The Falcons added eight draft picks and 13 undrafted free agents after a busy free agency period, so the roster has been significantly remade. I think we’d all agree that the arrow is pointed in the right direction for this team after the offseason, with the sharpest disagreement coming off just how significant the work ahead is for the front office and coaching staff.
Either way, as you’d expect for a team not widely expected to contend in 2022, though, there is still significant work that could be done to further bolster the roster. The question is whether the Falcons want to try to make short term upgrades to push harder to contend in the NFC South, or try to focus on getting young players as much playing time as possible. If it’s a balancing act or Atlanta thinks they can make things interesting, the money they just saved by extending Grady Jarrett might go to free agent additions for the season ahead.
While it would be fair to say the Falcons could still stand to add talent everywhere, there are a few positions where the need seems more acute owing to a lack of talent overall, a lack of proven talent, or a lack of depth. Let’s discuss a few of those right here, in no particular order.
Interior defensive line
When you have Grady Jarrett, you have the start of a solid interior defensive line. When you have an interesting second-year pro in Ta’Quon Graham coming off a fine rookie season, Marlon Davidson and his still-present upside, plus useful rotational pieces in Vincent Taylor and Anthony Rush, you probably feel pretty good about where you’re at.
The complication here, of course, is that Jarrett is the only proven high-end option. I’m very bullish on Graham—and I haven’t lost hope for Davidson—so perhaps the team feels they have the group they’re going to roll forward with in a year where the focus will be on developing talent. That doesn’t mean more upgrades wouldn’t be useful for a group that will rotate heavily.
If the Falcons have higher aspirations this year or simply want to bring in a good player for a year with an eye on trying him out and re-signing him in 2023, Akiem Hicks is out there and would be a home run addition given that he can still play at a high level, while Darius Philon and Jalyn Holmes would provide some inside-outside help at an affordable price. If you wanted another option at nose tackle besides Anthony Rush, Brandon Williams is getting up there but might be a worthwhile bet for a bounceback campaign.
Atlanta’s offseason additions have been, in no particular order, an up-and-down right tackle and right guard option, a reserve lineman who is most comfortable on the right side, a rookie sixth round left guard, and the triumphant return of Colby Gossett. You may recall that a year ago, the Falcons surrendered 40 sacks and were brutally bad in pass protection at multiple spots. Maybe Germain Ifedi beats out Kaleb McGary or McGary improves, maybe Jalen Mayfield makes the leap, and maybe the winner of the Matt Hennessy/Drew Dalman battle is great, but that is an alarming number of maybes.
Nick Easton is a logical signing here, given that he has both center and guard experience and knows Terry Fontenot from their shared time with the Saints, Quinton Spain would be an immediate upgrade at left guard and is a familiar face for the Falcons, given that he worked with Arthur Smith in Tennessee, and players like Trey Hopkins would at least provide competition on the interior. I’d be surprised if the Falcons truly stood pat given how heavily they’re betting on Mayfield and Hennessy to take a big step forward at the moment.
This is the one position where I’m not sure the Falcons have a legitimate Week 1 option on the roster today.
Dom Maggio has a strong leg, ties to the staff, and spent last year with the team in one capacity or another, so it’s very possible he’s the guy and the Falcons have so much confidence in him they don’t feel the need to add a veteran. Given that Maggio hasn’t punted in a regular season game and didn’t get on the field last year while the team cycled through Cam Nizialek, Dustin Colquitt and then Thomas Morstead, it’s easy to harbor doubts about that.
The only other option is 2022 undrafted free agent Seth Vernon, who averaged 45 yards per punt for Portland State last year and will at least push Maggio for the job. It would not be surprising to see the team add a veteran sooner than later here, because as high as they might be on Vernon and/or Maggio, a veteran fallback seems like a good idea after the team went through the punter carousel last year. Michael Palardy would seem to be the best option available on the open market.
I’ll fully acknowledge that the Falcons have upgraded here of late. Drake London will step right in as the top receiver, Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson will mix in, and Auden Tate and Damiere Byrd give the team some veteran options with a little upside.
That said, this receiving corps is still extremely light on proven options, and the addition of London and mixing-and-matching in Pitts and Patterson won’t fix that entirely. Right now, Atlanta’s betting heavily on Tate blossoming a bit in Atlanta, and counting on Olamide Zaccheaus and Byrd to provide speed in spades when needed. There just aren’t a lot of proven, high-level track records here, and even a shift away from a high-flying passing attack dependent on three receiver sets doesn’t mean the Falcons can or should try to get by with less.
If they’re looking to add a player who can contribute at a high level when healthy, Jarvis Landry, Julio Jones (yes, yes, I know), Allen Hurns and others are available, though some of them come with injury questions. If just adding speed is a priority—and it probably should be—Will Fuller would be a fun fit.
I’m actually pretty comfortable with safety, but it’s a similar situation to the interior defensive line, minus the one high-end player. The Falcons have plenty of options, but they’re either unproven or solid but unspectacular.
In an ideal scenario, Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins are ready for primetime, seize starting jobs and excel in them, and the team has compelling depth behind them. The trouble is that, as is the case with Graham and Davidson on the defensive line and Mayfield, Hennessy and McGary on the offensive line, you’re counting on excellence you have yet to see. I think we know that it would be borderline miraculous if all of these guys turned into quality starters, much less great ones.
If Atlanta’s not quite satisfied with Grant, Hawkins, Erik Harris and Dean Marlowe, there are a handful of intriguing options out there who could step in as starters. Jaquiski Tartt is easily the best bet to come in and grab a starting job, and would be my preferred signing. Tashaun Gipson would be another fine stopgap as a potential starter who would be quality depth.
What other positions would you like the Falcons to add to?