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Falcons roster review: March Edition

With the initial round of 2021 NFL free agency coming to an end, we take a closer look at how the Falcons roster stands after several veteran additions. Which positions still need depth heading into the 2021 NFL Draft?

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The initial free agency frenzy has come and gone, and the Falcons largely stayed on the sidelines. Atlanta was never expected to be a major player, but most of us probably expected the team to be a little more aggressive at filling roster holes than they have been. Such is the experience when a new front office and coaching staff takes over: we never really know what to expect.

Despite the Falcons’ “bargain shopping” approach—which has rarely been a bad strategy in the NFL—the team has been able to add some quality depth pieces and potential solid starters while reworking a few contracts to free up cap space and maintain flexibility in 2022. Over the past few weeks, the team has added safety Erik Harris, edge rushers Brandon Copeland and Barkevious Mingo, and running back Mike Davis. None of these players really move the needle for Atlanta, but they do provide some flexibility in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft.

Now that the first wave of free agency has largely passed, let’s take a closer look at the Falcons roster—which now sits at 50 players—to determine which areas still need additional support. I’ll be ranking the likelihood for Atlanta to add players either through free agency or the draft. This ranking does not take into account UDFA additions—the team will be signing UDFAs at essentially every spot to fill out the 90-man camp roster.

OFFENSE — 23

QB - 1

Matt Ryan

The Falcons recently restructured Matt Ryan’s contract, guaranteeing his place atop Atlanta’s depth chart for at least the 2021 season. However, things could change quickly in 2022 if the team elects to add a quarterback at 4—which is still possible. With Atlanta inexplicably moving on from Kurt Benkert, the QB cupboard is bare behind Ryan. One way or another, the Falcons will be adding bodies here.

Addition Likelihood: CERTAIN

RB - 4

Mike Davis
Ito Smith
Qadree Ollison
Tony Brooks-James

The team bolstered their running back depth with a mid-level contract for free agent Mike Davis, who handled the starting job for Carolina in 2020 after Christian McCaffrey went down. Davis is a solid RB2 who can start if needed, but he shouldn’t prevent the team from adding a RB in the draft. Ito Smith is also a quality complementary back, particularly in the receiving game. Qadree Ollison is still an unknown and Tony Brooks-James is likely a camp body.

Addition Likelihood: HIGH

FB - 1

Keith Smith

While Arthur Smith generally features 12 personnel more than 21, a fullback is still a significant piece of his offense. Keith Smith is a quality FB who also excels on special teams due to his linebacker background. He’s very likely to retain the job, although the team could add a UDFA camp body.

Addition Likelihood: LOW

WR - 7

Julio Jones
Calvin Ridley
Russell Gage
Olamide Zaccheaus
Christian Blake
Chris Rowland
Greg Dortch

As long as Julio Jones can return to health in 2021, the Falcons will still feature one of the NFL’s most lethal wide receiver trios this season. Calvin Ridley had his best season as a pro in 2020, demonstrating that he can carry the WR1 load in Julio’s absence. Russell Gage also had an excellent season, showing his skills as a high-end WR3. The depth behind them is somewhat questionable, however. Olamide Zaccheaus has shown flashes and is likely to stick around, but Blake is little more than a middling depth option. Chris Rowland and Greg Dortch are likely to compete for the returner/gadget WR role. With a very strong and deep WR class in this draft, I’d be shocked if Atlanta didn’t add more talent at some point on Day 3.

Addition Likelihood: HIGH

TE - 3

Hayden Hurst
Lee Smith
Jaeden Graham

Hayden Hurst is likely to see an uptick in targets and overall usage in Arthur Smith’s tight end-friendly scheme, which featured the most 12 (2 TE) sets of any offense in the NFL in 2020. Lee Smith comes over via Buffalo as one of the NFL’s most reliable and respected blocking TEs. Jaeden Graham was tendered as an ERFA and should have a chance to compete for the TE3 role. With Smith’s expected emphasis on the position, it’s likely the Falcons will continue to add pieces here.

Addition Likelihood: HIGH

OL - 7

LT Jake Matthews
C Matt Hennessy
RG Chris Lindstrom
RT Kaleb McGary

OT Matt Gono
OL Willie Beavers
OL Willie Wright

The offensive line is in a very weird place after the Falcons cut ties with 2020 left guard starter James Carpenter prior to free agency. It seemed the plan was to pursue center David Andrews, but he wound up returning to the Patriots. Now it’s unclear exactly what the team will do. At least two of the five starting spots are locked down, with Jake Matthews and Chris Lindstrom performing like very good starters. 2020 third-rounder Matt Hennessy and Kaleb McGary are the heavy favorites to handle center and right tackle, respectively, at this point.

The depth behind them is almost nonexistent, however. Matt Gono is a very good swing tackle who will get a shot to compete at right tackle and possibly at left guard, but the other options are essentially camp bodies. Atlanta must add depth—and starters—here through free agency and the draft.

Addition Likelihood: CERTAIN

DEFENSE — 22

EDGE - 4

Dante Fowler Jr.
Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
Brandon Copeland
Barkevious Mingo

The depth on the edge is in much better shape since free agency kicked off, but it’s still a huge question mark for the defense. Dante Fowler Jr. stuck around thanks to a pay cut, and the team will be hoping he can justify his contract with a bounce-back year in 2021 under Dean Pees. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner impressed in 2020 and returns on an ERFA contract—he’ll play some on the interior and on the outside. Free agent additions Brandon Copeland and Barkevious Mingo are both quality depth pieces—they’re roughly equivalent to Steven Means and Charles Harris last season, but better fits in a 3-4. Still, the Falcons need another impact player here—and that player is likely to come through the draft.

Addition Likelihood: HIGH

IDL - 6

Grady Jarrett
Tyeler Davison
Marlon Davidson
John Cominsky
Deadrin Senat
Chris Slayton

The position group in the best shape on the defense is the defensive interior, where the Falcons actually have a significant amount of talent. Grady Jarrett is an elite 3T and has shown the versatility to play 1T in pass rushing situations as well. Tyeler Davison returns on a reduced salary to play run-stuffing NT. 2020 second-rounder Marlon Davidson will hopefully have a chance to return to full health, and can play both on the interior and potentially at 3-4 DE. John Cominsky also offers similar inside/outside flexibility. Deadrin Senat will get a chance to impress the new coaching staff alongside reserve/future addition Chris Slayton. It’s possible the Falcons could add a more traditional 3-4 NT late in the draft or as a UDFA, but this position is largely set.

Addition Likelihood: LOW

LB - 3

Deion Jones
Foyesade Oluokun
Mykal Walker

Another position on the defense that is in very good shape, linebacker has three quality starting options available. Deion Jones and Foyesade Oluokun are likely to be the primary players—particularly in nickel—but 2020 fourth-round pick Mykal Walker showed flashes of quality play as well. Walker could also find some snaps playing 3-4 OLB, as he took reps at the position in college. The Falcons need some veteran minimum and/or UDFA depth here, but the starters are set.

Addition Likelihood: HIGH

CB - 6

A.J. Terrell
Isaiah Oliver
Kendall Sheffield
Tyler Hall
Delrick Abrams
Chris Williamson

One of the most puzzling positions on the defense, cornerback is a total enigma outside of CB1 A.J. Terrell—who had an excellent rookie season despite being surrounded by a poor secondary. Former second-round pick Isaiah Oliver played a lot better after a move to the slot, and if he sticks around he’s likely to reprise that role in 2021. Kendall Sheffield struggled with health in 2020 and didn’t perform well. The other three are former UDFAs or reserve/future additions who will compete for depth roles in camp. Atlanta desperately needs to add more talent here, either in free agency or the draft.

Addition Likelihood: HIGH

S - 3

Erik Harris
Jaylinn Hawkins
T.J. Green

Safety was a barren wasteland after the cut of Ricardo Allen and the departures of Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee in free agency. Things improved a little with the addition of Erik Harris, who has some quality seasons under his belt at strong safety, but this is still a position in desperate need of bodies. Jaylinn Hawkins looked like a solid rotational option when called upon, and T.J. Green has some intriguing upside. The question is when, not if, the Falcons will add a safety in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Addition Likelihood: CERTAIN

SPECIAL TEAMS — 5

K - 2

Younghoe Koo
Elliott Fry

A position that is 100% settled for the Falcons, kicker is in excellent hands with Younghoe Koo returning on an ERFA tender. Koo had an amazing season in 2020 and is an absolute bargain for 2021. Elliott Fry is a solid kicker who will likely wind up on another team after camp, but won’t threaten Koo’s job.

Addition Likelihood: LOW

P - 2

Sterling Hofrichter
Dom Maggio

Punter is a little bit more exciting, with second-year player Sterling Hofrichter having a rather mediocre season in 2020. Hofrichter’s directional punting was still strong and his quality college career gives me little worry about his long-term outlook. Dom Maggio is camp competition who also had a good college career but couldn’t beat out his competition in Baltimore.

Addition Likelihood: LOW

LS - 1

Josh Harris

The Falcons have had quality play at long snapper for as long as Josh Harris has been around, and that’s not likely to change in 2021.

Addition Likelihood: LOW


The Falcons roster is certainly starting to take shape, but there are a lot of holes still left to fill. In summary, here are my thoughts on where Atlanta is most likely to add additional players:

Addition Likelihood: CERTAIN

QB
OL
S

Addition Likelihood: HIGH

RB
WR
TE
EDGE
LB
CB

Addition Likelihood: LOW

FB
IDL
K
P
LS

What are your thoughts on the roster as it stands now? Where would you prioritize Atlanta’s remaining free agency dollars and draft picks in 2021?