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The Falcons aren’t a great team yet, but do they have the worst roster in the NFL?

CBS Sports thinks so, but we don’t.

NFL Combine Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The great debate for the 2022 Falcons isn’t about Super Bowl hopes or aspirations for a deep playoff run. It’s about whether the Falcons can be any good, and in many quarters, whether they’ll be one of the worst teams in the NFL.

We’ve bandied this question around a lot at The Falcoholic, with a rough consensus that this squad will probably finish with a losing record while showing progress in terms of actual on-field play. Remember, the 2021 Falcons won seven games, but they basically turned into The Falcoholic’s staff in wooden clogs whenever they faced a legitimate contender, and improved coaching and play would mean a lot for this team’s future. What we don’t think is that this team is going to be utterly hopeless and dismal, but certainly there are plenty of national outlets who disagree mightily.

CBS Sports ranked every roster in the NFL, which is always going to be a controversial list, and indeed more than a few fanbases took issue with where their favorite team placed. I’m going to join the chorus and say this pretty emphatically: I don’t think the Falcons have the worst roster in the NFL.

Here’s the full writeup:

Arthur Smith is essentially starting from scratch for a second straight season, and this time, he doesn’t have Matt Ryan’s veteran savviness to at least mask the offense’s thin weaponry. Kyle Pitts and Drake London could form a solid big-boy duo at pass catcher, but there’s still a general lack of explosiveness here.

Regardless of whether it’s Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder at QB, this is shaping up to be a plodding old-school attack with Cordarrelle Patterson and Damien Williams as the “featured” ball-carriers. Arnold Ebiketie and A.J. Terrell are promising youngsters at premium positions on defense, but that unit as a whole isn’t particularly deep, either. Few teams feel more firmly entrenched in purgatory, until a real post-Ryan gamble occurs under center.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I’d quibble with this. Back in the despairing days of November when the Falcons had just lost two games in a row by the combined score of 68-3, I despaired about a short-term fix and said any major changes would have to wait until after the season. Despite the obvious costs and foolishness the Deshaun Watson pursuit entailed, this has been an offseason of impressive work with limited resources, and the Falcons have managed to cobble together some real upgrades at cornerback, outside linebacker, and wide receiver, among other positions. They’ve only gotten demonstrably weaker at quarterback and long snapper,

Are they worse than the Texans, a team whose depth chart is littered with potentially solid starters and interesting young talent? Are they worse than the Giants, who have not won more than 6 games since 2016 and have a roster gutted by mismanagement? Are they worse than the Bears, a team that looks more like an experiment to see how much psychic damage a young quarterback can endure than an NFL-caliber squad? I’d argue no, and it’s not at all clear the Panthers, Jets, Seahawks, and Lions are demonstrably or at all better than this team right now. The Falcons are probably closer to the 24th-best roster in the NFL than the 32nd.

None of this is an argument for the team to be recognized as, say, one of the 16 or so best rosters in the league. The Falcons are heavily reliant on steps forward from relatively unproven players (Jalen Mayfield, Richie Grant, rookie pass rushers, etc.) and still populating key positions with stopgaps. Even the best we’re likely to get from Desmond Ridder and Marcus Mariota this year will not be what the Colts are going to get from Matt Ryan this year, and there’s a ceiling on just how plucky and playoff-adjacent this team is going to be in 2022.

I do think these Falcons are going to field a better roster on balance than a year ago, and that even if it doesn’t translate to a ton of wins, it’ll be clear they’re superior to teams like the Bears, Texans, and (hopefully) Panthers by the time the dust settles on this season. My personal expectation is that you’ll see between 5-7 wins for this squad, but the future is bright with a savvy front office in place and plenty of cap space landing in Atlanta in 2022, and I think we’ll see the seeds of real promise show through this coming season.

Where would you rank the Falcons’ roster heading into 2022?