett for several seasons, but they failed to find one. Unless second-round rookie Marlon Davidson flashes his potential right away, the best option available is Tyeler Davison, who is a mediocre run stuffer who provides no pass rush.
As for the linebacking corps, the Falcons lost De'Vondre Campbell, which was not a major departure. The talented Deion Jones is still there, which is the important thing, but the run defense will take a hit in the wake of Campbell's defection. The Falcons will need second-year Foyesade Oluokun to make a big jump in production, but he's an undersized player.
2020 Atlanta Falcons Schedule and Intangibles:
In eight seasons, Matt Ryan is 56-33 in the Georgia Dome. However, the Falcons have been a middling 29-29 at home over the past seven years, so perhaps the magic has worn off.
The Falcons outgained the opposition by slim margins on both punt and kickoff returns.
Long-time kicker Matt Bryant struggled last year, forcing Atlanta to go with Younghoe Koo. Master of the onside kick, Koo was 23-of-26 with just one missed extra point.
Matt Bosher ranked 14th and 15th in net average in 2017 and 2018, respectively. He missed most of 2019 with a groin injury.
Atlanta has a very difficult schedule, opening up against the Seahawks, Cowboys, Packers and Vikings in four of its initial six games. Things get easier after that until the Falcons battle the Saints and Buccaneers twice each.
2020 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.
2020 Atlanta Falcons Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2020 Atlanta Falcons Analysis:
Once again, time is running out for Atlanta. Thus, it's unfortunate for the team that it's stuck in a division with the Saints and Buccaneers. The Falcons are a decent squad, but they're several notches below the top two teams in the division. As a result, it could be difficult for them to make the playoffs or even reach .500.
6-10 (3rd in NFC South)
2019 Projection: 10-6. 2019 Actual Result: 7-9.
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: B- Grade
Goals Entering the 2020 NFL Draft: The Falcons finished 6-2 down the stretch, buying Dan Quinn and the front office another year. They need to do everything in their power to save their jobs, which they can do by reaching the playoffs. Thus, making sure they have a great defensive front and cornerback group to combat Drew Brees and Tom Brady is imperative.
2020 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Falcons addressed their secondary and defensive front with their first two picks, as asked. The problem is that they were expected to add more juice to their roster. They reportedly wanted to get a deal done to move up for a Javon Kinlaw or C.J. Henderson, but couldn't get a deal done. Once that didn't happen, they received an offer to move down from the Eagles, but didn't take it.
I like A.J. Terrell and Marlon Davidson just fine, but they're not going to help the Falcons compete with the Saints or the Buccaneers. Making matters worse, the Falcons wasted some early third-day selections when they took Mykal Walker and Jaylinn Hawkins.
My favorite pick of the Falcons, relative to where it took place, was Matt Hennessy. Protecting Matt Ryan is crucial as he enters the latter stages of his career, and Hennessy provided great value in the third round. Still, it didn't save the Falcons from having a somewhat underwhelming haul.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
16. A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson - C+ Grade
I'm torn on this grade. On one hand, I really like A.J. Terrell. I think he was underrated by the media because of how poor he was in the national championship versus LSU. What people don't recognize was that Terrell was playing with a 103-degree fever that day. However, on the other hand, the Falcons needed to trade up to make a splash in an attempt to keep up with the Buccaneers and Saints. Getting a player like Javon Kinlaw would've been a nice piece to help them defend Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Terrell will help, but he won't be as impactful.
47. Marlon Davidson, DT, Auburn - B+ Grade
The Falcons finally get their defensive tackle. I thought they would trade up for Javon Kinlaw on Thursday, but perhaps the virtual conditions made that difficult for them. They get a nice consolation prize with Marlon Davidson, a very solid player who wasn't quite athletic enough to be considered in the first round. Davidson will be needed to pressure Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
78. Matt Hennessy, C/G, Temple - A+ Grade
You love to see the Falcons protecting Matt Ryan. Matt Hennessy can play both guard and center, and he will be able to start at one of the former spots until Alex Mack retires or moves on elsewhere. Hennessy is someone who should've been chosen early in the second round, so this is a terrific steal. This is a perfect pick for the Falcons.
119. Mykal Walker, LB, Fresno State - D Grade
I'm not going to give this an O'Brien, but I don't like this pick at all. Mykal Walker is a smart linebacker, but I don't think he has the physical tools to be someone who can remain in the NFL. I had him in the seventh round.
134. Jaylinn Hawkins, S, California - O'BRIEN Grade
Get ready for some bad grades because ESPN is trash and playing music to appease dumb people who don't like football. This is a terrible pick. Jaylinn Hawkins was not a draftable prospect. He's a slow safety who will have to play on special teams if he even makes the roster.
228. Steling Hofrichter, P, Syracuse - C Grade
Punter pick. Meh. The Falcons needed a punter, but they grow on trees.
The Falcons began the year with a 1-7 record, but some terrific bye-week adjustments allowed them to finish 6-2 in their final eight games of the season. This should give them some momentum heading into 2020.
Falcons sign LB Deone Bucannon
Falcons sign G Justin McCray
Falcons sign WR Laquon Treadwell
Falcons sign RB Todd Gurley
Falcons sign DE Dante Fowler
Falcons acquire TE Hayden Hurst from Ravens
- Edge Rusher: The Falcons must repair their defense. The stop unit played better in the second half of the year, but upgrades still need to be made, especially up front. Adrian Clayborn and Vic Beasley are impending free agents, but an upgrade was needed here anyway. Signed Dante Fowler
- Two Cornerbacks: The secondary was also a huge problem last season, as the team didn't have a strong second cornerback to play across from Desmond Trufant. Making matters worse, Trufant was released.
- Safety: The defensive backfield had problems at safety as well, even beyond Keanu Neal's injury. The Falcons also must wonder if Neal can ever stay healthy for a long stretch.
- Defensive Tackle: Atlanta must also improve its ability to generate pressure in the interior of the defensive front.
- Guard: Atlanta didn't block very well this past season. The biggest weakness up front is at left guard. Signed Justin McCray
- Quarterback: The Falcons might want to find a potential successor for Matt Ryan. They could draft a quarterback in the middle rounds to groom for the next couple of years.
- Running Back: Atlanta needs a better backup behind Devonta Freeman, who always seems to be injured. (Update: Freeman was released.) Signed Todd Gurley
- Tight End: Austin Hooper is an impending free agent who must be re-signed. Traded for Hayden Hurst
- Kicker: Younghoe Koo did a decent job taking over for Matt Bryant last season, but he's now due to hit free agency. Re-signed Younghoe Koo
- Punter: Matt Bosher's contract is also about to expire.
Follow me @walterfootball for updates.
2020 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Rams. Age: 26.
Signed with Falcons (3 years)
Dante Fowler signed a 1-year "prove it" deal last offseason. He certainly proved himself by racking up 11.5 sacks. Just 26 in August, Fowler has finally blossomed into the player the Jaguars thought they were getting with the third-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Bengals. Age: 28.
Signed with Falcons
Darqueze Dennard played very well as Cincinnati's slot cornerback in 2019. However, Dennard has played just one full season in his career, so he'd be ranked higher if he weren't such an injury risk.
Todd Gurley, RB, Rams. Age: 26.
Signed with Falcons (1 year, $5 million)
Todd Gurley's contract was so bad that the Rams took $23 million in dead money to get rid of him in order to avoid paying a $10.5 million roster bonus. Gurley was once seen as one of the top running backs in the NFL, but things have changed drastically over the past 16 or so months. Gurley has degenerative, arthritic knees, so he won't improve. He can play very well when handling the ball, but he can't be asked to shoulder a full workload. Gurley would be a great member of a running back committee, as he can still plunge into the end zone and catch passes well.
- Deone Bucannon, LB, Giants. Age: 28. -- Signed with Falcons
- Justin McCray (RFA), G, Browns. Age: 28. -- Signed with Falcons
Atlanta Falcons Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Austin Hooper, TE, Falcons. Age: 25.
Signed with Browns (4 years, $44 million)
Austin Hooper is a highly athletic tight end who has improved exponentially in each of his four NFL seasons. He won't even turn 26 until October, so the sky is the limit for him.
Desmond Trufant, CB, Falcons. Age: 29.
Signed with Lions (2 years, $21 million)
Desmond Trufant has been a solid cornerback for quite some time. He played just nine games last year because of a couple of injuries, but performed well when he was on the field. Trufant turns 30 in September, so a decline is coming in a few years, but he should continue to play very well in the near future.
Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Falcons. Age: 28.
Signed with Titans (1 year, $9.5 million)
Vic Beasley got off to a nice start in his career, but he struggled in recent seasons. However, he logged four sacks in his final four games, which gives him some hope.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons. Age: 28.
If you're wondering how the Falcons feel about Devonta Freeman, they're taking on $6 million in dead money to save paying him $6.5 million in 2019. Freeman is a tremendous receiver out of the backfield, but he's not nearly the talented running back he once was. Injuries have sapped him of his explosiveness, so he may have to resort to being just a third-down back from this point forward.
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Falcons. Age: 32.
Signed with Browns
Adrian Clayborn saw his sack total drop from 9.5 in 2017 to 6.5 over the past two seasons, but he still did a good job of pressuring quarterbacks last year. Unfortunately, he'll turn 32 this summer, which could mean regression is coming soon.
Younghoe Koo, K, Falcons. Age: 26.
Re-signed with Falcons
Younghoe Koo drilled 23-of-26 attempts in 2019. He also seems to be very effective at onside kicking.
Matt Bosher, P, Falcons. Age: 32.
Matt Bosher barely played in 2019 because of a groin injury. He should be 100 percent heading into 2020.
De'Vondre Campbell, OLB, Falcons. Age: 27.
De'Vondre Campbell is a solid linebacker when it comes to run support, but he struggles in coverage. He would be better off as a two-down player.
Tyeler Davison, DT, Falcons. Age: 27.
Tyeler Davison is a solid run-plugger, but doesn't offer much as far as pass-rushing ability is concerned.
- Wes Schweitzer, G, Falcons. Age: 31. -- Signed with Redskins (3 years, $13.5 million)
- J.J. Wilcox, S, Falcons. Age: 29.
- Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Falcons. Age: 30. -- Re-signed with Falcons
- Ty Sambrailo, OT, Falcons. Age: 28. -- Signed with Titans
- Keith Smith, FB, Falcons. Age: 28. -- Re-signed with Falcons (3 years)
- Jack Crawford, DE/DT, Falcons. Age: 31.
- Justin Hardy, WR, Falcons. Age: 28.
- Luke Stocker, TE, Falcons. Age: 32.
- Kemal Ishmael, S, Falcons. Age: 29.
- Steven Means, DE, Falcons. Age: 29.
- Kenjon Barner, RB, Falcons. Age: 31.
- Jamal Carter (RFA), S, Falcons. Age: 26.
- John Wetzel, OT, Falcons. Age: 29.
- Sharrod Neasman, S, Falcons. Age: 28.
- Matt Simms, QB, Falcons. Age: 31.
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