clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

5 key positions the Falcons must address this offseason

Atlanta needs at least a little help everywhere, but they have to hit these positions in the offseason to improve the team.

NFL: OCT 13 Falcons at Cardinals Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It would be fair to argue that the Falcons need plenty of help this offseason. I thought Arthur Blank’s assessment that the team was better than 4-12 but not any better than the .500 record many of us projected for them was probably pretty fair, in that Atlanta clearly has talent and kept games close, but have huge holes and absolutely stunk at closing out many of those same games.

At the same time, a new regime that is going to have to pinch every penny until it pops and doesn’t have a massive bounty of draft picks is going to have to focus their efforts on a handful of positions, because you realistically will not turn over every possibly weakness in a single offseason. Here’s the five positions the Falcons should probably focus their efforts on, with honorable mention to a bunch of others like cornerback.

Running back

The Falcons had yet another frustrating year on the ground. Dirk Koetter has proven by now that he cannot create a functional run game in the modern era, and Todd Gurley both struggled on his own merits and basically had no shot to excel with what the offense was trying to do. Fixing the run game is going to mean more than just adding players to it, unless you’ve got a prime Barry Sanders or Eric Dickerson tucked away somewhere.

That said, the Falcons also can’t really stand pat. Ito Smith is a capable runner and pass catcher who should be part of this offense, but the team has never come close to giving him a workhorse role and it’s doubtful a new regime will, either. Qadree Ollison is a relative unknown, a back with power and straight line speed who should merit consideration as a short yardage back at worst, and Tony Brooks-James is a speedy option and special teamer who could be here as well.

When Mike Smith and Mike Mularkey showed up, the team got Michael Turner. Dirk Koetter was likely instrumental in bringing Steven Jackson and Gurley to town. Kyle Shanahan fell into Devonta Freeman and added Tevin Coleman, and you would be right to expect that Atlanta will want a new featured back with a new offensive coordinator once again. They inarguably need another option.

Left guard

I am operating under the assumption that the Falcons will choose to start Matt Hennessy at center, or at least will not be counting on him to take over the left guard job. That leaves a genuine vacuum at the position, perhaps the only one along this offensive line.

Jake Matthews has quietly been an above average left tackle for years now, Hennessy is the heir apparent at center, Chris Lindstrom is one of the league’s better right guards already, and Kaleb McGary is at least a competent right tackle. Left guard, meanwhile, is currently the James Carpenter show, and he was once again banged up and only somewhat effective in 2020. He also carries a significant cap charge the next regime may be eager to move on from.

Drafting someone you can plug in and let grow would be smart, but if the Falcons are planning on starting Hennessy they may want a more experienced option next to him. That could save Carpenter for the short term, but I’d be inclined to think the Falcons will explore the free agent market for an affordable veteran, add a draft pick, and hopefully bring back Matt Gono to serve as their swing tackle/emergency guard depth. Gono is a restricted free agent, so that should not be a heavy lift. They probably can’t just walk into 2021 counting on Carpenter to be healthy and effective for a full year.

Tight end

Currently, due to the team’s somewhat surprising decision to not sign 2020 undrafted free agent Jared Pinkney to a reserve/future contract, there is only one tight end who is definitely going to be in Atlanta in 2021. That’s the starter, thankfully—and Hayden Hurst is capping off a solid first season with the Falcons—but Atlanta needs to invest in the position with Hurst’s free agency looming in 2022.

One easy option will be re-signing Jaeden Graham, who is an exclusive rights free agent this coming offseason. Graham barely played in 2021 but showed some promise as a pass catcher in 2020 and has the requisite athleticism and hands to be, at minimum, a solid third option. Whether the Falcons elect to go the route they’ve preferred in recent years and back up Hurst with an affordable blocker or invest in a draft pick,

Defensive end

This is the biggest priority, in my opinion. The problem is that there’s not a likely top five player at defensive end, meaning the Falcons will have to think carefully about how they want to address defensive end.

Right now, only Dante Fowler Jr. and Allen Bailey are under contract, with John Cominsky a potential candidate to slide back over to defensive end and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner looming as a no-brainer re-signing given that he’s an affordable exclusive rights free agent. That group is not without talent, but Bailey has been a minor part of the defense for two years running and Fowler is coming off a deeply disappointing year. Atlanta needs youth, talent, and pass rushing acumen at the position and they kind of need those things right away, to the point where I’d say a failure to at least tangibly upgrade the position will end up being a major problem for the defense in 2021.

If Atlanta trades down in the first round, they could find themselves well within range of quality players who could be immediate upgrades. Otherwise, they’ll likely target additions later, spend their limited free agent dollars, and hope Fowler’s going to be able to kick it another gear next year.

Safety

This one’s a little more conditional, but as things stand is a looming major need.

One of the simplest solutions to Atlanta’s safety problem, at least for the short term, would be to re-sign Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal. If both are healthy, they lock in nicely with Ricardo Allen and Jaylinn Hawkins to make a solid safety group that can get the job done for a year. The question is whether that’s enough for the long haul, and whether the Falcons can and will want to re-sign Neal after he had the kind of nice year that should earn him a quality contract on the open market.

Drafting a potential playmaker feels like a must, if the team’s selections line up with options they really like, and there may be a need to invest free agency dollars as well, especially if the team elects not to bring back Ricardo Allen. Running it back is an option, but standing pat with only Allen and Hawkins on the roster most certainly is not.