It’s time to start thinking about the season ahead in earnest—if the season ahead exists, but we’re trying to stay positive—and what this Falcons team might look like. After the draft is an ideal time to start thinking about who’s going to start for this team, because barring 1-2 additions on defense, I think the starters are on the roster today.
The offense is the easier side of the ball for this kind of projection, because so many starters are already locked in. Let’s look at the slam dunks, the question marks, and the whole projected lineup, which will be more than 11 guys because the Falcons will have a “starting fullback” but the third receiver will play much more frequently.
That’s pretty much the whole thing. The Falcons use three receivers often enough that we’ll attempt to project a starter there, and left guard is obviously open at the moment. That still leaves most of the Atlanta offense with no-brainer starters, and most of them are high-end players.
Matt Ryan is coming off a weaker season by his standards, but remains an effective quarterback. That’s especially true when he’s throwing to Jones and Ridley, the former the best receiver in the NFL and the latter a rising star in his own right. Hurst is more of an unknown but has the talent to at least be a productive player. Gurley’s health will be one of the running subplots of the season, but there’s no question he’s expected to be the lead back so long as he’s able to be.
On the offensive line, Matthews is a very good tackle, Mack remains one of the league’s better center even as he ages, and Lindstrom looks like he’ll be one of the better young guards in the NFL sooner than later. McGary struggled mightily at times in his first season, but hopefully his second season will be more productive, because he has no obvious challengers if he falters.
Up in the air
WR Russell Gage
LG Matt Hennessy
Gage should be the guy. While Dirk Koetter elected to use him almost exclusively on short-to-intermediate routes, Gage is 6 feet tall with stellar wheels and leaping ability and can be at least a passable deep threat if he’s allowed to be one. Last year he was an absolute vacuum cleaner once Mohamed Sanu left, getting 74 targets and reeling in 49 of them for 446 yards. As the fourth or even fifth option in this passing game, depending on how involved the team plans to get Todd Gurley, Gage is more than capable of delivering value. His chief competition will be Laquon Treadwell, an interesting player who was a bust in Minnesota, and potentially a veteran signing in the summer, but he should have the early leg up on both after a very solid 2019.
Hennessy is the presumptive starter at left guard but comes into the NFL with much more experience at center and plenty of competition for the gig, so it may depend on whether he hits the ground running or not. The Falcons can open up the logjam at the guard position a bit by kicking Matt Gono back to a swing tackle role and trading one of James Carpenter or Jamon Brown, but all three players should at least give Hennessy a fight. I think he’ll be a terrific player in the NFL, but this is probably the most up in the air position on the roster until we see just how ready the rookie is.
Projected lineup as of 5/4
QB Matt Ryan
RB Todd Gurley
FB Keith Smith
WR Julio Jones
WR Calvin Ridley
WR Russell Gage
TE Hayden Hurst
LT Jake Matthews
LG Matt Hennessy
C Alex Mack
RG Chris Lindstrom
RT Kaleb McGary
Would you change anything about this lineup?