The Falcons get a much-needed week of rest before they return to the grind, which means it’s an excellent time to take stock of this roster.
For that, we’ll break this roster down a few ways, starting with a look at who some of the notable names the arrow is pointing up for and those it is pointing down for today.
QB Matt Ryan
Quarterbacks get a ton of attention, and we’ve certainly spent enough time talking about how great Ryan has been this season. Suffice to say the only question is whether he can keep performing at a high level on the road, because he’s been tremendous at home in 2018 and should continue to carry the offense.
RB Tevin Coleman
Despite the very boom-or-bust nature of his work on the ground—Coleman’s balance as a runner is the one issue he was roundly criticized for heading into the NFL that has genuinely stuck around—he’s the lead back for this offense and proved how dangerous he can be against the Giants. I’m not sure the blocking’s going to magically get better with Ben Garland in instead of Brandon Fusco, and it shouldn’t, but Coleman will have the opportunity to make things happen over the final nine games.
If the team gets him more involved as a receiving option, which I hope they will, Coleman could do some great things going forward.
TE Austin Hooper
Hooper’s proven to be one of Matt Ryan’s favorite red zone targets, with mixed results, and a reliable option in the passing game. Hooper’s improved route running, his impressive willingness and ability to hang in and make tough catches in traffic and through contact, and his still useful speed and size have made him the #3 option in the passing game some weeks. Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu look pretty healthy, thankfully, but Hooper’s role is not going to diminish going forward, especially if he continues to block at a reasonably high level.
DT Grady Jarrett
Finally healthy, with a noticeable improvement in the run defense upon his return and two sacks of Eli Manning. The arrow’s way up for Jarrett, who is the linchpin of this defensive line and makes life easier for the likes of Takkarist McKinley, Jack Crawford and Vic Beasley, and it should translate into a long-term extension that keeps him in Atlanta for years to come.
S Damontae Kazee
Alongside Foye Oluokun, who is making progress with steady playing time, Kazee is the biggest reason to feel hopeful about this defense improving besides return to the norm for defenders like Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Kazee has a way to go in coverage, but has shown a frankly inspiring lack of regard for things like gravity. He’s one of the team’s better and more instinctual tacklers at this point, and he’s one of the few guys the Falcons have who is capable of consistently picking off errant passes. We’ll see what kind of role he ends up with in 2019—it’s an open question—but he’s proving himself right now.
RT Ryan Schraeder
Schraeder is hardly the only offensive lineman struggling this year, and the Falcons have some big fish to fry at guard with Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco both out the rest of the year. With Jake Matthews playing well and Alex Mack mostly holding up, though, Schraeder is the only starter to begin the year who is still here and still scuffling mightily.
Atlanta would prefer not to have to do anything with Schraeder besides wait for him to bounce back, as he’s been extremely reliable over the last few years for the Falcons, but he’s just not getting the job done for a team that needs better run blocking and pass protection from his side of the line. Considering the Falcons can save about $4 million by releasing him after the season, and that he hasn’t put many good games on tape yet in 2018, Schraeder’s arrow is pointing down. I hope that changes quickly in the back nine.
DT Terrell McClain
With Grady Jarrett back, McClain’s snaps went way down. He’s had his moments as a run defender, but offers little as a pass rusher and hasn’t bounced back from a lousy 2017 in Washington the way I had hoped he would. McClain was never a great bet to stick around after this season, but it’s possible he’ll truly be the fourth defensive tackle going forward if Deadrin Senat is healthy.
CB Robert Alford
Alford is very simply the most recent victim of a very bad game, and thus a natural choice for this list. I hadn’t seen Alford get crisped like he did against the Giants since maybe 2015 or 2014, and criticism of him had largely quieted (aside from penalty issues) after he put together good years in 2016 and 2017. Unfortunately, 2018 has not been a great year.
Per Pro Football Focus and those two orbs that sit comfortably in everyone’s skull, Alford has taken a real step backwards since Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen were injured. Due to the fact that he is typically among the most-penalized cornerbacks in the NFL, he needs to be stellar in coverage or he’s bordering on a liability. Alford has the talent and the track record necessary for me to believe he’ll pull out of it, but if he doesn’t, the Falcons may think hard about getting him off the field sometimes for Isaiah Oliver, as inelegant a solution as that would be.
WR Julio Jones
When will he ever score a touchdown?