Welcome to the 18th edition of ‘The Super Bowl Race in the Perspective of Chase’, an almost daily article on your favorite NFL team. The Atlanta Falcons have only declined since their 28-3 Super Bowl collapse in Super Bowl 51. They made the playoffs the next season but have failed to do so since. Last year may have seemed different for Falcons fans after trading Julio Jones to Tennessee last offseason. But now that they traded their 14 year veteran quarterback Matt Ryan in the offseason, they are taking a full rebuilding approach. What can they realistically do this season and how will it affect their rebuilding process? Lets, get into this!
Real quick before we do get into this, I would like to let you know that we are doing something very similar to this on the Cool Sports Newsletter for the NBA if you want to check that out. Also on there we are ranking different NFL positions and the top ten running backs going into the season is in the works so stay tuned!
The Atlanta Falcons traded a declining Julio Jones to Tennessee during the 2021 offseason in exchange for a 2022 2nd round pick, which ended up being #58 overall. The best part about the trade for the Falcons was really the fact that Atlanta freed up $23 million in cape space for the 2022 offseason after having just $5.4 million during the 2021 offseason. In 2022, expectations were low on a Calvin Ridley-A.J. Terrell led Falcons. Matt Ryan, despite throwing for under 4,000 passing yards for the first time since 2010, had a good last season in Atlanta, throwing 20 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions with a 67% completion percentage. Calvin Ridley regressed substantially based on the five games we saw from him before injury, but had high aspirations to be a 1,300+ yard receiver again. Cordarrelle Patterson had an amazing season last year, putting up over 1,100 yards of scrimmage. A/J Terrell continued dominating to solidify himself as a consensus top ten cornerback in the NFL and rookie tight end Kyle Pitts had over 1,000 yards.
Going into the offseason, after a 7-10 season with good progress from young players, they were going into a deep rebuild that did not involve Matt Ryan or his contract. So once Indianapolis got rid of Carson Wentz, they decided to trade for the former NFL MVP, giving up a 2022 3rd round pick to Atlanta in exchange. That 3rd round pick was #82 overall. So Atlanta owned five picks in the first three rounds of the draft, including their first round pick at #8 overall. Instead of reaching on a quarterback like Kenny Pickett, Atlanta instead decided to take USC wide out Drake London. They felt so motivated to tell Kyle Pitts that his only touchdown can’t be in London, that they drafted a guy named London to motivate him! Jokes aside, London is a very good wide receiver with his speed and acceleration. They took Troy Anderson with the pick they received from the Julio Jones trade and selected DeAngelo Malone with the pick from the Ryan trade. But the draft pick that stood out the most for the Falcons was the 74th overall pick, where they selected Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder, to possibly be their franchise quarterback.
But that wasn’t all they did in the offseason. They quickly found another quarterback, signing Marcus Mariota to a 2 year, $18.75 million deal. While it may be an overpay for a quarterback that hasn’t been the clear cut starter of a team since 2018 (where he had a 7-6 record as a starter), he is an athletic quarterback that has led his team to the divisional round. He does seem way past those days, as he was really only valuable the past two seasons for Las Vegas when they would do a designed quarterback run play. So there are a lot of question marks surrounding him as the starting quarterback, as Ridder is expected to sit as a backup who may get some playing time this year. But with the Jones and Ryan trades, it gave them a lot of money to spend in the offseason.
Atlanta started free agency by retaining Cordarrelle Patterson and Jake Matthews. They used some of that money to sign 2x Pro Bowl cornerback Casey Hayward. Hayward, despite not making the Pro Bowl since 2017, has been a very good cornerback for a long time. His stats last season in Las Vegas won’t describe how good of a cornerback he is, because there is no basic stat to describe 1on1 coverage. They also resigned 2020 Pro Bowler and 2019 1st All Pro member Grady Jarrett. Jarret, despite not having as good of a statistical season last year as previous years, is still a dominant, run stuffing defensive lineman. The Falcons signed underrated linebacker Rashaan Evans to create a dynamic linebacker duo with him and Deion Jones. They also signed Jeremy McNichols to give them some running back depth. They traded a 7th round pick to Las Vegas for Bryan Edwards to give them some receiving depth.
But, Calvin Ridley is not going to be playing this season, as he was suspended for betting on his team. Despite a decline in production in the five games we saw from Ridley in 2021, he is still a young, developing, proven, good wide receiver who just recently had over 1,300 yards receiving. This puts rookie Drake London as the WR1. So that sets this team way back, knowing an unproven rookie is a WR1 on an offense led by Marcus Mariota!
The main thing with Atlanta is they have talent. The defense is improving with Terrell, Jarrett, Jones, Evans and others. The offense has London, a boom or bust quarterback in Ridder (who could start a few games towards the end of the season when they are eliminated from playoff contention), an underrated Patterson, a top five tight end in Pitts and others. But having Marcus Mariota at quarterback and not giving much to work with is not the best move to succeed. Atlanta’s defense will overachieve and play past expectations, but with a lack luster offense, I find it hard to see them succeed. I have Atlanta finishing with just two wins this season, as they will play ten teams that I have with a winning record. And with Houston getting the tiebreaker, I have Atlanta finishing with the #1 overall pick, as they get a chance to take anyone they want, and get a true franchise quarterback like Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud!
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