Editor’s Note: This article was originally written before the final depth chart was posted. It has been updated now that the final depth chart has been revealed. Enjoy!
The 2022 NFL season is nearly here, and it’s time to take a serious look at where the Atlanta Falcons stand. While there are still likely to be a few roster additions after final cuts, we’re looking at something pretty close to the final version of this team heading into Week 1.
The Falcons have undergone significant changes across the roster, with some major departures and equally major additions. How have those changes affected my prediction for the 2022 season? Read on for my thoughts on the offense, defense and special teams, along with a final projection for Atlanta’s win total this year.
QB: Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder
RB: Cordarrelle Patterson, Damien Williams, Tyler Allgeier, Avery Williams
FB: Keith Smith
TE: Kyle Pitts, Parker Hesse, Feleipe Franks
WR: Drake London, Olamide Zaccheaus, Bryan Edwards, KhaDarel Hodge, Damiere Byrd, Jared Bernhardt
LT: Jake Matthews, Chuma Edoga
LG: Elijah Wilkinson, Colby Gossett
C: Matt Hennessy, Drew Dalman
RG: Chris Lindstrom
RT: Kaleb McGary, Germain Ifedi
IR: TE John FitzPatrick, G Jalen Mayfield
The Falcons underwent some seismic changes on the depth chart this offseason, with two massive losses. Franchise quarterback Matt Ryan was traded to the Indianapolis Colts after the team’s failed pursuit of Deshaun Watson, and top receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended indefinitely for gambling on the NFL during the 2021 season. That immediately left Atlanta with massive voids to fill, but to Terry Fontenot’s credit, they’ve done an admirable job with the limited resources available.
The QB combo of veteran Marcus Mariota and rookie Desmond Ridder looks promising in both the short and long-term. Mariota has been sharp in training camp and preseason, and should be able to effectively facilitate the offense in 2022. He’s an ideal bridge starter for this team, and his comfort in Arthur Smith’s scheme is obvious. Meanwhile, Ridder was impressive in his preseason outings. The young signal caller has checked every box thus far, and will likely get a chance to see the field sometime during the season — perhaps sooner rather than later.
After an underwhelming year from the running game, the Falcons have reshaped the room behind Cordarrelle Patterson—who will likely be emphasized more as a receiving option this season. Veteran Damien Williams has impressed in camp and looks like a core member of the rotation, while rookie Tyler Allgeier has emerged as the favorite for short-yardage and early-down work. Avery Williams transitioned to RB after spending his rookie season at CB and is likely to stick as the return specialist and as a passing-game weapon. Veteran Keith Smith returns at fullback as a primary lead blocker and special teamer.
Tight end will once again be the strength of the offense, with a rising star in Kyle Pitts leading the way. Pitts is likely to be Atlanta’s No. 1 target in the receiving game, and I expect his touchdown numbers to skyrocket after only a single score in 2021. Behind him, the team returns Parker Hesse as a versatile blocking option, but also added two veterans and a rookie. Anthony Firkser and MyCole Pruitt landed on the practice squad, but long term, they could be part of the teams’ plans at the position. Surprisingly, it was Feleipe Franks, a QB-convert, who won the TE3 battle. Franks impressed as a receiver in camp and will apparently get an opportunity for significant snaps this season.
Wide receiver is the position with by far the most dramatic makeover, as Atlanta is likely to have four new players in their top five heading into 2022. Rookie first-rounder Drake London is the headliner and appears poised to handle the WR1 role after an impressive camp. The Falcons traded a Day 3 pick for Bryan Edwards, who should give the team a reliable WR2. The only returning player is Olamide Zaccheaus, who will have a versatile role and has shown great chemistry with Mariota. Two veterans in speedster Damiere Byrd and special teams ace KhaDarel Hodge round out the group, which looks dramatically better than last season. UDFA Jared Bernhardt wound up impressing the coaching staff during camp and the preseason, and won the WR6 job and a roster spot. I’d expect his role to be small initially, but he could rise up the depth chart as the season goes on.
The offensive line was arguably the biggest weakness on the roster despite the presence of two stalwarts in left tackle Jake Matthews and right guard Chris Lindstrom. There will be at least one new starter on the line, as veteran Elijah Wilkinson has taken over left guard from incumbent Jalen Mayfield. Wilkinson has been solid thus far, while Mayfield has continued to struggle and wound up on IR to start the year. Colby Gossett, a veteran reserve who spent all of 2021 with the team, was signed to replace him.
A tough competition took place at center between incumbent Matt Hennessy and second-year player Drew Dalman, with Dalman finally being announced as the winner. Meanwhile, Kaleb McGary remains the starter at right tackle—but veteran Germain Ifedi is right behind him should he falter during the season. The team also claimed veteran swing tackle Chuma Edoga, a third-round pick of the New York Jets in 2019, off waivers to bolster their depth.
EDGE: Lorenzo Carter, Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone, Quinton Bell
DT: Grady Jarrett, Anthony Rush, Ta’Quon Graham, Timmy Horne, Matt Dickerson
LB: Rashaan Evans, Mykal Walker, Nick Kwiatkoski, Troy Andersen, Nate Landman
CB: A.J. Terrell, Casey Hayward, Dee Alford, Darren Hall, Mike Ford
S: Richie Grant, Jaylinn Hawkins, Erik Harris, Dean Marlowe
IR: DT Marlon Davidson, LB Deion Jones, CB Isaiah Oliver
The defense has undergone a significant transformation this offseason, as the Falcons are looking at new starters in every single position group. Edge rusher has seen the most significant change with three new players (and two new starters) joining the team. Veteran Lorenzo Carter is poised to see the most snaps due to his versatile skillset, while Ade Ogundeji and rookie Arnold Ebiketie are likely to split snaps opposite him. DeAngelo Malone, another rookie, should factor into the rotation. Quinton Bell also made the roster after a strong camp and preseason, particularly on special teams.
The interior defensive line has seen the smallest change of any group on the roster, though there will likely be some additions after final cuts. Grady Jarrett is the headliner and will once again be relied upon to carry the load. Anthony Rush and Ta’Quon Graham are both entering their second seasons in the scheme, and both are primed for significant starting roles this season. UDFA nose tackle Timmy Horne flashed a lot of potential in the preseason and will be a factor in the rotation. Former second-rounder Marlon Davidson is dealing with injuries yet again and did not play this preseason—he’s on IR to start the season. In his place, the team claimed Matt Dickerson off waivers from the Kansas City Chiefs.
At linebacker, Atlanta is likely to feature two new starters in veteran Rashaan Evans and 2020 fourth-rounder Mykal Walker. Evans has shown off impressive ability as a blitzer and run stuffer, while Walker appears to have finally earned a full-time starting spot. Veteran Nick Kwiatkoski offers a versatile skillset as a reserve, while rookie Troy Andersen should have a large role on special teams as he acclimates to the NFL. It’s an open question whether or not Deion Jones will be on the roster long-term, but he did recently return to practice before landing on injured reserve prior to the start of the season. In Jones’ place, the team kept impressive UDFA Nate Landman on the final roster.
Cornerback seems to be the strongest group on defense, with a young star in A.J. Terrell manning CB1. The team prioritized finding a quality running mate for Terrell this offseason, adding veteran and former All-Pro Casey Hayward to play CB2. Isaiah Oliver is still the presumptive slot starter once he returns from his injury—he is apparently still rehabbing and will start the year on IR. The depth behind them looks promising, as Darren Hall and Dee Alford have both flashed in the preseason. Mike Ford’s special teams acumen and inside/outside versatility helped him stick on the roster.
Safety actually features three of the same players from last year’s roster, but in a very different order. 2021 second-rounder Richie Grant and 2020 fourth-rounder Jaylinn Hawkins are set to form a new safety duo for Atlanta, and the early returns look promising. Veterans Erik Harris and Dean Marlowe provide a lot of experience and versatility behind them. This is a good overall group.
K: Younghoe Koo
P: Bradley Pinion
KR/PR: Avery Williams
The Falcons locked up star kicker Younghoe Koo long-term this offseason, and he’s poised for a terrific season once again in 2022. Veteran punter Bradley Pinion joins the team after an injury-plagued 2021 season with the Bucs, and should be able to handle punting and kickoff duties at an above-average level. Avery Williams may have changed positions to running back, but he’ll remain the primary kick and punt returner in 2022.
Summary and projection
In many ways, it’s tough to project this Falcons roster. Losing a franchise icon like Matt Ryan simply can’t be a positive in any way, but the team has brought in some intriguing options in an attempt to replicate his production. Meanwhile, the depth chart everywhere else seems to be improved across the board. Of course, it’s still far from “good” in a great many places, like the offensive and defensive lines. But top-to-bottom, this is a better overall roster than 2021.
With another year in Arthur Smith’s scheme, a hopefully improved (but probably still not good) offensive line, and improvements in the weapons and running game, this offense should be a bit better despite the loss of Ryan. Whether or not it will result in more wins for the Falcons in 2022 is a much more difficult question to answer.
The same can be said on defense, where Dean Pees has had another year to install his scheme and we’ve seen roster improvements virtually everywhere except the interior defensive line. Hopefully some additional moves will come there. The secondary should remain a strength, and the edge rusher group should at least be better than the league-worst unit it was in 2021.
All of this, in a vacuum, should result in a better season for Atlanta in 2022 than in 2021. On the stat sheet, I think this will be true. Atlanta’s offense and especially defense should be better, statistically speaking, than last year’s versions. However, it’s important to take into account that the Falcons face one of the NFL’s more difficult schedules (on paper, at least) this season. Atlanta’s strength of schedule (SOS) is the ninth-hardest in the league this season, according to Sharp Football Analysis.
DraftKings Sportsbook set the over/under for the Falcons’ projected win total at 5. When you look at the team’s tough schedule combined with the loss of a franchise quarterback, it’s easy to see why the total is so low. But with improvements nearly everywhere else on the roster and hopefully a few more moves coming in the trenches after final cuts, I like Atlanta to outperform expectations a little.
I’m sticking with my offseason projection of a 6-11 finish for the Falcons in the 2022 NFL season. They’ll be a better team, statistically, than their 2021 counterparts, but won’t match their win total due to a tough schedule and a bit of regression to the mean in winning close games—where they were downright elite last year.