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Goober Pyle

Thirty thoughts on the Falcons’ roster now that the NFL Draft is over

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https://theathletic.com/1778262/2020/04/27/thirty-thoughts-on-the-falcons-roster-now-that-the-nfl-draft-is-over/

 

Now that the NFL Draft has come and gone, here are 30 thoughts about the Falcons’ roster:

1. Out are Vic Beasley, Adrian Clayborn and Jack Crawford. In are Dante Fowler and Marlon Davidson. It will be a slightly new-look defensive front for the Falcons this season, with the hope that Fowler can add a consistent pass-rushing presence. Fowler recorded 11.5 sacks for the Los Angeles Rams in 2019 and previously played for head coach Dan Quinn during his first year at Florida. The two new additions will be critical in trying to add pressure while producing more sacks. In addition, it will be interesting to see how Takk McKinley responds to having Fowler on the opposite side of the formation.

2. Considering that Davidson was a second-round selection at a position of need, he will get every opportunity to start. The plan is for Davidson primarily to play the nickel defensive tackle role to provide a pass rush up the middle. In that situation, Grady Jarrett would play nose tackle. Of course, Tyeler Davison still will be the primary nose tackle when the Falcons are lining up to defend the run. If Atlanta sticks to the original plan, John Cominsky should start to see some defensive tackle reps, too.

3. With the Falcons addressing cornerback and the trenches with the first three picks, it’s clear that Quinn was telling the truth about Foye Oluokun being a starting linebacker during one of his pre-draft conference calls. Last year, the Falcons asked De’Vondre Campbell to do a lot at linebacker — he covered tight ends, rushed the passer and dropped back as a deep safety. Oluokun actually played safety in college at Yale, so now it looks to be his time to shine in this particular position.

4. While Oluokun figures get the first crack at starting, Mykal Walker, one of Atlanta’s two fourth-rounders, will do his best to vie for a rotational role. Atlanta’s selection of Walker is eerily similar to when it took Campbell four years ago. Campbell was taken with the 115th pick of the fourth round. Walker was selected at pick No. 119, and they have similar builds and athleticism. Both were taken when there was an obvious need at the position. Both are versatile linebackers who can play multiple positions. One thing that stands out about Walker is how instinctive he is on the field. He may not be the plug-and-play starter Campbell was, but Walker could earn some playing time earlier than expected.

5. The Falcons entered the offseason with only Oluokun, Deion Jones and Ahmad Thomas at linebacker. Since then, they have added LaRoy Reynolds and Edmond Robinson before drafting Walker. Jones, Oluokun and Walker seemingly are locks to make the 53-man roster. Last year, the Falcons began the season with four linebackers. If the same holds true for 2020, there will be a competition among Reynolds, Robinson and Thomas for the final linebacker spot.

6. First-rounder A.J. Terrell will start at one of the outside cornerback spots. If last season is an indicator, Kendall Sheffield can be expected to start as the other outside cornerback in the base package. In nickel, Isaiah Oliver may continue to play one of the outside corner spots with Sheffield moving inside to nickel. Blidi Wreh-Wilson once again will be the steady reserve he has become known for.

7. With Sheffield ending the 2019 season as a nickel cornerback, Damontae Kazee will stick to being a safety. But if Sheffield is the first option at nickel, and if Keanu Neal is healthy enough to resume his strong safety spot, who will start at free safety? That job seemingly would go to Ricardo Allen, the smartest player and a team leader on defense. Could Kazee then go back to a backup role? Or could the Falcons play more in a dime defense? Or could the nickel defense actually feature Allen as the slot corner with Sheffield playing primarily outside? It’s possible that Atlanta’s nickel defense, or a variation of it, could feature three safeties and two corners instead of two safeties and three corners.

8. Neal and Kazee are free agents after the 2020 season, which made safety a position the Falcons felt the need to target in the draft. Jaylinn Hawkins, the second of two fourth-round picks selected, has a little bit of both Neal and Kazee in his game. He’s big and can play down in the box like Neal. He also had 10 interceptions in his college career at California, with six coming as a junior in 2018. This season figures to be a developmental year for Hawkins, and if Atlanta doesn’t keep Neal and Kazee in 2021, the ensuing offseason could decide whether he’s a starter.

9. Of all the smokescreens involving Atlanta, the one indicating interest in drafting a quarterback was the biggest.

10. Matt Ryan will start at quarterback for the 13th consecutive season. But the preseason will be interesting as it pertains to his backup. Matt Schaub, who played well in his lone 2019 start against the Seattle Seahawks, is set to make $2 million as the No. 2 QB on the roster. But Kurt Benkert and Danny Etling have the tools to push Schaub for the spot.

11. The Falcons decided they were good enough at running back and didn’t feel the need to draft anyone at the position. Todd Gurley will be the team’s starter but probably won’t see the number of touches he saw with the Rams back in 2017 and 2018. One of the best camp competitions will be at No. 2 running back between Brian Hill and Ito Smith, seeing that the second running back will still see plenty of snaps. Qadree Ollison will be looking for a big jump too.

12. Last year, people wondered if the Falcons would even carry a fullback. After signing Keith Smith to a three-year deal, that’s not a question this offseason.

13. In what was considered a historic class at wide receiver, the Falcons elected to pass on the position in the draft. Like running back, they must feel good about who they already have.

14. Atlanta did add Laquon Treadwell, a former first-round pick, to the roster during free agency. But he is not expected to be in the top three of the receiver rotation, at least for now. His addition is more in line with replacing Justin Hardy. Treadwell is expected to be a No. 4 receiver who can add value on special teams coverage.

15. Of the receivers on Atlanta’s roster, the biggest winner is Russell Gage. After how he finished the 2019 season, he’s expected to remain the No. 3 receiver.

16. The Falcons drafted six players but added seven with the draft picks they had prior to the start of free agency. They traded second- and fifth-round picks to the Baltimore Ravens for Hayden Hurst and a fourth-round selection. The second-rounder can be attributed to Hurst while the original fifth-rounder moved up a round.

17. The second-rounder Atlanta traded was the 55th overall pick. With that slot, the Ravens took Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins. Again, Atlanta’s faith in its existing running backs and the need for a tight end won out over adding to the backfield.

18. Behind Hurst, the Falcons will have a competition to monitor closely. Jaeden Graham is the only returning tight end on the roster and figures to be the lead candidate to be Hurst’s backup. Khari Lee and Carson Meier will compete for a blocking tight end spot. And then there’s undrafted free agent tight end Jared Pinkney, who a lot of analysts expected to be selected during the past weekend. Pinkney’s best year at Vanderbilt came in 2018 when he recorded 50 catches for 774 yards and seven touchdowns.

19. Whenever football activities resume, left guard will involve the most crowded competition. Four players — James Carpenter, Jamon Brown, Matt Gono and rookie draft pick Matt Hennessy — will all hope to end the preseason as the starter. Quinn said Hennessy will have a good chance of winning the job.

20. Gono’s offseason is an important one. He began his pro career at tackle in 2018 before seeing some practice reps at guard late in the year. He opened the preseason at guard last year before moving back to tackle. Yet by the end of the year, Gono was back at guard again. Jake Matthews, Alex Mack, Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary are entrenched in their positions. Does Gono also compete with John Wetzel as the swing tackle? Or does Gono stay at guard?

21. The Falcons were strategic with the lone offensive player they took in this year’s draft. As expected, they selected a center who has the versatility to play guard immediately. Hennessy’s long-term future is obviously at center. But with Mack under contract for one more season, Hennessy will start out at left guard. Hennessy was the second center selected in this year’s draft, behind only Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz (New Orleans Saints).

22. If Hennessy, 22 years old, wins the starting job at left guard, the Falcons will have an average age of 26.2 on the offensive line. The other projected starters’ are Matthews (28), Mack (33), Lindstrom (23) and McGary (25). This shows the effort Atlanta has made to scale younger up front the past two offseasons. The average age of the offensive line going into the first week of the 2019 season was 27. In 2018, it was 29.8.

23. With Atlanta deciding to not retain Matt Bosher, the Falcons added punter Sterling Hofrichter in the seventh round. While Ryan Allen finished the 2019 season as the team’s punter, he isn’t a long-term option for the franchise. Hofrichter’s hang time is attractive to this coaching staff, which holds a special teams philosophy in limiting the number of overall returns.

24. Right after the 2019 season ended, Quinn said the team would add competition for place-kicker Younghoe Koo. That hasn’t happened yet, although that remains the expectation.

25. Quinn said receiver Brandon Powell is the leading candidate to be the team’s return specialist. Undrafted free agent defensive back Tyler Hall returned kicks at Wyoming, which could create an avenue for him to make the 53-man roster.

26. In addition to Pinkney and Hall, an undrafted free agent signee to keep an eye on is Buffalo offensive tackle Evin Ksiezarczyk. Ksiezarczyk, at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, was the Bulls’ left tackle who helped lead one of college football’s best rushing attacks. Buffalo finished 10th in the nation and first in the MAC in rushing with 250.5 yards on the ground per game.

27. If Atlanta’s offense has a sleeper, it would have to be Gage. Gage will begin the 2020 season as the top slot option, with skill position players Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Hurst and Gurley working around him. Gage, by default, should find himself open or in single coverage more often than most.

28. On defense, Atlanta’s sleeper is Steven Means. It doesn’t appear the public has taken notice of Means, even if he’s someone Quinn and defensive ends coach Tosh Lupoi have recently raved about. Starting the final three games of the 2018 season, Means recorded seven tackles and a sack off the edge. Returning from an Achilles tear he suffered last offseason, Quinn believes Means will be a significant contributor in 2020.

29. Of last year’s rookies, McGary should see the biggest jump from Year 1 to Year 2. McGary showed off his strength as a run blocker but obviously underwent a learning curve as a pass protector. His play improved in the final quarter of the season, which should be a trend that continues in 2020.

30. That stated, barring a sudden change in events during the next two months, the NFL is not expected to have any on-site offseason work until training camp. And even then, no one truly knows if or when that will take place. This lack of offseason work figures to put all rookies across the league at a disadvantage.

 

 

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14 minutes ago, Goober Pyle said:

Grady Jarrett would play nose tackle. Of course, Tyeler Davison still will be the primary nose tackle when the Falcons are lining up to defend the run.

Really? I didn't think that the Falcons' did that.

Well now........

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18 minutes ago, Goober Pyle said:

Or could the nickel defense actually feature Allen as the slot corner with Sheffield playing primarily outside? It’s possible that Atlanta’s nickel defense, or a variation of it, could feature three safeties and two corners instead of two safeties and three corners.

Nice option IMO. But Terrell has to be on the other side then.

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33 minutes ago, Goober Pyle said:

6. In addition to Pinkney and Hall, an undrafted free agent signee to keep an eye on is Buffalo offensive tackle Evin Ksiezarczyk. Ksiezarczyk, at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, was the Bulls’ left tackle who helped lead one of college football’s best rushing attacks. Buffalo finished 10th in the nation and first in the MAC in rushing with 250.5 yards on the ground per game.

Sounds good. Keep MR2 healthy.

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34 minutes ago, Goober Pyle said:

27. If Atlanta’s offense has a sleeper, it would have to be Gage. Gage will begin the 2020 season as the top slot option, with skill position players Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Hurst and Gurley working around him. Gage, by default, should find himself open or in single coverage more often than most.

No sleeper according to 2019 production.

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36 minutes ago, Goober Pyle said:

28. On defense, Atlanta’s sleeper is Steven Means. It doesn’t appear the public has taken notice of Means, even if he’s someone Quinn and defensive ends coach Tosh Lupoi have recently raved about. Starting the final three games of the 2018 season, Means recorded seven tackles and a sack off the edge. Returning from an Achilles tear he suffered last offseason, Quinn believes Means will be a significant contributor in 2020.

Nice.

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22 minutes ago, Tim Mazetti said:

Really? I didn't think that the Falcons' did that.

Well now........

I think they are using those terms only for alinement purposes. Same way you would talk about a 3tech and a 5tech, or a base end and a Leo, you would have the concept of a nose tackle and an under tackle just as far as scheme/positioning/responsibility.

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1 minute ago, King Jigsaw said:

I think they are using those terms only for alinement purposes. Same way you would talk about a 3tech and a 5tech, or a base end and a Leo, you would have the concept of a nose tackle and an under tackle just as far as scheme/positioning/responsibility.

Ok. Thanks.

That is ok, but NTs' (340 pounds.) are played in a 3-4 though, correct?

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1 minute ago, Tim Mazetti said:

Ok. Thanks.

That is ok, but NTs' (340 pounds.) are played in a 3-4 though, correct?

Basically, yeah. That’s traditionally what you mean. There are so many hybrid defensive fronts though that will use those terms though that it blurs the lines. A 3-4 would use a DE on either side of a NT. These would all be bigger guys. Think two Grady’s, one on either side of a Vince Wilfork. When the Falcons signed Paul Soliai a few years back, however, they called him a NT even in the 43Leo scheme and played someone smaller like Hageman or Babineaux as the penetrating Under Tackle beside them along with an edge rusher like Beasley and a base end like Tyson Jackson.

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14 minutes ago, King Jigsaw said:

Basically, yeah

Thank you for the analysis. I just want the terms to be more scientific, I guess.  I am a geek, I reckon.

So is it linguistic gymnastics what they author said?   Seems like it?

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6 minutes ago, Tim Mazetti said:

Thank you for the analysis. I just want the terms to be more scientific, I guess.  I am a geek, I reckon.

So is it linguistic gymnastics what they author said?   Seems like it?

They aren’t wrong when they call Grady and Daevison the NT in varying schemes, but it obviously doesn’t mean they’re gaining weight for those roles. It’s just talking about the responsibilities they’d have in those alignments. It’s all just fancytalk for GRADYSMASH.

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