The Falcons’ offense has dramatically changed over the past two years. Matt Ryan’s gone, Julio Jones is gone, Calvin Ridley is suspended for this year, Russell Gage is gone, Hayden Hurst is gone, and so on and so forth. Jake Matthews is the only player who has been here for a long time, and Atlanta’s clearly overhauling this thing with an eye on having a terrific offense next year and beyond.
This year, it’s unlikely to be great, but it’s also a long way away from being a finished product. Here’s a look at the depth chart after some free agent additions and before the draft, which will hopefully help both clarify where this offense is going and improve what we’ll see on the field when the games start in 2022.
QB Marcus Mariota
QB Feleipe Franks
Mariota will start games for the Falcons in 2022. Whether he starts the entire season or not likely depends on what the Falcons do in the draft, but this will not be the team’s final depth chart for the season.
Mariota doesn’t offer a lot of upside at this stage of his career, but he’s a solid quarterback with good mobility who will be a capable bridge to whoever is next, and his familiarity with Arthur Smith is a plus. If the Falcons can build up the pieces around him, he might have a quietly good season, which would definitely enhance our enjoyment of the 2022 Falcons.
Franks is still an interesting player. The Falcons kept him on the roster all year and tinkered with using him as a tight end as well as a quarterback, and chances are he’ll be the third quarterback and a gadget option again this season. Whether he can become more than that—say the backup and a player with a semi-defined Taysom Hill-type role in Atlanta—will depend on how much progress he makes this year.
RB Mike Davis
FB Keith Smith
RB Cordarrelle Patterson
RB Damien Williams
RB Qadree Ollison
RB Caleb Huntley
FB/TE John Raine
Honestly, this is just a big guess. The fact that the Falcons haven’t cut ties with Davis to this point would seem to indicate that he has a strong chance of staying, but the team may be waiting to better understand its cap picture and team needs post-draft. If he’s here, I’d expect Davis to be the de facto starter, though Patterson and Williams will obviously cut heavily into his workload. If the blocking is better for him and Davis is more efficient in 2022, he’ll likely have a much better season.
Patterson may get more run as a wide receiver, but he’ll be a weapon out of the backfield with 10-15 touches per game, and a hell of a lot of fun to watch again no matter where he lines up. Williams will be a pass-catching weapon and offer a different look as the third running back, and I’d expect him to carve out a small but important role in this backfield regardless of whether Davis stays or goes. Ollison will hope to hold on as the fourth back and chip in on special teams, while Huntley and Raine are likely ticketed for the practice squad again.
WR Auden Tate
WR Damiere Byrd
WR Olamide Zaccheaus
WR Frank Darby
WR KhaDarel Hodge
WR Austin Trammell
WR Chad Hansen
I don’t have to tell you this is a work in progress, which will come as a relief after you look at those names.
Atlanta’s likely to use Kyle Pitts as a receiver quite a bit and Cordarrelle Patterson as one on occasion, as well as add additional help via the draft. They reportedly sniffed around a trade for DeVante Parker from Miami before he landed in New England, so you know they’re not just planning to plow ahead with this group. That makes this position, more than perhaps any other, a snapshot rather than any kind of complete picture.
Still, I’d expect the top three names on this list to have real roles in this receiving corps, and likely Darby as well. Tate is a big target who has struggled to stay healthy, but at worst he should fare well soaking up the targets vacated by Tajae Sharpe. Byrd and Zaccheaus both bring terrific speed to the table, and they’ll likely both gets snaps as the #3 receiver at points this year. Darby remains intriguing, but since we barely saw him last year I’m not quite sure what to expect.
Hodge will chip in occasionally, with his core role coming on special teams as a gunner. Trammell and Hansen will be fighting for practice squad spots.
TE Kyle Pitts
TE Parker Hesse
TE Brayden Lenius
TE Ryan Becker
TE Daniel Helm
When you have Kyle Pitts, you have a pretty damn good start. The second year pro had an impressive first season but only found the end zone once, which is likely to change in year two as the true focal point of this passing attack and with a season under his belt. I’m expecting a monster year.
Beyond Pitts, things are pretty unsettled. Ideally Hesse would be your third tight end, as he’s a solid receiver in limited opportunities and a fine blocker, but if the Falcons don’t make significant investments at the position he could see a larger role as PItts’ backup. Lenius is a wild card addition from the CFL, where he primarily played receiver, and if all goes well he’ll snag the third or fourth tight end job and pick up the position while chipping in this year.
Becker and Helm are both block-first veterans who have bounced around a bit. Again, if there are no major additions, expect one of them to catch on, with Becker presumably having a leg up because he seemed to be in line for a role last year with the Falcons before he got hurt.
LT Jake Matthews
RT Kaleb McGary
T Germain Ifedi
T Elijah Wilkinson
T Willie Beavers
T Rick Leonard
T Rashaad Coward
The Falcons just extended Jake Matthews, who should remain locked in as a quality starter at left tackle for at least the next couple of seasons. McGary’s fifth-year option decision is looming, but it’s probably safe to say the team would like to have someone to compete with him.
They signed Ifedi, presumably, to do that. The team could throw us a curveball and announce that Ifedi is going to push Mayfield at left guard, but as far as I’m aware, he’s played the right side of the offensive line since he arrived in the NFL. He’ll give McGary a good fight this summer, and if he loses out he’ll settle in as a reserve at right guard and right tackle.
Wilkinson, Beavers, Leonard and Coward will be battling it out for one or two spots barring any additions to this depth chart. Wilkinson and Leonard have ties to Ryan Pace in the front office (and Leonard will know Terry Fontenot from their shared days in New Orleans), but Beavers was competitive for the role a year ago and spent the entire year on the practice squad in 2021, so I’d give him an early leg up. Coward will hope for a practice squad spot.
Expect another signing—the team has visited with Germain Ifedi—or a draft pick to give the team 2022 competition for McGary and a possible replacement in 2023.
LG Jalen Mayfield
RG Chris Lindstrom
G Colby Gossett
G Ryan Neuzil
Again, the team would like to add competition at left guard. Jalen Mayfield has to be considered the favorite after the team left him out there all year in 2021 to take his lumps, and the hope is that baptism by fire will help Mayfield grow into a capable starting guard. Lindstrom, obviously, is a terrific right guard and needs no competition.
Right now, the depth is a little shaky. Wilkinson, Leonard and Coward could mix in at guard if they fall out of the reserve tackle competition, but at the moment it’s just Gossett and Neuzil. Gosset is a player offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford knows and likes and should be locked into a role, while Neuzil is an intriguing 2021 undrafted free agent with some nastiness to his game. I like Gossett and Neuzil enough to say that both could probably make this roster, but I fully expect the Falcons to add another player to the mix here.
C Matt Hennessy
C Drew Dalman
If the Falcons don’t add a guard competitor—or if they have their eyes on an addition who can comfortably play center or guard—they may want to add someone who can push Hennessy here. Nick Easton, who the team has had in for a visit, seems like a logical choice.
I’d put Hennessy down in pencil as a starter after an up-and-down 2021, but at the very least he should expect to have to fight for his job with Dalman, the new regime’s draft pick and a player who rotated in with Hennessy at times last season. The team may feel comfortable enough with that competition to leave the position alone otherwise.
Obviously, the offense is very much a work in progress, and you can expect significant additions between now and the start of minicamp. What positions are your biggest priorites after reviewing this early April stab at the depth chart?