UA-59049186-1 NFL Team Preview: Atlanta Falcons - Good if it Goes

NFL Team Preview: Atlanta Falcons

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Last Year:

Record: 11-5

Offense: 33.8 (1st)

Defense: 25.4 (27th)

Offseason: 

Key Acquisitions: DT. Dontari Poe

Key Losses: TE. Jacob Tamme, OG. Chris Chester, DT. Tyson Jackson

2017 Draft Picks

RD(PK) PLAYER POS SCHOOL
1(26) Takkarist McKinley DE UCLA
3(11) Duke Riley ILB LSU
4(30) Sean Harlow C Oregon State
5(5) Damontae Kazee CB San Diego State
5(12) Brian Hill RB Wyoming
5(31) Eric Saubert TE Drake

2017 Outlook 

Coaching Staff

  • HC: Dan Quinn
  • OC: Steve Sarkisian
  • DC: Marquand Manuel
  • ST: Keith Armstrong

Offense

QB. Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub

RB. Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman

FB. Derrick Coleman

WR. Julio Jones, Justin Hardy

WR. Mohamed Sanu, Andre Roberts

WR. Taylor Gabriel

TE. Austin Hooper, Levine Toilolo

LT. Jake Matthews, Kevin Graf

LG. Andy Levitre, Sean Harlow

C. Alex Mack,  Cornelius Edison

RG. Ben Garland. Wes Schweitzer

RT. Ryan Schraeder, Andreas Knappe

Defense

DE. Brooks Reed, Adrian Clayborne

DT. Dontari Poe, Jack Crawford

DT. Grady Jarrett, Ra’Shede Hageman

DE. Courtney Upshaw, Derrick Shelby

SLB. Vic Beasley Jr., Takk McKinley

MLB. Deion Jones, LaRoy Reynolds

WLB. De’Vondre Campbell, Duke Riley

CB. Desmond Trufant, Jalen Collins (10 game suspension for PEDs)

SS. Keanu Neal, Kermal Ishmael

FS. Ricardo Allen, Sharrod Neasman

CB. Robert Alford, Deji Olatoye

NB. Brian Poole

Specialists

K. Matt Bryant

P. Matt Bosher

 Breakdown

Offense:

The best offense in the NFL last season was the Atlanta Falcons. One of the biggest reasons why was the improved play of the offensive line spear headed by free agent pick up Alex Mack who came over from the Browns and had one of the best seasons of his terrific career. At left guard is Andy Levitre who also played very well last season. The one guy who will not be returning to the offensive line is right guard Chris Chester who decided to retire. Replacing him in the lineup will be either converted center Ben Garland, last year’s sixth round pick Wes Schweitzer or this year’s fourth round pick Sean Harlow. Ryan Schraeder is the right tackle and he is an elite run blocker who also pass blocks well. Jake Matthews is the left tackle and he may have been the worst of the group a year ago. Not because he was not good he just was not good as the others as he was the most one dimensional of the group proving to be a good pass blocker but struggling as a run blocker. The Falcons passing game got a lot of the attention last year and rightfully so but what made their offense so special was their ability to be balanced and also run the ball at a high level. They had the best running back duo in the NFL between Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman and were the only team to have two running backs ranked in the top 20 by pro football focus. Freeman rushed for over 1,000 yards with 11 TDs and Coleman had 520 yards and eight TDs. Also both were effective in the pass game racking up over 400 yards a piece. Speaking of that prolific passing game the biggest reason for the Falcons elite passing attack was the fact they have the best receiver in football in Julio Jones who had another great season. As good as Julio is he was there last year when the team was not quite as effective. One thing that changed was that Julio finally had help as the team gave quarterback Matt Ryan two new weapons in Mohamed Sanu, who came over from the Bengals, and Taylor Gabriel, who came over from the Browns. Sanu was a good number two option and even held it down as the number one option the few weeks Jones missed with injury. Gabriel was also effective in his role in the slot as he was a big play guy thanks to his speed which allowed him to average over 16 yards per catch. Austin Hooper will take over full time as the starting tight end for the departed Jacob Tamme. He showed flashes in the time he got to play last season and has the potential to do more this season. The improved offensive line play, running game, and added weapons for the passing game all accumulated in Ryan having the best year of his career and winning MVP. I think Ryan is at a point in a career giving his supporting cast where he can maintain this level of play and finally establish himself as a tier 1 QB. Overall just about all of the key players from last year’s offense are returning with the exception of one guard. That means you can expect over 30 points per game and a lot of wins from this team again in 2017.

Defense:

The Falcons play a hybrid 4-3 defense that at times resembles a 3-4 look. Things got off too a really shaky start for this team on defense last season but down the stretch they were one of the most improved units in the NFL which led to their Super Bowl run. They did a number on Tom Brady and the Pats for a good portion of the Super Bowl and shut down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. I expect the Falcons defense to play like they did down the stretch of the regular season and the playoffs for a full season in 2017. It all starts with one of the deepest defensive fronts in the league. The Falcons are a legitimate 10 deep at their five positions up front. In the interior starting at defensive tackle will be Grady Jarrett and free agent pickup Dontari Poe. Jarrett looked like a superstar during the playoffs and should be on everyone’s potential breakout players of 2017 list. Poe is looking to bounce back from a down year in his last season with the Chiefs. He still is a big man that moves better than guys 50 pounds lighter than him and with all the talent in the world to be a dominant player again. Courtney Upshaw will start as the strong end which in this defense lines up on the edge and the interior at times. He is a big end that will mostly play on run on downs. Brooks Reed will start at the other end spot which is more of a traditional edge role. Reed needs to be more consistent in 2017 but the ability is there to get things done. Adrian Clayborn will rotate in plenty and depending on how well rookie first round pick Takk McKinley picks things up he will be in the mix as well and could end up supplanting one of the starting defensive ends by season’s end. At the sam/edge line backer spot will be Vic Beasley who lead the NFL in sacks and had a breakout year after a disappointing rookie year in the previous season. Deion Jones will be back at middle linebacker. The rookie second rounder was one of the best rookies in the NFL and really helped fix a position that had been a problem for Atlanta for years. The current projected starter at the other linebacker spot is De’Vondre Campbell but I can see third round pick Riley Duke eventually taking over this spot if Campbell does not play better than he did a year ago. The Falcons are also loaded at cornerback. Desmond Trufant is the best of the group and after inking a five year $69 million dollar extension with $42 million guaranteed he should be ready to go prove he deserved the money. His season was cut short due to injury but the year before he was one of the very best corners in the league. Robert Alford will be starting on the other side and he has established himself as a solid starting cornerback after back to back quality seasons. Brian Poole will be the man in the slot at least for the first 10 games. Unfortunately Jalen Collins, who was actually the Falcons most productive corner last season, was suspended 10 games for his second PED violation. But once he returns I expect the Falcons to throw him in somewhere unless the aforementioned three are just killing it. The Falcons have one of the best coverage duos at safety in the NFL in Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Neal had a great season by any standard but especially for a rookie. He had the fifth highest grade in coverage among all safeties by pro football focus. Overall the Falcons total defensive numbers for the 2016 season were not very good but this defense showed it’s true potential in the playoffs and I believe they have a chance to be a top 10 defense in 2017.

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