2021 NFL Offseason: Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons (Last Year: 4-12)

2021 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB A.J. McCarron, RB Mike Davis, TE Lee Smith, CB Fabian Moreau, S Duron Harmon, S Erik Harris, KR Cordarrelle Patterson.
Early Draft Picks:
TE Kyle Pitts, S Richie Grant, OT/G Jalen Mayfield, CB/S Darren Hall, C Drew Dalman. Falcons Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Todd Gurley, RB Ito Smith, WR Julio Jones, C Alex Mack, DE Charles Harris, CB Darqueze Dennard, S Keanu Neal, S Damontae Kazee, S Ricardo Allen.

2021 Atlanta Falcons Offense:
The Falcons were going to have a huge dilemma with their No. 4 overall pick if the 49ers selected Mac Jones, as most believed would happen. The Falcons preferred Trey Lance over the other two available quarterbacks, so they could have decided to choose him over Kyle Pitts. They couldn’t be blamed for doing so, as Matt Ryan, now 36, is not the same quarterback he once was. Anyone who disputes this can just ask Julio Jones, who demanded to be traded because Ryan doesn’t possess the same zip on his passes.

Atlanta didn’t have to decide between Lance and Pitts after all. They selected Pitts, which is a lateral move for the long term with Jones traded. Pitts is an exceptional talent who resembles a better Darren Waller. He’s such an athletic tight end that some teams believed he would be a receiver in the NFL. Still, Pitts won’t have any NFL experience to start the year, so the offense will be worse with him with Jones gone. The Falcons struggled to generate points last year when Jones was out of the lineup, despite Calvin Ridley’s great development. It could be argued that Ridley was the Falcons’ top receiver last year, but someone like Jones is needed to make everything functional because Atlanta has nothing else at receiver besides decent slot receiver Russell Gage.

The regression of the offensive line must also be factored into determining the decline of this unit if Jones is traded. Long-time reliable center Alex Mack is gone, so he’ll be replaced by one of Matt Hennessy, a third-round pick from 2020, or Drew Dalman, a fourth-round rookie. Hennessy barely played last year prior to Week 16, but he did not look good in his limited action. It could be possible that one of Hennessy or Dalman plays guard as well because the Falcons have a weakness at one of the spots. Third-round rookie Jalen Mayfield will be in the mix for that job. Fortunately for Atlanta, the other guard spot is locked up by the talented Chris Lindstrom.

Jake Matthews is the other top lineman on the roster. Matthews will turn 30 soon, but he’s still playing on a high level. The same can’t be said of his bookend, Kaleb McGary, though McGary is a former first-round pick with some potential. It’s possible that Mayfield will unseat McGary if the Washington product struggles.

With worsened blocking this year, it’ll once again be difficult for the Falcons to develop a strong rushing attack. Todd Gurley, despite his touchdown count, was a disaster this past season. The Falcons needed a major upgrade in this area, yet they didn’t really get one. The best they came up with was Mike Davis, who performed admirably as a receiver out of the backfield in Carolina when Christian McCaffrey got hurt last year. Davis, however, is not a very good runner.

2021 Atlanta Falcons Defense:
Julio Jones being traded is extremely painful for the Falcons because their offense will once again have to carry their woeful defense. The unit surrendered nearly 26 points per game last year, and because of their cap issues, they weren’t able to plug the many holes on this side of the ball.

One major problem is the pass rush. How are the Falcons going to generate any sort of pressure on the quarterback? Dante Fowler was a huge disappointment last year, notching only three sacks. This was hardly a surprise because Fowler had only performed well under Wade Phillips in his career, and Atlanta doesn’t have that sort of a defensive coordinator. It’s not even clear who will start opposite of Fowler. It could be Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, a part-time player in 2020 who recorded just one sack.

The only area of strength on the defensive line continues to be Grady Jarrett, a dominant force in the interior. The Falcons have lacked a viable starter next to Jarrett for quite some time, and that will not change in 2021. Tyeler Davison will get the nod once again, but he’s just a pedestrian talent.

With the Falcons getting no pass rush anywhere except from Jarrett, their secondary will struggle as a result. The secondary was already a major problem, especially at cornerback. A.J. Terrell performed well in his rookie campaign, but Atlanta’s other cornerback options look extremely dubious. Unless fourth-round rookie Darren Hall impresses, the Falcons will have to rely on scrubs like Kendall Sheffield, Isaiah Oliver and Fabian Moreau to cover the extremely talented receivers in the NFC South.

Atlanta’s safeties are at least functional players. The team lost Keanu Neal this offseason, but managed to sign Duron Harmon, who has had much better luck staying on the field. Harmon is a solid player, so he was a nice addition. He’ll start next to Erik Harris, another new member of Atlanta’s roster. Harris isn’t as good as Harmon, but he’s not a major liability either.

The linebackers, meanwhile, will be the strength of the defense, though only really by default. Deion Jones is an exceptional talent, while Foyesade Oluokun has some potential. Oluokun is a former sixth-round pick who has carved out a nice career for himself thus far.

2021 Atlanta Falcons Schedule and Intangibles:
Matt Ryan is 58-39 at home. However, the Falcons have been a poor 31-35 as a host over the past eight years, so perhaps the magic has vanished.

The Falcons will get a big special-teams boost from the newly signed Cordarrelle Patterson, one of the top kick returners in the NFL.

Long-time kicker Matt Bryant struggled two years ago, forcing Atlanta to go with Younghoe Koo. Master of the onside kick, Koo was 37-of-39 in 2020, and he was 8-of-8 from 50-plus!

Punter Sterling Hofrichter was just 23rd in net average last year.

Atlanta has an easy schedule. It’ll battle all of the last-place teams in addition to the NFC East.

2021 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.

2021 Atlanta Falcons Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2021 Atlanta Falcons Analysis: The Falcons are spinning their wheels. They probably should have drafted a quarterback at No. 4 overall (Justin Fields) and traded both Matt Ryan and Julio Jones prior to the 2021 NFL Draft. They believe they can still win with Ryan, which doesn’t seem realistic, especially with Jones gone. Jones was such a non-believer in Ryan that he asked to be traded, while the defense has tons of holes that weren’t filled. Atlanta is not as bad as Houston or Detroit, but it’s one of the worst teams in the NFL otherwise.

Projection: 4-13 (4th in NFC South)

2020 Projection: 6-10. 2020 Actual Result: 4-12.
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 2021 NFL Draft: The Falcons have a dilemma with their first-round pick. Do they take the fourth-best quarterback in this class, or do they go with the top non-quarterback prospect? Given that Matt Ryan can still play well, the latter option sounds better, though a trade down would be the best. With a better coaching staff, the Falcons could make a push for the playoffs if they add tons of talent. Specific positions that must be addressed are running back, guard, center, defensive end and cornerback.

2021 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Atlanta didn’t get to trade down, but it was able to come away with a nice haul in the 2021 NFL Draft. The class was headlined by Kyle Pitts, who will be a dynamic weapon for Matt Ryan over the next couple of seasons. Improved blocking was needed as well, which the Falcons were able to obtain via Jalen Mayfield and Drew Dalman. Both were solid choices.

Pitts and the new blockers will need to help Ryan score a ton of points this year because the defense will continue to be a problem. Just two of the first five selections were used to address the stop unit. Both were used on defensive backs, as Richie Grant and Darren Hall figure to help an ailing secondary. The defensive line wasn’t addressed until the fifth round, but with so many needs, the Falcons couldn’t possibly fix everything.

I’d say Atlanta did a quality job overall in the first year of this new regime. A grade in the “A” range would be warranted if the Falcons managed to trade down and acquire numerous resources, but outside of that, Atlanta did well to give itself a fighting chance for a wild-card spot in 2021.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

4. Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida – B+ Grade
I personally would have gone with Penei Sewell, but I certainly don’t hate this pick. I believe an elite left tackle is more valuable than an elite tight end, but in the end, the Falcons couldn’t have gone wrong with either. Pitts is viewed as a receiver by some around the NFL. He projects to be a superior Darren Waller, so he’ll be a dynamic, mismatch threat for Matt Ryan as the veteran quarterback enters his twilight years.

40. Richie Grant, S, Central Florida – B Grade
Another safety over Trevon Moehrig, so I wonder if there are injury concerns with the TCU product. Richie Grant is a quality safety prospect with great instincts, so he can start right away. That’s needed for the Falcons, who have to deal with Michael Thomas, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and D.J. Moore in their division.

68. Jalen Mayfield, OT/G, Michigan – B+ Grade
Jalen Mayfield was once a mainstay of the first round of my mock draft, but he slipped recently because he’s not great in any regard. However, Mayfield can play tackle and guard, which is important for the Falcons because they need interior help now and then tackle help when Jake Matthews leaves the team in the future.

108. Darren Hall, CB/S, San Diego State – C- Grade
I never placed Darren Hall in my mock drafts, though I always considered him in the late rounds. I obviously don’t like this value for Atlanta, but addressing the dire need for a cornerback was a must. Still, this pick could have been made later.

114. Drew Dalman, C, Stanford – B+ Grade
I had Drew Dalman slotted three picks later in my mock draft, so this value makes sense to me. The Falcons had to obtain a center after losing Alex Mack. They have a replacement in Matt Hennessy, but he’s not a proven commodity, so competition was needed.

148. Ta’Quon Graham, DT, Texas – C Grade
I went back and forth between slotting Ta’Quon Graham in the final rounds and not. He didn’t make it into the final rounds of my mock. This is sort of an underwhelming pick, but it’s not a terrible one, as Atlanta needed to help its defensive line.

182. Adetokunbo Ogundeji, DE, Notre Dame – C Grade
I never had Adetokunbo Ogundeji in any of my mock draft updates, but he nearly made the cut on several occasions. This pick is just OK, as the Falcons could have done better to address a big need for an edge rusher.

183. Avery Williams, CB, Boise State – C+ Grade
The Falcons needed another cornerback, but Avery Williams is going to be more of a special-teams player. He’s a small cornerback I had going in the seventh round.

187. Frank Darby, WR, Arizona State – B- Grade
Julio Jones might be traded in the near future, so the Falcons needed some receiving depth. I had Frank Darby in the seventh round of my final mock draft, so taking him in the sixth frame makes some sense.


Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Falcons finished 4-12, but easily could have won eight or more games. They blew so many leads and lost several close affairs. With better coaching and upgrades made to the roster, Atlanta could compete for a playoff spot in 2021.

Offseason Moves:
  • Falcons sign S Duron Harmon
  • Falcons sign KR Cordarrelle Patterson
  • Falcons sign CB Fabian Moreau
  • Falcons sign RB Mike Davis
  • Falcons sign S Erik Harris
  • Falcons acquire TE Lee Smith from Bills

    Team Needs:
    1. Defensive End: The Falcons must fix their defense, and that begins up front. They’ve failed on multiple first-round defensive ends, but perhaps they’ll try again at No. 4 with Gregory Rousseau.

    2. Two Cornerbacks: A better pass rush will help a pedestrian group of cornerbacks, but upgrades are still needed in this spot. Only one corner will be required if Darqueze Dennard is retained. Signed Fabian Moreau

    3. Two Safeties: Speaking of the secondary, two safeties are needed if Keanu Neal isn’t re-signed. If he is, there’s still a big hole at the position. Signed Erik Harris and Duron Harmon

    4. Running Back: Todd Gurley was a disaster last year. His knees are shot, and it didn’t help that the other running backs struggled. A second-day pick could be used on an upgrade. Signed Mike Davis

    5. Defensive Tackle: In addition to an upgrade at defensive end, Atlanta could also use some help in the interior on the defensive line. It’s Grady Jarrett and nothing.

    6. Linebacker: Deion Jones is an excellent linebacker, but the Falcons don’t have much else at the position.

    7. Guard: James Carpenter is the weakest link on the offensive line, so the Falcons should try to upgrade him.

    8. Center: Speaking of the offensive line, Alex Mack is an impending free agent. He could be re-signed or perhaps even replaced, given that he’s 35.

    9. Quarterback: Matt Ryan is still a good quarterback, but it’s fair to wonder how much longer that will be true, given that he turns 36 in May.

    10. Kicker: Younghoe Koo is an impending free agent. Re-signed Younghoe Koo

    11. Punter: Atlanta had one of the worst punters in the NFL last year.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2021 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Cordarrelle Patterson, KR, Bears. Age: 30.
      Signed with Falcons

      Cordarrelle Patterson hasn’t been a viable receiver despite being chosen in the first round, but he’s made a career for himself as a great kick returner.

    2. Mike Davis, RB, Panthers. Age: 28.
      Signed with Falcons (2 years, $5.5 million)

      Mike Davis was an excellent replacement for Christian McCaffrey. Carolina’s offense didn’t slow down every much with Davis in the backfield, as he served as a quality receiver.

    3. Duron Harmon, S, Lions. Age: 30.
      Signed with Falcons

      Patriot players going elsewhere don’t always succeed. Duron Harmon did, performing well in all regards for the Lions.

    4. Erik Harris, S, Raiders. Age: 31.
      Signed with Falcons

      Erik Harris isn’t a great player by any means, but he’s a very versatile defensive back who can play in the slot if needed.

    5. Fabian Moreau, CB, Redskins. Age: 27. — Signed with Falcons
    6. A.J. McCarron, QB, Texans. Age: 30. — Signed with Falcons

    Atlanta Falcons Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Younghoe Koo, K, Falcons. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Falcons (1 year)

      Younghoe Koo was one of the top kickers in the NFL last year. He hit 37-of-39 attempts in 2020, including a sterling 8-of-8 from 50-plus!

    2. Keanu Neal, S, Falcons. Age: 26.
      Signed with Cowboys (1 year, $5 million)

      Keanu Neal was once a terrific safety, but injuries have sapped his ability. He’s still a quality player, and he’s also still young (26), so he could rebound in 2021 and beyond.

    3. Alex Mack, C, Falcons. Age: 35.
      Signed with 49ers

      Alex Mack was once the best center in the NFL – I argued he should have been MVP in the Super Bowl prior to Tom Brady’s comeback from down 28-3 – but at 35, he has regressed in recent years.

    4. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Falcons. Age: 29.
      Signed with Cardinals

      Darqueze Dennard is a talented cornerback who can play both outside and in the slot. However, he has a dubious injury history. He missed half of 2020 with a hamstring, and he’s played a full season just once in his career.

    5. Damontae Kazee, S, Falcons. Age: 28.
      Signed with Cowboys (1 year)

      Damontae Kazee logged 10 interceptions in the two years leading into 2020, but played just four games this past season because of a torn Achilles.

    6. Ricardo Allen, S, Falcons. Age: 29.
      Signed with Bengals (1 year)

      Ricardo Allen is a capable starting safety who can play at cornerback as well. However, he’s injury-prone; he has missed 17 games in the past three years.

    7. Todd Gurley, RB, Falcons. Age: 27.
      There’s a chance Todd Gurley bounces back because of his great talent. Plus, he’s still only 27. Unfortunately, his knees are shot. It’s more likely that his career is finished.

    8. Charles Harris, DE, Falcons. Age: 26. — Signed with Lions
    9. Steven Means, DE, Falcons. Age: 30. — Re-signed with Falcons
    10. Brandon Powell (RFA), WR, Falcons. Age: 24. — Signed with Bills (1 year)
    11. Matt Gono (RFA), G/OT, Falcons. Age: 25. — Re-signed with Falcons
    12. James Carpenter, G, Falcons. Age: 32.
    13. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Falcons. Age: 26.
    14. Sharrod Neasman, S, Falcons. Age: 29.
    15. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Falcons. Age: 31. — Signed with Raiders
    16. Brian Hill, RB, Falcons. Age: 25. — Signed with Titans
    17. Ito Smith, RB, Falcons. Age: 25.
    18. Luke Stocker, TE, Falcons. Age: 33.
    19. Allen Bailey, DE, Falcons. Age: 34.
    20. Justin McCray, G, Falcons. Age: 29.
    21. LaRoy Reynolds, LB, Falcons. Age: 30. — Signed with Patriots
    22. Edmond Robinson, DE, Falcons. Age: 29.
    23. John Wetzel, OT, Falcons. Age: 30.

    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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