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Pro Football Focus: Falcons Have 3rd-Worst Roster In The NFL

Here we go.

Nonsense, PFF!
Nonsense, PFF!
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We sometimes talk about respect for the Falcons here, and often we come to the conclusion that there isn't a whole lot out there. Depending on the season and even the day, that can be warranted or baseless.

Besides Saints fans, no one is more consistently skeptical of this team than outlets like Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders, with FO in particular projecting the Falcons to fall for a couple of years before they finally imploded in 2013.

Let me be clear about where I stand on both of these outlets: They have considerable value. FO, in particular, is great at slicing data in a way that helps you understand how effective teams have been in a variety of situations, i.e. running outside, converting power running plays, rushing the passer, etc. PFF gives you a quick and dirty guide to player performance according to people who are watching a ton of game film, and while there's been a sharp backlash against them here and across the wider Internet of late, I think they're useful and thoughtful in their breakdowns. Neither is infalliable—despite how popular watching tape is, there are very few people who can do so and come away with a 100% accurate breakdown of a given play—and as with anything we should all use them to complement our own knowledge, analysis and eyeballing of games. Obviously, they bring less bias to the table than we do by virtue of not being Falcons fans.

As always, I encourage you to go check out the full article, but here's what Pro Football Focus had to say about the Falcons' roster.

30. Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta has been in "win-now" mode for a while, but every move the team has made to try to get closer to that aim seems only to have brought it further away from it. This offseason the Falcons spent big retooling their offensive and defensive lines, but seem to have added a series of one-dimensional players: run specialists in a league that is getting more pass-oriented.

There is a concerning absence of pass rush on the defense, with only really Osi Umenyioracapable of bringing consistent pressure, and he is unlikely to be an every-down player (Jonathan Massaquoi will likely play more of the snaps at that spot). On offense, there is talent at the skill positions, but once again, the offensive line looks like a major issue and an Achilles' heel for a team that needs to protect its quarterback more than it has in recent years. Matt Ryan's passer rating dropped from 99.9 to 72.0 when he was pressured in 2013, and there is no obvious cure to that on the offensive line unless rookie Jake Matthews hits the ground running in a big way.

By the numbers: Ryan and Julio Jones represent the only two high-quality starters. Average players are the big issue for this lineup, with 66.7 percent of the starters grading out as average or worse.

The Falcons, I would say pretty emphatically, are not the third worst roster in the NFL. The argument here is that the offensive line hasn't really improved, there are major depth questions the bulk up front isn't going to help the pass rush and Ryan and Julio aren't enough to drag this roster up. I can see the argument here—you'd be hard pressed to say the Falcons are a top ten, at the very least, and I share every one of these concerns—and Khaled Elsayed at PFF was kind enough to talk to me a bit about his reasoning, as well as the high variability with the Falcons in general.

All of this is fair, and I don't have a problem with the identified weaknesses, just the team's position on the rankings. It was written after the Falcons added Jake Matthews, Ra'Shede Hageman and a few intriguing young linebackers, well after they picked up Jon Asamoah to shore up the weakest position on the line in 2013 and months and months after writers like our own Murf Baldwin pointed out that a 3-4 switch was coming, giving the Falcons tremendous bulk up front that they've lacked for years. This team is still top heavy, but they're better than they were a year ago, when they were the sixth-worst team in the NFL.

Many of us are skeptical whether that'll translate into immediate success, but I think suggesting that this roster is poor enough to repeat 2013's 4-12 mark—and when you're ranking a roster as third-worst in the NFL, you're flirting with suggesting that—is going to wind up looking off in 2014. Reader SteveinBrooklyn had a nice point that if you were to give each position equal weight, #30 looks more sound.

Obviously I bring my own biases to the table, and you should keep that in mind as you're reading this, but I don't weigh each position equally, and neither should you. I tend to think injuries probably cost the Falcons a pair of games in 2013, and I think the simple, modest upgrades the Falcons have made along the line could be worth another couple of games, bringing the Falcons to, at worst, 7-9. I would tell you that I would rank this roster in the teens, while PFF has them at #30. That's chiefly due to Matt Ryan being a top ten quarterback, QB being undeniably important, and the presence of a talented secondary, improved run-stopping, upgraded offensive line and the strength of this passing game assuming Julio Jones is healthy. I just can't see the team repeating their abysmal 2013.

Your mileage may vary considerably, but somewhere in the middle of these two would probably be fair. I hope we can have a thoughtful dialogue about these rankings, because I know the bulk of us have been quite optimistic about this team, and this is bracing even if you don't agree with it.

Your thoughts?