The Atlanta Falcons have called it quits for the 2018 season, and all that’s left is feeling disappointed in what was and trying to figure out exactly why it went the way it did.
We here at The Falcoholic will attempt to do that in part with our 2018 positional reviews. We’ll break down each roster grouping to see what was what, and perhaps find out a little more truth as to why the team underwhelmed this past fall.
We’ll start with the most prominent position on the roster, the quarterbacks.
To be clear, there’s not a lot of mystery as to where this position is going for the future. We know who the starter will be for the next six or seven years (at least), and he does quite a good job manning that post.
But there are others (well, two) to consider as to where they’ll go, so let’s dive in, shall we?
One of the team’s franchise faces and best players, Matt Ryan continues to play at an elite level in the league. He’s never going to be the flashiest of players, but he was technically only 20 yards and two touchdowns off his 2016 MVP season. He did have a 117.1 QBR that year, but the team’s November offensive collapse helped to lower that.
Can you imagine what his numbers would’ve looked like if the offense had not slowed down at Cleveland? He would’ve no doubt gone past 5,000 yards for the first time in his career and could’ve hypothetically set a new personal touchdown record as well.
His numbers also spiked 829 yards and 15 touchdowns from the year prior, as he showed much more comfort in Steve Sarkisian’s offense in Year 2. Things didn’t work out elsewhere on the offense for Sark, which lead to the team moving on from him. But you can’t deny Ryan played well this season as things were.
He did take 42 sacks, the second-worst number of his career (2013 still leads with 44). The offensive line, sans Jake Matthews and Alex Mack, did him no favors over the season, so you can see why Dan Quinn was so firm in his assessment of where that position group is going.
How the team handles this offensive coordinator hire is going to be key for Ryan’s future. If they bring in a guy that he doesn’t gel with immediately, history shows his numbers will fall because of it.
The only time Ryan has transitioned seamlessly with a coordinator change was in 2012, when the team switched from Mike Mularkey to Dirk Koetter. You can probably imagine why Koetter is on their radar.
Overall, Ryan has been a better quarterback after his two seasons with Kyle Shanahan. Shanny brought out better qualities and more confidence from Ryan, and made him more mindful of his athletic potential.
The new OC will need to match that, and as Ryan is clearly a veteran, perhaps the team would be best suited allowing him to take an ever greater job in game day play calling. That no huddle Atlanta offense has always been a sight to see.
Ryan has lived up to every penny of his blockbuster contract, and he’ll be Atlanta’s guy for seasons ahead. This roster spot is under watchful lock and key.
Schaub has been the team’s bonny backup for three seasons, and has been given sprinkles of praise here and there for what he brings to the team. Falcons elite linebacker Deion Jones has mentioned Schaub specifically in helping his development, for example.
He will be a free agent in March, and the team has already said they’d like to have him back.
The money will be a deciding factor here, as will Schaub’s general interest in continuing to hold the clip board and run the scout team. He’s a valuable piece of this organization in ways we don’t always see, so you have to think he’s the team’s top option for a backup should rubber hit the road.
If a certain former Houston Texans coach becomes the OC, it’d probably be all the more likely, as Gary Kubiak and Schaub were together in Texas for a good number of seasons.
Benkert, the former Virginia standout, showed some promise in the 2018 preseason cycle and signed with the team to a reserve/future contract last week.
Some thought his August play might hint he’d be ready for the backup job in Flowery Branch sooner than later, but Benkert is far too young and inexperienced to assume such a role this early into his NFL career.
The most likely path forward for him is to continue to develop in Atlanta’s “Plan D” program and show even more promise in the 2019 preseason. If he shows the kind of substantial growth that hints at future viability, the team could consider stashing him on the roster and giving him the backup job in 2020.
For now, though, it’s clear the team likes his upside and wants to see more from him this offseason.
Check back Wednesday for a look at the Falcons’ 2018 running backs.