Welcome back to another edition of ‘The Super Bowl Race In The Perspective Of Chase’, a close to daily NFL article previewing your favorite team’s season. The Atlanta Falcons are one of the more interesting teams in football. Because they’re a team in a rebuilding position, but also with a young core that could keep them alive in a race for the postseason for the majority of the year! But are they really that good? Can this team really compete? And the biggest question of them all, is Desmond Ridder a good enough quarterback to make them compete? Here is everything you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons going into the 2023 season!
It has to be answered: Is Desmond Ridder the long term answer for Atlanta?
It has been a little less than a year since we wrote this article last year, an article titled ‘The Super Bowl Race in the Perspective of Chase: Atlanta Falcons! Are they the worst team in the NFL?!’ If that wasn’t dumb enough in retrospect, I had to add on to my stupidity, writing, ‘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!’ Oh could I have been more off!
Atlanta was a team competing for a division title for most of last year, and despite a last place finish in the NFC South, a seven win Atlanta team was one game out of a division title. And this was despite a down season from both Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts, and a full season suspended Calvin Ridley (obviously now he was traded to Jacksonville and is no longer on the team)! Atlanta was a decent team last season.
Marcus Mariota had a great year as the teams starting QB, throwing for over 2200 yards in just 300 attempts, throwing 15 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. Not to mention his career high 438 rushing yards and four scores on the ground. His rookie WR Drake London also had a decent season. 72 receptions for 866 yards and four touchdowns, with over 12 yards per reception. Not to mention his 61.5% catch percentage that ranked him fourth among all rookie wide receivers in the NFL. I’m expecting an amazing year from Drake London in 2023!
The offense’s biggest letdown was obviously Kyle Pitts, who went from having a 1,000 yard rookie campaign for a tight end as one of the most promising young offensive players the game had to offer, to a 356 yard year in just 10 games with an under 48% catch percentage! However, the rushing attack made up for his inability to provide the way he was expected to. Tyler Allgeier racked up over 1,000 yards on the ground with close to 5 yards per rush, ranking 14th in rushing yards and 13th in yards per carry (9th among running backs). Allgeier had surprisingly a great season in 2022, and I expect close to the same level of play just with less volume in 2023!
Defensively, Atlanta was also solid. Grady Jarrett had a monster season in 2022, with six sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 17 QB hits. Jarrett’s opponent also had an average loss of 8.3 yards when he sacked them. The most underrated player in football, Rashaan Evans, also had a really good season, accumulating 159 tackles, which was a career high and ranked 7th in the entire NFL! A.J. Terrell, despite no interceptions, had nine pass defended and was amazing in 1-on-1 coverage, while safety Richie Grant accumulated 123 tackles, a career high and a mark that ranked 28th in the NFL and third among safeties.
So, all of this just makes my assessment from last year look like one of the worst predictions I’ve ever had. So, Atlanta came into the offseason in a very interesting position. Because this is now a football team that, in a weak division like the NFC South, actually has a shot at forget a postseason berth, but a division title. So Atlanta made moves in the offseason to improve the squad. They started off by extending Pro Bowl offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom, a move that was great for both sides. They also improved to what was already a strong defensive line with Jarrett, by signing Bud Dupree and 6x Pro Bowler Calais Campbell.
While it has been four years since Dupree’s career year, where he reached over 11 sacks, he still is a very capable defensive end. He really just hasn’t been able to stay on the field, playing just 11 games in each of his past three years. A little more time on the field, and Dupree could be a very valuable asset, even at 30 years old. Campbell was one of the best value signings of all of free agency. Even though he’s 36, the Falcons just got a defensive lineman who had 5.5 sacks and 14 QB hits last season…for seven million dollars on a one year rental. What a great move!
The Falcons also added Mack Hollins to the receiving core, who after a breakout season where he reached 690 yards and four touchdowns, will be a great addition as a WR2. They also signed Taylor Heinicke to be their backup quarterback behind an unproven Desmond Ridder. In case things don’t work out, having an experienced veteran like Heinicke who can scramble like a quarterback would need to in this system should be amazing for Atlanta.
But then we get to the NFL draft, where Atlanta made their biggest move of the offseason. Atlanta drafted Bijan Robinson 8th overall. I’m absolutely not mad at this pickup for Atlanta. Robinson is one of the best running back prospects of the century, so I understand. Robinson rushed for close to 1600 yards and EIGHTEEN touchdowns at Texas last season! It was just shocking for Atlanta to draft him, a team with a 1,000 yard rusher and Patterson, a very versatile running back. So now Atlanta has an amazing piece in Robinson, but a mess with three running backs in the backfield.
Here’s what I would do. I wouldn’t trade Allgeier or Patterson since they show value to the team. But I would move Patterson to wide receiver, and have a two running back show with Robinson as the RB1, and Allgeier as one of the best RB2’s in football. Patterson has played wide receiver before, and his time at running back is essentially used sometimes as a receiver anyway. That way you get to keep a playmaker of the caliber of Patterson, where he could still play good football and improve a pretty weak wide receiver core, and let your two young budding star running backs control the backfield.
But this is all going to work under one condition: if Desmond Ridder progresses. Ridder had an okay rookie season after taking over for Mariota in the final stretch of the season. He completed 63.5% of his passes for under 800 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He played very conservative football. And I think for THIS season, that’s all he has to do! He may not be the playmaker…but he doesn’t have to be. Robinson is a playmaker. London is a playmaker. Patterson is a playmaker. Pitts, if he can go back to his 2021 self, is a playmaker. He doesn’t have to be the playmaker for THIS season.
But at the same time, if Atlanta wants to have another really nice stretch of football, they’re going to have to have a franchise quarterback. And Ridder’s conservative play, I think, is not good enough to be Atlanta’s starting QB long term. Even at Cincinnati in college, he was good (obviously 30-8 touchdowns to interceptions in his senior year is nothing to laugh at), but he was not making many big plays. He wasn’t taking the game into his own hands. And to win a Super Bowl in this league, unless it’s a very rare exception, you need a quarterback that is good to be a playmaker, and will his team to victory. So if he doesn’t show many signs of improvement in that category in 2023, Atlanta may be looking at their options at QB next offseason!
This team is surprisingly talented. Obviously a ton of things have to click if this team wants to win the NFC South. Robinson has to be a star coming into the league. Allgeier will still have to be a reliable option, while Patterson has to be valuable in the receiving game. They NEED Kyle Pitts to bounce back. And obviously they need Ridder to step up. But all of those things could happen. Even if they don’t achieve the success they may already be able to achieve, Atlanta is one of the most promising, young teams in football. Atlanta is going to be a fun team to watch for the foreseeable future!
Prediction: Atlanta goes around .500, comes short of a division title or postseason berth, but see many promising signs from young stars. Still, the Falcons go testing the quarterback market in 2024!
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