NFL.com’s Dan Hanzus released his preseason NFL Power Rankings, and they weren’t kind to the Atlanta Falcons.
Technically, the Falcons could still drop one spot, but at No. 31 on the list, it feels like Atlanta has nowhere to go but up.
The Houston Texans are the only team behind Atlanta. The Buffalo Bills took the top spot, while NFC South rivals Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3), New Orleans Saints (13), and Carolina Panthers (23) all finished ahead of the Falcons.
Hanzus didn’t exactly spend a lot of time justifying his process for putting the Falcons at the bottom with the Houston Texans. He used a quote from Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees about a culture change in Atlanta.
“We’ve been in the top 10 (in defense rankings) one time out of the last 20 years,” said Pees at the start of 2022 Falcons training camp. “That bulls—‘s over. Sorry, I’m getting fired up today, but I’m tired of this crap. We’re going to change the culture of the defense around this frickin’ place. People are going to start talking about the Atlanta defense like they did Baltimore and New England. It’s going to be the same s— around here.”
While Pees can’t fix the Falcons offensive and defensive lines in one offseason, there are several players on defense Atlanta can build around over the next several years who will benefit from a culture change.
Cornerback A.J. Terrell is a budding star in the NFL. Second-year safety Richie Grant is making strides. The Falcons invested heavily on defense in the 2022 draft including a pair of edge rushers in Arnold Ebiketie (2nd round) and DeAngelo Malone (3rd round) and linebacker Troy Andersen (2nd round).
Second-year pros Ade Ogundeji and Ta’Quon Graham are listed as starters on the newly-released depth chart from the Falcons at edge and defensive line respectively.
That culture change might not be evident in 2022 as the Falcons finally emerge from salary-cap hell, taking an NFL-high $63.3 million dead-cap hit this season. But the Falcons have a solid core of young defenders who will benefit from Pees’ mentality and experience.
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