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Atlanta places high in NFL.com’s offensive rankings

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This is actually kind of surprising...in a good way!

San Francisco 49ers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

One of the heroes from that hallowed room full of them, NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling, has revealed his top rankings for NFL offenses going into 2018.

What’ya know! He’s got the Atlanta Falcons ranked fourth for all NFL units!

Celebrate good times, c’mon!

Wesseling knows his stuff, so seeing him slot the Birds so high on the list gives you confidence that they can get it going again in 2018 in a big way after a 2017 dip in production.

I’ll let Wess take it from here.

Quarterback: B+ | Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Garrett Grayson

For all of the consternation over Steve Sarkisian’s play-calling, Ryan’s offense finished second in drive success rate and yards per drive last season. With better interception luck and improvement in the red zone, the NFL’s highest-paid player could find himself back in the MVP race. Schaub’s physical skills began to deteriorate a half-decade ago. It’s hard to believe he’s still hanging on to the No. 2 job in Atlanta.

Backfield: A | Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith

Ryan wasn’t the only one missing Kyle Shanahan’s mastery last season. Freeman and Coleman were relative afterthoughts in the passing game, as Sarkisian failed to take advantage of mismatches in space. Falcons fans might have just one more year to appreciate this talented tandem, with Coleman poised to reach free agency in 2019.

Receiving corps: A | Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy, Russell Gage, Austin Hooper (TE), Logan Paulsen (TE), Eric Saubert (TE)

It’s just as well that big-play threat Taylor Gabriel departed for Chicago. Sarkisian never could figure out how to maximize his speed the way Shanahan did in both Cleveland and Atlanta. Billed by many as the best receiver in the draft, rookie Ridley represents the potential for a major upgrade alongside Jones and Sanu. By the end of the 2018 season, this might be the consensus pick as the top receiving corps in football.

Offensive line: B | Jake Matthews, Andy Levitre, Alex Mack, Brandon Fusco, Ryan Schraeder, Ty Sambrailo, Ben Garland, Wes Schweitzer, Austin Pasztor

Guard play was an issue last year, as Levitre missed three games and Schweitzer flunked his starting audition. Fusco’s arrival should solidify the line, with Matthews and Schraeder holding down the bookends and Mack excelling in the pivot.

Marvin Hall will probably factor in to that receiving core a little more than Gage will early, but other than that, that’s the roster, and again, it’s great to see Wesseling throw some support behind the guys on offense.

The offensive personnel is good enough to top the league (where, well, Wess has the Saints at the moment, which, look, we get it, it’s fine). It’s the coaching that will set this unit apart.

The common misconception with Steve Sarkisian’s offense was that it couldn’t move the ball. Outside of that dreadful Philly performance in the playoffs, the Falcons could move the ball, in general, just fine. It was the scoring where they faltered.

The team was a very disconcerting 15th in the NFL for points per game (22.1 annually), even though they were eighth in total yardage per game (364.8 annually). It’s scoring points, which leads back to creativity. Sark’s offense was too predictable, and relied too much on the talent on the roster to out-talent teams in the red zone. You can’t score points on talent alone. You’ve got to add some creativity into the mix to catch defenses off guard, and then blast the talent into those breakdowns. If Sark can just be, like, half a step better then he was in 2017 with creativity in the red zone, watch for this unit to take a major uptick in the scoring department.

With the defense continually on the up-and-up, it’s on the offense to pick up its slack so that the Falcons can contend for a Super Bowl again this season.

But, y’know, food for thought as we approach the dog days of summer. We’ll see if Atlanta can get its high-flying offense back on track in 2018, or if we’re doomed for another year of high-flying field goals.