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Re-visiting the Falcons roster with free agency looming

Atlanta’s made a few small moves, and now it’s time to see where they stand.

NFL: NOV 08 Broncos at Falcons Photo by David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Falcons have made a series of moves in the run-up to free agency this coming week, releasing Ricardo Allen and Allen Bailey, deciding to let Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal hit the open market, and re-signing Younghoe Koo, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, and others. Given those changes, it’s time to take another look at where the roster stands.

Nothing here will be shocking or unfamiliar, but it is worth remembering where Atlanta needs to target its free agent dollars if they’re going to head into the draft hoping to hew closely to a best player available philosophy.

Offense

QB Matt Ryan

RB Ito Smith

RB Qadree Ollison

RB Tony Brooks-James

FB Keith Smith

WR Julio Jones

WR Calvin Ridley

WR Russell Gage

WR Olamide Zaccheaus

WR Christian Blake

TE Hayden Hurst

TE Jaeden Graham

OT Jake Matthews

OT Kaleb McGary

OG Chris Lindstrom

OG Willie Wright

OC Matt Hennessy


If you squint extremely hard, there’s a starting lineup here. It’s one the Falcons won’t and can’t be satisfied with, however.

The one bright spot here is receiver, where the Falcons will likely add talent but could feel comfortable going into the season with their current group. Julio, Ridley and Gage is as good a trio as there is in the NFL right now, and Zaccheaus and Blake are at least interesting young depth options. Things thin out fast beyond that, though.

Atlanta needs a compelling backup quarterback option, whether it’s a long-term successor to Matt Ryan or just someone they’d feel comfortable leaning on for a game or two if something happens to Ryan. They need backs who can mix in with Ito and Ollison, and they’ll likely be seeking one who can take a lead role in a committee. They need reserve tight ends who can handle a major workload, given that Arthur Smith is a tight end enthusiast and we’re not sure how much run he’ll give Jaeden Graham. And they definitely need help across the offensive line, where their sole depth option today is Willie Wright and no left guard starter exists today.

Look for the Falcons to try and sign a veteran tight end and try to scoop up a semi-affordable starting guard option before free agency is up. The rest may come in the draft.

Defense

DE Dante Fowler Jr.

DE Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

DT Grady Jarrett

DT Marlon Davidson

DT Tyeler Davison

DT John Cominsky

DT Deadrin Senat

DT Chris Slayton

LB Deion Jones

LB Foye Oluokun

LB Mykal Walker

LB Edmond Robinson

CB A.J. Terrell

CB Isaiah Oliver

CB Kendall Sheffield

CB Delrick Abrams Jr.

CB Chris Williamson

S Jaylinn Hawkins

S T.J. Green


Quietly, the Falcons have some decent depth, though the defense needs a major overhaul. The defensive tackle position, where players like Jarrett, Cominsky, and Davidson will likely be asked to play some defensive end in a Dean Pees defense, goes several players deep, and that’s if you expect Senat and Slayton to offer nothing. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner will be a strong reserve at defensive end, and the Falcons desperately need his help there. Mykal Walker looked terrific in his rookie season and offers real upside in a reserve role for Atlanta at linebacker, while Edmond Robinson is a solid player with real special teams value. At cornerback, Oliver and Sheffield are probably not the team’s preferred options as starters, but represent solid depth if Atlanta rebuilds the position a bit.

The problem is that aside from Jarrett, Jones, Oluokun, Terrell, and maybe Fowler, there just aren’t many compelling starters here today. I’m hopeful Davidson takes a big step forward in his second season, but the Falcons need to rebuild the defensive end position, add talent at linebacker, get at least one starting cornerback, and effectively start from scratch at safety unless they truly love Hawkins and Green.

If we take Terry Fontenot’s words at face value, Atlanta will have to go get starting options in free agency at defensive end, cornerback, and safety to avoid going into the draft with an urgent need to grab starters at those positions. Seeing how the next few weeks unfold is going to be compelling, because if the Falcons whiff at those positions it puts pressure on them to put together a more needs-based draft.

Special Teams

K Younghoe Koo

P Sterling Hofrichter

P Dom Maggio

LS Josh Harris


Atlanta’s effectively set here, though they will be adding special teams-minded players and need a returner. Koo is coming off a terrific season at kicker and should be locked in atop the depth chart, Harris is one of the steadiest long snappers in the league, and Hofrichter and Maggio can duke it out for the punter job.

I would expect Atlanta to try to bring in a returner option via free agency, and add reserves who have special teams value with an eye on giving Marquice Williams some compelling options to work with.


Atlanta has bled more talent than it has added, which is by design but makes the job ahead even more daunting. The Falcons need to essentially rebuild entire position groups, and they won’t do that through the draft alone.

You should expect the Falcons to carve out enough cap space to be active—if not exactly big spenders—in the opening days and weeks of free agency. They likely won’t be able to stick to their vow to fill needs in free agency, at least not across the entire roster, but expect them to prioritize as many affordable potential starters as they can possibly afford. This roster needs too much help to avoid doing so.