Its Sunday, and we’ve had some time to digest the direction and draft picks Dimitroff and Quinn keyed in on this year. Watching and listening to the “experts” grade the draft, I figured, shoot, I’m an internet expert too. So here is, in my expert fan opinion, the most complete, accurate internet review for where the Atlanta Falcons roster stands today. I’ll grade the range of each group with 100 being the best in the NFL, and 50 being the worst in the NFL. I’ll link the defensive article below next Sunday.
Defense Preview Link : Here
This is a pretty clear cut situation. Matt Ryan is the obvious starter and has been on an iron man streak. He is 3 games from making 150 straight regular season starts. His durability makes his backup situations a little easier for the Falcons. They’re less worried about needing someone who is talented to be able to fill in, but more on a player who works well with Ryan to make in game adjustments. Matt Schaub works well with Ryan and clearly communicates with him on the sideline helping the team make adjustments and remain a potent offense.
2018 Final Grade : 90
2019 Initial Grade : 90
With the 1st pick available to the Falcons, they drafted a huge need at Guard. Many people call this a reach, but the truth is when you see a guy, top rated at his position, and perfect for the scheme and philosophy you want as an offense, there is no such thing as a reach. Too many pundits and internet experts like myself even sometimes get caught up in “talent” and what position has more talent than another. Talent is great, but if it doesn’t fit your identity or you have force them into a new role to get them on the field, you will not typically win in the NFL. Lindstrum consistently shows on tape the ability to handle opposing defensive tackles one on one, and the foot speed and attitude to pull in the outside run scheme. The Falcons clearly are showing they will add a little more of a power element to their game. Last year the Falcons were consistently passing on short down situations due to the inability to get a push on the line. I am in the camp that games are ultimately won and lost in the trenches with the big guys. Guard is the least sexiest position of them all, but has become more crucial in today’s league. As the league has shifted to more spread offenses, defenses have begun to use smaller interior defensive linemen to get gap penetration and force pressure. Counter to that, offense have begun moving the QB around more to make it more difficult on defenders to focus on a single pocket area. All this has created a need for big, quick interior offensive linemen. Guards need to be able to move the line of scrimmage in short down situations, but still be quick enough to pull in the run game and slide the pocket while maintaining the block. Lindstrum fits that mold. Below is a bootleg option the Falcons love to run, and the RG role is crucial to holding that DT long enough for the QB for the play action.
The Falcons then traded back in for McGary who is a big offensive tackle who also brings that versatility to his game. He’s a big tackle at 318lbs and comes in as a 2 time 1st team All Pac 12 linemen. That’s in a conference that just witnessed 3 of it’s tackles go in the first 2 days including Andre Dillard who went 22 overall. This will be called a reach by people who didn’t witness the run where 5 of the next 11 picks were tackles. The Falcons again locked in and got one of the top talents who perfectly fits what they want to do. That’s a win.
During free agency, the Falcons target two additional guards who figure to battle for the RG position in James Carpenter and Jamon Brown. Bigger than that to me, the Falcons now have enough big interior linenmen to run a true goaline situation. That’s something we haven’t seen in Atlanta for a while. Freeman and Ryan will both benefit greatly from an improved interior on the line which will help dictate games and the clock.
2018 Final Grade : 68
2019 Initial Grade : 85
Running back position is thinner going into 2019 in terms of proven talent, but that doesn’t always mean they took a step back. The Falcons finished the year without Freeman, and while Coleman had explosion, he just couldn’t handle the full workload in all situations. Freeman consistently gets 15 touches a game where as Coleman is best being around 10 and being utilized in situations as a pass catcher too. Freeman gives the Falcons the flexibility to run an all purpose back for keeping defenses on their heels. The depth looks to have taken a hit as Coleman was a perfect counter with Freeman and fit the outside zone runs the Falcons have used. Ito Smith looked good despite playing behind a bad line, but doesn’t give you that true lightning speed. The Falcons drafted Qadree Wilson ,who is similar to Freeman in being a lower built back, who wins leverage and turns contact into positive yards. He also shows the shiftiness at the line to make the first tackler miss. Not a home run guy like Coleman, but he does have some speed to his game as you can see below.
The real candidate to replace Coleman is Marcus Green from Louisiana Monroe. He was under the radar for most teams, but he ran a blazing 4.39 at his pro day. He also posted a 39in vert. That would of been good for #1 40 time and 3rd best vertical in the combine for all RB’s. He’s a smaller back at 191lbs, but he plays big. He runs with an attitude and even though he looks light, he’s not a slight build. He plays with leverage and a chip on his shoulder. He can catch the ball and brings a speed element in the pass game. He brings the one cut game that Coleman was known for, and he also shows the potential to be an instant impact on special teams as a returner.
Ultimately, I think this position will see an increase in production and overall grade. Football is a team game so you can’t look at positions completely in a vacuum. The improvement in offensive line and return of Freeman should boost the Falcons play this year. Marcus Green could be the X factor to really elevate this position if he shows that one cut ability, burst, and strength to run through arm tacklers.
2018 Final Grade : 74
2019 Initial Grade : 82
The wide receiver group will be relatively unchanged from last season. Julio is still one of the best in the NFL, and Sanu is an underrated receiver who blocks well while showing the Swiss army knife abilities teams covet. He knows his job and he does it consistently. It will be more interesting next off-season as the Falcons will have to make a decision around Sanu. Calvin Ridley showed in his rookie campaign that the Falcons will have to draw up more plays for him, and keep him active in the pass game. He matched Sanu’s target total as a rookie, and would expect him to get another 90-100 this year. As a group the Falcons wide receiver starters can match-up with any other group in the NFL. When you have a leader like Julio Jones, it elevates the play of the team around him. A selfless player who never complains about his stats, but is clearly the most gifted athlete in the room. That rubs off and will continue to make this a dangerous group that defenses will have to be on their best game to contain. Slight improvement overall as Ridley builds on his experience and chemistry with Matt Ryan from last season.
2018 Final Grade : 90
2019 Initial Grade : 91
Tight end is an interesting position for the Falcons. Its easy to consider it solidified, but we still haven’t seen a level of consistency from Austin Hooper to lock that in as a guarantee. Hooper should have a solid year as he continues to hash out the nuances of the game with Matt Ryan. Their chemistry took a step forward and consequently Hooper’s drops went down. The catch below would not have been made in years prior, but shows a higher level of production and trust building with Ryan. Behind Hooper the Falcons will run a couple guys in different situations. Luke Stocker will be the most utilized as he doesn’t excel at anything in particular, but hes an average all around TE. Stocker makes his name as an inline blocker, but he has the ability to play off that and find space in the passing game too. We won’t blow up the stat sheet or wow you in the open field, but hes a good compliment to Hooper and serviceable player. Eric Soubert is in that same mold, but it’ll be interesting how the Falcons use TE going forward. Dirk Koetter utilizes his TE position, but he’s not from the Shanahan mold (first Mike then Kyle) of a 2 TE scheme. The Falcons may elect to carry an extra linemen instead of 3 TE’s. That will be a story to follow in training camp. Overall I’ll give Hooper the benefit of the doubt and continues to improve with Ryan giving the position a slight boost from last season.
2018 Final Grade : 82
2019 Initial Grade :84