The Falcons have addressed a handful of key needs early on in the offseason, including cornerback and outside linebacker, but the list of needs has grown since Matt Ryan, Russell Gage, Foye Oluokun and others left or were traded to other teams. We know that this front office abhors going into the draft without some sort of option at every position of need, so there’s going to be a lot of bargain shopping ahead for a Falcons team still light on cap space.
Let’s talk more about those needs. This list has not changed that much, to be honest, but it’s still worth re-visiting and expanding upon. You’ll find that below, in a very rough order of importance.
#1: Wide receiver
The addition of Auden Tate helps, but this is still an urgent priority.
In a world where absolutely everything goes as well as possible—and we don’t live in that world—Frank Darby becomes a stud, Tate blossoms, and Olamide Zaccheaus locks down a role and you’ve got three quality receivers. Even if that’s the case, you’re missing a top option and Tate isn’t someone who has the production history you’d want from your No. 2 receiver. More likely, these guys are 2, 3, and 4 in some order, and maybe even 3, 4, and 5.
The Falcons reportedly will be attacking wide receiver via the draft, and until they do or grab a more proven veteran, this is still the most pressing need on the entire roster.
#2: Edge rusher/outside linebacker
I’d still list this as the second need with the signing of Lorenzo Carter. I like Carter, who will play significant snaps for this defense in 2022, but to this point in his career he’s been more reliable and intriguing for his upside than an impact defender. He, Ade Ogundeji and James Vaughters all have the ability to do more than they have to this point in their careers, but counting on all three to make the leap—hell, even two of them—is probably wishful thinking.
Atlanta needs at least one more reliable veteran and a top draft pick would be welcome, as well.
#3: Inside linebacker
Again, with uncertainty around Deion Jones’ status and with Mykal Walker set to potentially become a starter, there’s a pressing need for dependable depth here that could turn into a need for a starter real quick. There are no shortage of options out there in the open market for this team if they want to add a stopgap, but doing so with the funds they have available seems...trickier.
The Falcons need to upgrade one starter at left guard or center. Maybe Drew Dalman is the man of their dreams and takes over for Matt Hennessy and Jalen Mayfield takes a big step forward, in which case we’re going to have to give this front office and coaching staff their due. If the team isn’t counting on their in-house options improving significantly—and even if they are, frankly—getting competition for the summer at at least one spot is an absolute must.
In reality, this is the biggest long-term need and an urgent priority. In terms of 2022 and free agency, in particular, this team has more pressing issues to take care of thanks to the Marcus Mariota signing. Mariota is familiar with Arthur Smith and should be a fine one-year stopgap for a team with dim playoff aspirations, but Atlanta urgently needs a long-term starter worth developing. I don’t know that the team is genuinely sold on Feleipe Franks as the backup here,
#6: Tight end
There are some big question marks here. Hayden Hurst and Lee Smith are gone, and the depth chart behind Kyle Pitts features Parker Hesse, a bunch of semi-proven blockers, a converted CFL wide receiver and maybe Franks. Getting a second, seasoned and/or high upside pass catching option is important for an offense that loves using two tight ends.
This is going to provoke eye-rolling, but I feel much better about the position with the signing of Erik Harris. The team still needs to add talent to the group, but my personal opinion is that Richie Grant is going to be a starter and Jaylinn Hawkins and Harris give you options for the other spot, and simply adding depth should be enough to get you through this season. If Atlanta’s not convinced that Grant and/or Hawkins are going to improve, this probably belongs a lot higher on the list, especially because it’d be a shame if poor safety play hurt what looks like a terrific group of cornerbacks.
#8: Defensive line
Grady Jarrett is still an all-time great Falcon, but there just isn’t a lot around him. Marlon Davidson was a player I thought would break out last year but simply didn’t, and while I think Ta’Quon Graham is headed for big things, it may not happen this year. Jarrett, Davidson, Graham and Anthony Rush is solid but not spectacular unless Davidson and Graham improve dramatically. The team still needs additional talent and bodies.
The Falcons signed Dom Maggio as their very first free agent a year ago and he’s still around, but the Falcons had multiple opportunities to roll him out in 2021 and declined to do so. If Maggio isn’t the guy, they have a pressing need for a reliable veteran here, but thankfully Thomas Morstead is still out there.
#10: Long snapper
No Josh Harris, no peace.
This is a long list. Who are you hoping the Falcons pick up to address some of these needs in free agency?