The Falcons have vowed to make changes coming out of the bye. The likeliest—and largest—change will be at quarterback, where the team is very evidently considering switching to rookie Desmond Ridder. Might the team make other changes?
Let me spoil the article a bit: Aside from one position, there aren’t likely to be drastic lineup changes. The Falcons don’t have plug-and-play young starters at multiple positions, and there is no one player or position that’s dragging down a team that has been struggling more or less across the board outside of the run game and special teams. The likelier outcome is that the team gives young players some run they haven’t gotten to this point at the expense of veterans on short-term deals and/or that are underperforming, with an eye on getting a better feel for what the team has heading into 2023 and providing a spark as they try to win their final four.
This won’t include Troy Andersen, who is already seeing a growing role, or a player like Timothy Horne, who has probably maxed out the snaps he’s going to play in this defense. Here are some lineup changes and tweaks we might see.
Quarterback: Desmond Ridder taking over
I won’t spend a lot of time on this, because we’ve discussed it a lot, will discuss it more if it comes to pass, and we all know this is the most obvious potential change. Suffice to say swapping in the rookie would be one way to get a head start on 2023 while trying to squeeze a little more juice out of a moribund passing attack.
Running back: More Caleb Huntley/Avery Williams
Tyler Allgeier has been effective and Cordarrelle Patterson is a playmaker, so there are only going to be so many touches to go around.
Still, Huntley runs extremely hard and is difficult for teams to contend with, and that running style does provide a spark. Getting him a little more work and getting Williams more involved in the passing game, where he is potentially dangerous weapon, can only add wrinkles and production to this offense. Both players should have roles in 2023, too.
Wide receiver: A little more Frank Darby
Jared Bernhardt is on the shelf with an injury, so we can’t see the team giving him more chances. They may want to take a little bit of a look at Darby, who came into the NFL with some potential as a deep threat given his deceptive speed and ability to win contested catches. The Falcons cobbled together a receiving corps out of spare parts and actually got a decent group, but aside from Drake London, Bernhardt and Darby (who will be an easy-to-re-sign exclusive rights free agent), the team will effectively be starting over again at the position in the spring. It’d be nice to know if Darby can be a productive part of next year’s corps.
Left guard: A change of some kind
The easy answer is going back to Elijah Wilkinson. He played solid football this year as a starter and might be back in 2023, so if he’s healthy getting him back into the lineup is just sensible. The question is health, and what the future might hold for Jalen Mayfield.
Atlanta can’t get Mayfield or rookie Justin Shaffer into the lineup if they’re hurt, and I didn’t see Mayfield’s activation from injured reserve reported this past week. Mayfield and Shaffer are both under contract affordably for multiple years to come, and the team was high enough on Mayfield last year to keep him in the lineup despite his huge struggles. If he is healthy and active, I have to imagine the Falcons will take another look at him at some point, but if not they’ll likely roll with Wilkinson with Colby Gossett and Chuma Edoga backing him up.
Outside linebacker: More DeAngelo Malone
I’m thinking you’ll see Malone take snaps the same way Troy Andersen has, by siphoning off more opportunities from starters. In Malone’s case, that would mean stealing snaps from Lorenzo Carter (unlikely) or Adetokunbo Ogundeji (more likely) once Arnold Ebiketie is back in the lineup.
Carter is on a one-year deal and Ogundeji has had a quiet season, so getting more time for a player who feels like he could be a key contributor in the team’s outside linebacker rotation feels important. Malone has flashed aggression and physicality in his limited opportunities thus far in 2022, including on a big hit on Kenny Pickett against the Steelers, and the more we see him get to showcase and develop his abilities, the better.
Cornerback: More Dee Alford
Atlanta’s already playing a young starter in major minutes, as Darren Hall took over for Casey Hayward. What they haven’t done is gotten an extended look at Alford, and it’ll be interesting to see if that changes at all over the final four games.
Alford is under contract for the next two years at very affordable rates, per Spotrac, and would be a restricted free agent heading into the 2025 offseason. If he can be more of a contributor than he has been of late, even as a high-end reserve, it’s a huge win for the Falcons. The former CFL star has looked good in his limited action, and I do wonder if he might bite into Hall or Isaiah Oliver’s snaps down the stretch a bit to give him more time to prove his worth.
What other changes do you think the Falcons should explore, if any?