The Atlanta Falcons finished 7-10 last season on the strength of a 7-2 record in one-score games. The depth and talent on the roster was questionable at best, and Pro Football Focus (PFF) the Falcons have taken a significant step backwards in 2022.
PFF ranked the rosters of all-32 teams and placed the Falcons at No. 31.
They analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of each team and picked the cornerback tandem of A.J. Terrell and Casey Hayward as the Falcons’ strength.
“Biggest strength: The cornerback duo of A.J. Terrell and Casey Hayward Jr. could be one saving grace on a roster with a whole lot of question marks. Sixty-five cornerbacks played at least 400 coverage snaps during the 2021 regular season, and no two players in that group allowed fewer receiving yards per game than Terrell (12.5) and Hayward (22.8). Another season like that from Terrell would further cement his status as one of the league’s top corners at just 24 years old.” – PFF
Terrell and Hayward would be considered strengths on virtually every team in the NFL, but they were the easy pick on a roster as barren as the Falcons.
The Falcons are carrying a whopping $63 million in dead cap money this year according to Spotrac. That number could rise to over $70 million, an NFL record, if the Falcons elect to move linebacker Deion Jones before the season.
To put that number in perspective, only four players on the Falcons carry a salary cap number above $6 million in 2022… Jones, Grady Jarrett, Jake Matthews and Kyle Pitts.
Atlanta could add 10 players making $6 million to the roster with the money tied up in the old contracts of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. If you see weaknesses in the Falcons roster… start there.
PFF chose the biggest weakness for the Atlanta Falcons, and they elected to go defensive line. It’s a testament to the problems the Falcons have when the weakest unit doesn’t include PFF’s worst pass blocker in the NFL in guard Jalen Mayfield or turnstile right tackle Kaleb McGary.
They think the defensive line is even worse than the offensive line. Scary…
“Biggest weakness: The Falcons’ defensive line is in a better spot than it was a season ago. However, it still has the potential to be Grady Jarrett and a bunch of other guys if second-round pick Arnold Ebiketie doesn’t hit the ground running. Even Jarrett wasn’t quite as effective last season as he has been throughout much of his career. Jarrett’s 67.6 PFF grade in 2021 was his first sub-80 grade since the 2016 season (62.7).” — PFF
PFF lists first-round pick Drake London as the X factor on this team, and they point out that he’s not just a big-bodied possession receiver.
“Drake London was billed as a contested-catch receiver, but that’s not all he can do,” writes PFF. “He was the only wide receiver in the 2022 draft class with top-five marks in contested catches (19) and missed tackles forced after the catch (22) last season — and he did it in just eight games.”
The Falcons have so many questions to be answered heading into Smith’s second season as Atlanta’s head coach.
Can the combination of Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder run his system effectively? Can Mayfield become a serviceable offensive lineman in year two? Can the Falcons get someone at right tackle to slow a pass rush? Will second-year safety Richie Grant live up to his second-round draft pick potential? How quickly can Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone make an impact with their pass rush?
Too many questions to be answered to consider the Falcons as legitimate playoff contender.
But, if the Falcons can get the right answer to several of those questions, they could hover around the .500 mark for much of the season like they did last year.