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  1. Devonta Freeman on Matt Ryan's Top 100 spot: 'It ain't real' Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer MIAMI -- Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman spoke up for quarterback Matt Ryan in discussing the NFL Network's recent segment of the league's Top 100, as voted by the players. Ryan, coming off an MVP season, was revealed at No. 10 on the final night. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who defeated Ryan and the Falcons in the Super Bowl, earned the top spot. Von Miller, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Khalil Mack, Aaron Rodgers, Ezekiel Elliott, Odell Beckham Jr. and Le'Veon Bell, in that order, ranked ahead of Ryan. "You know, that ain't no facts," Freeman told ESPN, regarding Ryan being ranked No. 10. "That ain't no facts to that. It's all about 'he say, she say.' I might like [you], so I'm going to say I like you over such and such. You know guys got their own opinions and feel some type of way about guys. But, you know, it ain't real." Ryan led the league with a passer rating of 117.1. His 9.3 yards per pass attempt were the most since Kurt Warner averaged 9.9 in 2000, according to Pro Football Reference. Ryan completed 373 of 534 passes for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Ryan also surpassed 4,000 passing yards for the sixth consecutive season. "Look at his numbers," Freeman said. "I'm a numbers guy. I don't care about all that politics and 'he say, she say' stuff. Who's the MVP of the league? How is he No. 10 if it was real? How is he No. 10?" Freeman was asked if he believes, in general, Ryan gets the respect he deserves from around the league. "I respect Matt, so I give Matt the respect he deserves," Freeman said. "I feel like our team do. I feel like our organization do. And that's all that matters, because it's us against anybody. It's the Atlanta Falcons versus anybody. As long as everybody on the team respects Matt and the coaches respect Matt, and the owner of the organization and all that, that's all that matters. Everything else is just clutter and talk." Ryan is one of five nominees for Best NFL Player at the ESPYS, hosted by Peyton Manning (8 p.m. ET Wednesday, ABC). Freeman was ranked 41st on the Top 100, right behind teammate Vic Beasley Jr. At No. 3 on the list, Jones was voted the league's top receiver.
  2. Nothing but love from Goober for Devonta!! http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/26988/holdout-still-not-an-option-for-falcons-devonta-freeman FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman reiterated that he has no plans to hold out for a new contract and said business will take care of itself as he approaches the start of the 2017 season. "It ain’t hard at all, because I’m good," Freeman said Tuesday about maintaining his focus amid his contract situation. "I play football because I love it. … I spoke to other guys about being in similar situations that I’m in right now. The main thing I can do right now is focus on my business, and my business is being the best Devonta Freeman I can be. And business will get taken care of outside of what I do and what I bring. I can just focus on me. When it happens, it happens. It’s going to be a surprise. I’m just patient." Freeman is in the final year of his rookie deal and scheduled to make $1,797,000 in 2017 based on an escalator in the deal. The two-time Pro Bowler’s agent, Kristin Campbell, has had talks with the Falcons regarding a new contract and said during the Super Bowl that she wants Freeman to be paid like an "elite" back. Fifteen running backs are scheduled to make $4 million or more in 2017, led by Pittsburgh’s Le'Veon Bell with the franchise-tag figure of $12,083,000. Freeman is well aware of other players who have gone through contentious contract negotiations. "I just always wanted to be that guy that never wanted to hold out and leave my guys out there working," Freeman said. "I understand it’s a business, 100 percent. But I know what I signed up for at the same time. It’s that business, you’ve just got to be patient and take care of yourself. "(I) feel like you can’t walk around and act sad and have an attitude. That ain’t good for the team, especially when a lot of guys are looking up to you. You have to come in and be a pro on and off the field about it." One of the players Freeman spoke with was All-Pro teammate Julio Jones, who signed a five-year, $71.25 million extension back on Aug. 31, 2015. What advice did Jones offer to Freeman? "A lot of stuff," Freeman said. "Personal." Freeman expanded a little bit on their conversation. "One great (piece of) advice that he did tell me was just make sure whatever I do, just to come in and work and compete and try to get better," Freeman said. "That’s what I call my business, my little own, personal organization; make sure I’m healthy, make sure I’m getting the proper rest, eating right and I’m paying attention to my weight. … If I can take care of that, everything else is going to take care of itself." Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said he’s had productive talks with Freeman’s agent. Dimitroff also implied a new deal with Freeman could get done by training camp, based on his history with the timing of such negotiations with a player going into the final year of his contract. Owner Arthur Blank also expressed a desire to see Freeman locked up for the long term. "We love Devonta," Blank told ESPN during Super Bowl week. "We plan on him being a Falcon for a long period of time." Freeman said he put on about five pounds of muscle already this offseason in preparation for the season. He also plans to run with a more "disrespectful" style toward opponents in order to run through tackles. Freeman again downplayed any friction between himself and backup Tevin Coleman, insisting they are brothers. Freeman was asked about the organization having to decide which running back to invest in for the future. Coleman’s rookie deal runs through 2018. "That’s way too far down the line for me," Freeman said of the Falcons choosing one back over the other. "I’m aware of everything that goes on, of course, but that’s not my business. I stay in my lane and get better." Freeman said holding out isn’t even in his vocabulary. "I’m going to play," Freeman said. "Like I said, business is going to get handled regardless of what, so I just come to work. I’m going to play regardless. "I love football. I love to compete. It doesn’t matter about what I did last year, how many Pro Bowls I got, a thousand yards. I want to do it again and even get better, hopefully one day be a Hall of Famer. I want to leave a legacy. And holding out, that’s not going to leave a legacy, because if I hold out, I’m behind. I don’t want to be behind. I want to gain."
  3. http://www.espn.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/237819/devonta-freeman-plans-to-run-with-more-disrespect-for-opposing-tacklers FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Two-time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman always runs with a purpose. But the Atlanta Falcons running back wants opponents to feel him even more in 2017. In talking about things he plans to do to enhance his game, Freeman gave opposing defenders a warning. "Just little things like breaking arm tackles, running through," Freeman said. "I feel like that's what I can get better at helping the offensive linemen out because those guys, they bust their butts. They don't get to rotate. The only time they get a break is if we score a touchdown, then when the defense goes on the field. But if we have an 18-play drive, they're on the field all game. So helping those guys out by giving them a blow by breaking a big tackle. "Last year, I left some runs out there. Also in the open field, continue to make guys miss, punishing guys. I just want to be real disrespectful this year when it comes to football." Freeman finished ninth in the league in rushing last season with 1,079 yards on 227 carries with 11 rushing touchdowns. He had 350 yards after contact, which was 18th among runners with 160-plus carries. Miami's Jay Ajayi led the league with 656 rushing yards after contact, followed by Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott with 632. In 2015, Freeman had 404 of his 1,056 rushing yards after contact. But the Falcons had a much better run last season in making it all the way to the Super Bowl.
  4. Facetime will help Falcons' Takk McKinley stay up to speed despite NFL restriction 4:20 PM ET Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons first-round draft pick Takkarist McKinley won't be allowed to stick around after this weekend's rookie minicamp due to an NFL rule. But thanks to modern technology, the defensive end won't fall behind in picking up the playbook. McKinley, like third-round draft pick Austin Hooper of Stanford was last year, is prohibited from participating in any Falcons offseason activities outside of rookie minicamp because classes at his school, UCLA, are ongoing. According to the NFL rule, if final examinations at a player's school conclude after May 9, the player may not participate in any activities other than rookie minicamp. Graduate students are excluded. The rule has been in place since the 1990s. McKinley is not currently taking classes, but UCLA's final examination run until June 16. McKinley won't be able to rejoin his teammates until training camp in late July. That won't be too much of a problem from an on-field standpoint, because McKinley continues to recover from March surgery on his right shoulder, fixing an injury he initially said would sideline him four to six months. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he expects McKinley to be ready to go, health-wise, by training camp. But to get up to speed with the defense, McKinley will have constant contact with the coaches via Facetime and possibly even Skype while back in California. "I've got a playbook and I'm going to talk to Coach [Bryant] Young and Coach Quinn," McKinley said. "If I have any questions about any plays, I'm just going to call and ask. It's not that hard." Quinn was asked which method he'd prefer to remain in contact with McKinley. "Both Facetime and phone," he said. "He's here until Sunday, then he's not allowed to be with the team until actually after minicamp [June 13-15]. That's when UCLA gets out. "He's got a plan for his rehab, and that's the No. 1 priority with his shoulder right now -- the rehab and the conditioning. The football part of it, the learning, the stuff you learn in the playbook, we're allowed to do a little bit of that over the phone. But it's an important weekend for him to be here getting indoctrinated, getting to meet his teammates. And then it's kind of like, 'Hey, man, you're gone for a month.'" On Day 1 of rookie minicamp Friday, McKinley ran on a side field away from the rest of the rookies during warm-ups. During practice, he worked with a member of the athletic performance staff going through various ladder drills. He's itching to get on the field, of course. "It's very frustrating," McKinley said. "I like to compete. I like football. I don't like to be on the sideline and just watching. I'd rather be out there with my brothers helping make plays. I understand it's a process. Gotta get the shoulder right. And once it's right, I want to help the Atlanta Falcons any way I can to get wins."
  5. Falcons' Ricardo Allen hopes to erase explosive plays against Seattle FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Ricardo Allentakes to heart his "eraser" role in the Atlanta Falcons' defensive scheme. Now the free safety has to erase one bad play from memory and focus on Saturday's divisional playoff matchup with Seattle. Allen was bothered all last week after missing a tackle in the regular-season finale against New Orleans. On the play, he didn't wrap up running back Mark Ingram 13 yards through the hole, and Ingram proceeded to break loose for a 38-yard gain. The fourth-quarter run was the longest rush by an opposing running back the entire year. And Allen, as the single-high safety, is supposed to be the "eraser" and prevent such explosive plays from occurring. "This whole year, I've prided myself on getting the best of the best on the ground," Allen said. "And I hadn't missed any tackles like that. For me to go that many weeks in a row -- and I've been grinding -- I have been getting players down on the ground and haven't let any big plays get by me. And for me to miss that one ... you know, I'm a perfectionist at what I do. "I even had [Ingram] in my wraps. I didn't miss my track or anything. My angle was perfect. He just pushed me down. I went too high, and I actually tried to rip the ball out of his hands. He did a good enough job of covering up the ball and actually pushing me off. For me, that's not good enough. No matter what I do, I've got to get him on the ground. And I was pissed." Falcons coach Dan Quinn called Allen the team's best tackler coming into this season. He believes Allen has filled the "eraser" role quite well while establishing a strong voice as a defensive leader. Allen finished this season with 90 combined tackles, third behind rookies Deion Jones (106) and Keanu Neal (105). Now, it's up to Allen to maintain a high level of play against a Russell Wilson-led Seahawks offense that is always capable of generating explosive plays. And the Falcons' defense is the primary concern, considering MVP candidate Matt Ryan and the offense can outscore anyone. Seattle had just three plays of 20-plus yards when the teams met back in Week 6, a narrow 26-24 win by the Seahawks. Two were pass plays, and the other was a 21-yard run by Christine Michael, who is now with the Packers. "I think we did pretty good against Seattle handling the vertical stuff down the field," Allen said. "They had one I remember to Jimmy Graham [25 yards], but other than that, they really didn't have much." The Falcons did surrender their share of explosive pass plays throughout the season, however. They finished the year giving up 53 pass plays of 20-plus yards, tied for 10th most in the league. During a four-game winning streak to end the season, they showed improvement in allowing 11 pass plays of 20-plus yards. A big part of it had to do with the emergence of NFL sack-leader Vic Beasley Jr. A part of it had to do with the growth of the rookies. And a part of it had to do with playing some suspects offenses (Rams, 49ers and Panthers). But at least it is something to build upon, despite the unit taking a step back against Drew Brees, Ingram and the Saints in the finale. "Those explosive plays were down from the beginning of the season," Allen said. "When did things change? When we started communicating better. When our defense started do really good and not giving up very many points, that's when the explosives went down. If we take away those explosives, man, then we're doing really good as a defense." "That's what I take pride in, too: All those explosives that got behind us, there wasn't many of them that scored. I think the only one that scored against us was the one against Tampa that was thrown in the end zone. The rest of them, I caught the guys and got them to the ground." Allen doesn't like to compare himself to Earl Thomas, but he essentially has to play the same role as the injured Seahawks star in the defense Quinn brought over from Seattle. Having a Thomas-like impact would be an ideal scenario come Saturday, especially with Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls capable of breaking into the open field and the Seattle receivers' ability to make spectacular catches. Seattle might also be getting one of its weapons back in running back C.J. Prosise, who is set to return to practice this week after missing time with a shoulder injury. "When Coach [Quinn] comes to me, he tells me that my position is the most important position on the defense," Allen said, "because when all goes bad, you've got to erase all bad plays. And he says, 'You just have to give them one grain of grass. You've got to fight, scratch, and claw.'"
  6. Falcons looking even faster on defense after first two picks play May 3, 2017 Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer LOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- One NFL executive made an interesting observation after seeing the Atlanta Falcons select pass-rusher Takkarist McKinley and LSU linebacker Duke Riley on the first two days of the NFL draft. 2017 NFL DRAFT | Philadelphia "They have put together one of the fastest defenses in the league," the exec said. "You'll be hard-pressed to find a defense with that many fast people." Dan Quinn vowed to build a fast and physical defense from the moment he was named the Falcons' head coach in February 2015. Each of his first two draft picks the last three years have been defensive players: reigning NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr. and cornerback Jalen Collins his first year, strong safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones last year, and now McKinley and Riley. Folks marveled how fast the Falcons looked during last year's Super Bowl run, with middle linebacker Jones, with his 4.38 speed, orchestrating the defense and Beasley, with his 4.53 speed, chasing down quarterbacks from behind. And that run was completed without injured Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant (pectoral surgery) and his 4.38 speed on the field opposite fellow cornerback Robert Alford (4.39). Now the Falcons add the 6-foot-2, 250-pound McKinley, who ran a 4.59 at the NFL combine, and the 6-foot, 232-pound Riley, who ran a 4.58. Quinn talked Thursday about the relentless style and passion McKinley brings to the defense as an edge rusher and a perfect complement to Beasley. Then on Friday, Quinn gushed about having Riley in the fold to help enhance the defense. "The toughness, the speed that he plays with, fits terrifically into our style," Quinn said. "We clearly know how to feature him in that role. So we're pumped to have him on board. I can wait to get him here and get started with him." Quinn said Riley "will likely start off" as a weakside linebacker, although the inside linebacker spots in the Falcons' defense are interchangeable. Quinn is all about versatility and getting the best combination on the field. With that in mind, playing Riley alongside former LSU teammate and starting middle linebacker Jones likely would mean a switch to strongside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who worked more often at weakside linebacker last season. The trio of Jones, Campbell and Riley certainly would cover a lot of ground. It also would leave open some options in the nickel package in terms of which pair of linebackers plays together, depending on matchups. Although Riley made his mark at LSU on special teams before becoming a full-time starter on defense his final season, Quinn said the Falcons didn't just draft him to run around on special teams. "No, 100 percent not," Quinn said. "I see all three of them playing (on defense)." Maintaining a fast defense is even more imperative now for the Falcons considering some of the offensive improvements teams around the NFC South have made through free agency and the draft. Tampa Bay gave quarterback Jameis Winston two new weapons in speedy veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson and talented rookie tight end O.J. Howard along with rookie receiver Chris Goodwin. Carolina and Cam Newton added all-everything running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Curtis Samuel. And the Saints gave quarterback Drew Brees a couple more weapons in former MVP Adrian Peterson and rookie running back Alvin Kamara. "This time of year, you definitely look out for your division," Quinn said. "That's what certainly comes across my radar first. All three teams in the division, as you would expect, have (draft picks) that we liked as well. It will be more of that over the next couple days. It's how each of the three teams change and, 'OK, how will they feature that player? What role will he have?' So that's definitely a big part of it." Based on the way Quinn is building his team, the Falcons certainly should be up to speed to defend their division title.
  7. Atlanta Falcons two-time Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman vowed to move beyond his team's historic collapse in last month's Super Bowl loss to New England Patriots. At the same time, Freeman knows the empty feeling might stick for a while. "That's like a scar you'll see forever," Freeman told ESPN. "You'll always remember that scar. It's about, 'How can I shake back?' In life, you've got to always learn how to shake back and have another elite year." That the Falcons blew a 28-3 third-quarter lead in a 34-28 loss to the Patriots continues to be a topic of discussion this offseason. Critics still harp on the blunders, including then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan declining to run the ball late and Freeman missing a fourth-quarter block on Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower that led to Matt Ryan being sacked and losing a fumble -- resulting in a momentum-swinging touchdown for the Patriots. Freeman was asked if there was anything he would take back from the game. "Nothing," he said. "No play. Even the mistake I made with the missed block. When you look at a football game, you're talking about four quarters. You're talking about the best guys against the best guys on both sides of the ball. Mistakes are going to happen. If you're perfect in the NFL, something is not right. I don't know anybody who's perfect. "My mistake is a scar. I'm going to learn from it. I'm going to get better from that. That's how I look at it." Freeman said the loss will serve as inspiration heading into next season and beyond. The Falcons hope to make another strong run in 2017 behind reigning MVP Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones, Freeman and a rebuilt defense, led by the addition of two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dontari Poe. "If I dwell on the Super Bowl like, 'Oh man, we lost,' already, I lost," Freeman said. "I'm worried about something that I can't control that's over with and that's in the past. It's peanuts to me. You just move on from it. But until you win the Super Bowl, ain't nothing else going to feel better than winning that Super Bowl. I guarantee it. I don't care if I get 1,000 yards, 10 Pro Bowls. If I don't win that Super Bowl, I'm going to always remember that one Super Bowl we lost." http://www.espn.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/234249/falcons-devonta-freeman-determined-to-shake-off-super-bowl-scar
  8. Dontari Poe is not an Atlanta Falcon, at least not yet. Poe, the top free-agent nose tackle and formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs, visited the Falcons' facility on Tuesday but left without a contract. It was the third stop on Poe's free-agent trek following visits to Indianapolis and Jacksonville. Now Poe is in Miami visiting the Dolphins, as ESPN's Josina Anderson reported. The fact that he hasn't secured a contract yet makes you wonder about his asking price. It also raises questions about his health, with reported concerns about Poe's back. If it is all about the money, it would be surprising if the Falcons get into a bidding war, considering general manager Thomas Dimitroff already implied the Falcons wouldn't make a big splash in free agency. Sure, Poe could have a great impact on a defensive line in need of help, and his athleticism is off the charts for a guy who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 346 pounds. But giving Poe, let's say, $10-$12 million in a one-year deal doesn't seem like the best option, even if another team is offering the same. His replacement in Kansas City, Bennie Logan, just received a one-year, $8 million deal that included $7.68 million guaranteed. The Falcons don't have a ton of cap space. The latest NFLPA figures have them at around $14.5 million. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have $47 million in cap space, according to numbers obtained by ESPN's Field Yates. The other two teams on Poe's list -- the Colts and Dolphins -- have $37 million and $18 million in cap space, respectively, according to NFLPA figures. We'll see how it all plays out from the Falcons' standpoint. They need to fill a hole at defensive tackle after cutting veteran Tyson Jackson and not re-signing veteran Jonathan Babineaux. They need a game-changing type player who can stop the run and has pass-rush ability. Poe has to the potential to be that guy, but will he consistently be that type of player? His production dropped the last two seasons after Pro Bowl showings in 2013 and 2014. The Falcons have gone the bargain route with their other free-agent signings thus far, so maybe spending big on one wouldn't be all that bad. But again, it's hard to imagine the Falcons getting into a bidding war, especially against the cap-rich Jaguars. Poe's willingness to accept a one-year deal seems to indicate the 26-year-old wants to prove himself and secure a lucrative, long-term deal after the 2017 season. Maybe the Falcons can convince him he'll have his best opportunity to shine playing for a team fresh off a Super Bowl. And maybe the Falcons can convince him to sign -- for the right price. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/26278/dontari-poe-might-be-out-of-falcons-price-range