The Falcons selected Kyle Pitts to give them the kind of weapon that keeps defensive coordiantors awake until the wee hours of the morning. True to his promise, Terry Fontenot did not select a player who filled an urgent immediate need, but instead went with the mythical best player available regardless of position, which just so happened to be the kind of weapon that will have Matt Ryan sleeping soundly and dreaming of a career season.
That selection means the Falcons offense is going to be tough to defend against next year, but it also leaves them with much the same roster holes they had heading into Thursday night. As we gear up for at least two selections on Friday night, here are the remaining roster holes Fontenot and company might patch.
Atlanta is going to count on a more aggressive scheme with an increased willingness to blitz carrying them quite a long way, but it’s not going to get them far enough without additional high-impact players. Dante Fowler will probably bounce back to some degree and it’s quite possible we haven’t seen the best of what guys like Brandon Copeland and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner can offer, but there’s not multiple pass rushers on this defense today that offensive coordinators have to scheme around, at least if you’re not looking at the potentially fearsome Grady Jarrett and Marlon Davidson duo on the interior.
Getting an edge rusher with the potential to be that player for both now and the future is a big, big need, one the Falcons seem likely to tackle in the draft. A few legitimately interesting players went at the end of the first round, however, so we’ll have to see when Atlanta decides to dip their toes into those pressure-rich waters.
I love Matt Gono and I think if you have four starters, you can survive a Josh Andrews at left guard. That said, it would be ideal if the Falcons did not head into 2021 depending on those two players competing to play the position, especially if they’re leaning toward Matt Hennessy at center the way I suspect they are. With several quality options at guard looming on the draft’s day second day, including Alabama’s Landon Dickerson, Atlanta’s best player available philosophy may well collide with this very large need.
Or it could be safety. Duron Harmon will be a solid starter this year and Erik Harris could be as well, but the Falcons would undoubtedly love to add a versatile safety to the mix and zero safeties went in the first round. For the long-term and the short-term, adding a gifted young safety to this group could be difference-making for a Dean Pees defense a little starved of top-flight talent. The Falcons could be sitting at their pick in the second round and staring TCU’s Trevon Moehrig in the face, and they might find that difficult to pass up.
The free agent options at quarterback are not inspiring. Matt Ryan was always going to be the starter in 2021, but the team’s decision to go Kyle Pitts in the first round underscored the urgency of getting a quality backup for #2 in 2021, preferably one who can be a long-term option for a quarterback who isn’t getting any younger. Your opinion on these players will vary, but Kyle Trask, Kellen Mond, Davis Mills and Jamie Newman are all available and will likely go on Day 2, giving Atlanta options if they don’t intend to just sign a quick one-year stopgap. I hope they strongly mull a developmental player who can fill in for a game or two per year if Matt Ryan’s vaunted durability starts to show a few cracks.
I’m a fan of Mike Davis. I think he’s the ideal short-term, affordable option for this backfield, giving his versatility and physicality. If the offensive line isn’t exactly elite next year, Davis has already proven he can pick up yards even when he has defenders in his face.
Beyond Davis, though, this backfield is shaky. Cordarrelle Patterson is not a running back by trade, even if he’ll likely get quite a few carries, and Qadree Ollison is still interesting but ultimately quite unproven. Given that Davis is on a two year deal and Patterson’s only signed for this year, getting another back capable of splitting touches with Davis now and eventually carving out a lead role in this backfield feels like a smart move. Again, even with Najee Harris and Travis Etienne gone, the Falcons have a ton of options on the draft’s second day, and Arthur Smith’s love of a good ground game likely means the team will explore the option if any of those backs happen to be among the top players on their board Friday night.
There are enough holes on this Falcons offense that you can argue for filling several other positions, and Atlanta’s commitment to Pitts still suggests they’ll be as positionally agnostic as they can be. Still, we’ll feel better about this Atlanta team if they come out of Friday and Saturday with more options at the critical postions we’ve listed above.