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One final look at the Falcons roster before the 2021 NFL Draft

Atlanta’s got some holes, and it’s a question of how many they can reasonably patch.

Baltimore Ravens v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The draft is finally truly almost here. I feel like a kid on Christmas morning, except instead of a Super Nintendo, I'm getting football players I may or may not be happy with. It’s not really very much like Christmas at all in that sense.

With the changes ahead, I thought it was worth one final look at the roster as it stands today, with all its warts and question marks. Hopefully by the end of the weekend, the new draft class and crop of undrafted free agents will make the team’s plan to bolster its strengths and rebuild a creaky defense more obvious. Here's where things stand today.

Offense

Falcons Offense Pre-Draft

QB RB FB WR TE OT OG OC
QB RB FB WR TE OT OG OC
Matt Ryan Mike Davis Keith Smith Julio Jones Hayden Hurst Jake Matthews Chris Lindstrom Matt Hennessy
Cordarrelle Patterson Calvin Ridley Lee Smith Kaleb McGary Josh Andrews
Qadree Ollison Russell Gage Jaeden Graham Matt Gono Willie Wright
Tony Brooks-James Olamide Zaccheaus Ryan Becker Willie Beavers
Christian Blake
Chris Rowland
Greg Dortch

The Falcons are not done yet—they have 9 draft picks and will likely free up enough money this summer to add a couple more free agents—but the offense is probably something like 80% done today. If Arthur Smith and company are worth their salt as coaches, it’s readily evident they have the talent on hand to have one of the league’s better offenses.

You start with Matt Ryan, who has absorbed a ton of sacks in recent years and is losing a little juice on his deep ball, but remains a good quarterback at worst. He’ll have (assuming no trade materializes) Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, and Hayden Hurst to throw to, with Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patteron also offering pass catching acumen out of the backfield. This team doesn’t lack for weapons at all, and the hope is that better coaching leads to offensive line improvements, and Mike Davis and his ability to power through contact will help Atlanta have their first quality run game in years.

The question marks here are still pretty numerous. My biggest concern is on the interior of this offensive line, where the team could have two unproven starters in Matt Hennessy at center and either Matt Gono or Josh Andrews at left guard. Andrews is coming off a very so-so year, Gono has played better at tackle than guard in his career to this point, and Hennessy simply hasn’t gotten much of a chance to prove himself. The Falcons can address the line in various ways through the draft and late summer free agency, and I’d feel much better if they did.

The team also could use another back capable of carrying the load unless they love Ollison, a reserve tight end with more pass catching upside, and obviously have a major need for a quality backup quarterback. The offense has the pieces it needs today to be good, but the draft and free agency could bring a handful of additions they might need to get over the hump to great.

Defense

Falcons Defense Pre-Draft

DE DT OLB ILB CB S
DE DT OLB ILB CB S
Steven Means Grady Jarrett Dante Fowler Deion Jones A.J. Terrell Duron Harmon
John Cominsky Marlon Davidson Barkevious Mingo Foye Oluokun Isaiah Oliver Erik Harris
Jonathan Bullard Tyeler Davison Jacob Tuioti-Mariner Mykal Walker Fabian Moreau Jaylinn Hawkins
Deadrin Senat Brandon Copeland Kendall Sheffield T.J. Green
Chris Slayton Tyler Hall
Delrick Abrams
Chris Williamson

There’s a lot of guesswork involved in terms of how these guys will line up today, but the upshot is that the defense is a major work in progress, and that’s not going to change through the draft alone.

Whether they’re lining up in a 4-3, 3-4, 5-2, or just putting 11 defensive line next to one another, Atlanta’s lacking compelling edge rushers. Fowler is a prime bounceback candidate if he’s healthy, but beyond him it’s players who have a track record of being solid but unspectacular. Jarrett is the only elite player on this defensive line and there’s no one particularly close to his neighborhood after that, but Atlanta at least has a number of solid players on the interior who can pitch in, and Davidson is a player who could be a star down the line. The Falcons have to add talent along the line and at linebacker, no matter how aggressive Dean Pees intends to be.

The secondary is also worth worrying over. A starting group of Terrell, Oliver and Moreau at corner accompanied by Harmon and Harris at safety is far from terrible on paper, and if Terrell takes a big step forward it will help a great deal. Unfortunately for Atlanta, their safety group is mostly built around squeezing a year of competent veteran play out of who they have, while the cornerback group is built mostly on potential, with Oliver, Moreau and Sheffield all hoping this coaching staff can help them build up their careers. Additions in the secondary are probably inevitable and welcome, because it’s hard to see this group surprising to the extent that it becomes a legitimate team strength without those additions.

Strengths? That inside linebacker group looks pretty great, and as mentioned, defensive tackle is pretty strong and very deep. That’s it on paper, unfortunately, and it points to how much work is left to be done in the next three days, not to mention the months and even years ahead.

Special Teams

K Younghoe Koo

P Sterling Hofrichter

P Dom Maggio

LS Josh Harris

The chart seemed like overkill for four players, so here we are.

The special teams group seems to be in good shape, though the Falcons will undoubtedly add players to compete here at some point. Koo is coming off one of the best seasons in franchise history. Hofrichter was a fine rookie punter and Maggio is a fresh face to compete with him, and Harris is one of the most reliable long snappers in football. With all the needs on the list for Atlanta, it’s good to know Atlanta’s in solid shape here, with Patterson also locked in as the punt returner and plenty of capable special teamers either already on the roster or having recently signed.

Overall, this roster feels far from finished, which is likely why Terry Fontenot said on Wednesday that this team may come out of the weekend with one of the largest draft classes of any team. Contention in 2021 will still depend heavily on the quality of coaching and the team’s brightest lights like Ryan, hopefully Julio, Ridley and Jarrett, but addressing the major needs on the interior of the offensive line, along the defensive line, and in the secondary would go a long way toward making Fontenot and Arthur Smith’s first year in Atlanta a successful one.