Atlanta Falcons Receivers: Breaking Down the 2022 Situation

Calvin Ridley, a key player in the Atlanta Falcons receiving corps
Photo Credit: atlantafalcons.com

The Atlanta Falcons receivers group is arguably one of the worst in the 2021 NFL season. They have the least yardage of any wide receiver corps in the league. At tight end, it’s almost the reverse. They have generational talent Kyle Pitts as the starter and quite a few reserves that help out with blocking and can catch short routes as above average No. 2 tight end options. When it comes to groups that need an almost complete makeover this off-season, it’s this one.

Under Contract:

WR Calvin Ridley: 1 year, $11.116 million left on his contract

WR Frank Darby: 3 years, $2.973 million left on his contract

TE Kyle Pitts: 3 years, $26.927 million left on his contract and a potential fifth year option

Kyle Pitts is obviously going to be the primary option for the Atlanta Falcons group of receivers moving forward. He’s the only tight end 21 years or younger in NFL history to gain over 1000 yards. He’s a physical freak and as his routes and catching get more refined, he’s only going to be more impactful. Frank Darby is a very good long-term reserve option for the Falcons as a fourth option in the passing game and is under contract for very little money.

Calvin Ridley is the most unique situation in the NFL as he’s currently under a mental health leave from the league. Should the Falcons want to move on because they aren’t sure he’s in it for their team, they should trade him for the most value they can. It would free up cap space in the amount of $11 million. If he’s ready to go for the Falcons, he’d instantly be an option for No. 1 receiver. Ridley could lead the passing game and mentor Pitts to be an even better player than he is.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents:

WR Chad Hansen

WR Austin Trammell

TE Parker Hesse

TE John Raine

When looking at the exclusive rights free agents the Atlanta Falcons have in the receivers group, this looks like a few guys who can provide a little depth for the camp roster. The only person in this group who could be a regular contributor moving forward is Parker Hesse. Hesse is a good fit for the long-term blocking role in Arthur Smith’s offense. He’s shown abilities as a short-yardage outlet for the Falcons as a rookie and could continue a similar role for the team moving forward.

UPDATE: The Falcons re-signed Hesse, Raine, Hansen and Trammell on 1/10/2022.

Restricted Free Agents:

WR Olamide Zaccheaus

WR Christian Blake

TE Jaeden Graham

Restricted free agents are an interesting situation for the Falcons. While Christian Blake is an obvious non-tender option due to lack of production and lack of talent overall, Jaeden Graham and Olamide Zaccheaus had impacts during their first three years with the team. Zaccheaus and Graham should both be brought back, but ideally, they re-signed for under the original tender offer.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

WR Tajae Sharpe

WR Russell Gage

TE Hayden Hurst

TE Lee Smith

The biggest names from this group in terms of talent and production are Russell Gage and Hayden Hurst. Gage has proven to be a talented third or fourth receiving option in the offense and a good possession receiver needed for those tough third downs. Hurst has shown to be a solid blocker and a good fit for the Arthur Smith offense, but might be looking for a more expanded role in another offense. If the Falcons can get either guy back on a reasonable contract, they should do so.

Tajae Sharpe has been a decent fit for the Falcons as a tertiary receiver and possession guy, but he’s only shown that his value is as a veteran minimum player. If he comes back for that, bring him into camp. Otherwise, let him walk. The same can be said for Lee Smith. He’s been a good blocker, but not much else for the Falcons during the 2021 season.

Current Need

The Falcons need more playmakers moving forward regardless of who’s on the roster for 2022. As much as the team and fans love Kyle Pitts, he can’t do it on his own. Bringing in a competent and talented option to play as the No. 2 to him or even a No. 3 role to him and Calvin Ridley should be a priority for the future. Free agent options to consider that would fill that role include Allen Robinson, Allen Lazard, Juju Smith-Schuster, A.J. Green and Emmanuel Sanders.

At tight end, the Falcons could consider bringing in options that might be able to mentor Kyle Pitts while also working in a similar tight end/wide receiver setting. Jimmy Graham, Zach Ertz and Jared Cook are names that spring to mind that may not break the bank while still providing what is needed. Outside of that, going bargain options for a blocking tight end makes the most sense.

Potential Future Need

In this situation, the potential future need is the same as the current need. The Falcons don’t have a hard contract situation to deal with at this position, but the Calvin Ridley situation brings forth a lot of questions. If Ridley does come back to the Falcons and signs long-term, this would help the Falcons have their No. 1 option settled for the future and remove what this need is.

What the Plan Should Be Moving Forward

The plan moving forward should first be to figure out what Calvin Ridley wants to do. If he wants to be in Atlanta, keep him and set him up long term to be the No. 1 guy. If he doesn’t, trade him for assets that can be used moving forward. If he doesn’t, the Falcons biggest need in this group is a true, playmaking No. 1 wide receiver. And whether they address it in the draft or free agency is to be determined.

Once that situation is determined, figure out the rest of the Atlanta Falcons receivers group and tight end group to complement the strengths and weaknesses of the No. 1 and Kyle Pitts. Having multiple options out there, the Falcons could go in a plethora of directions. What they end up doing isn’t fully up to them due to the Ridley situation, though.

2022 Atlanta Falcons Offseason: Breaking Down the Edge Defender Situation

Atlanta Falcons edge defender Ade Ogundeji
Photo Credit: Steve Luciano/AP

The biggest issue for the Atlanta Falcons defense is a lack of talent at edge defender both in the pass rushing and run defending aspects of the defense. Atlanta’s defensive line has needs, but edge defender has more needs than the defensive line does. Atlanta will need to find two starters and a speed rotational rusher to take advantage of defensive coordinator Dean Pees coverage and zone blitzing concepts.

Under Contract:

EDGE Adetokunbo Ogundeji: 3 years, $3.0 million left on his contract

EDGE James Vaughters: 1 year, $965,000 left on his contract

EDGE Quinton Bell: 1 year, $825,000 left on his contract

The Falcons are in a great spot to completely remake their edge rushing corps. While Adetokunbo Ogundeji showed that he’s a good long-term rotational piece, he’s not a long-term starter. James Vaughters is another solid rotational piece that they should go year-to-year with unless he pulls a Shaq Barrett on them. Quinton Bell was a practice squad player last year and signed to a futures contract.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

EDGE Dante Fowler

EDGE Stephen Means

EDGE Brandon Copeland

Honestly, unless any of these guys will come back for the true veteran minimum, they aren’t worth bringing into camp for the Falcons in 2022. Dante Fowler was a disappointment all year and barely brought any pressure. Stephen Means is a pure run defender with no pass rush potential. Brandon Copeland is a run defense and coverage linebacker who is better aligned on the edge.

Current Need

The Falcons are missing two starting caliber edge rushers and one rotational edge rusher. They need true pass rushers. Bringing in someone in the draft and free agency has to be the plan. Right now, the focus should be on getting multiple guys who can be regular 10-sack players while they are with the Falcons, as well as at least a rotational guy who can come in and be a mentor.

Potential Future Need

There would be a potential future need if the Falcons had someone at the position. But right now, there is no potential future need. It’s all about fixing the pass rush right now and in the long term.

What the Plan Should Be Moving Forward

The Atlanta Falcons should look to get at least two starting edge defenders in free agency. Someone like Von Miller on a $9 million/year or so deal to start and be a mentor makes sense. Other options would include guys like Melvin Ingram as a rotational rusher or a Derek Barnett as a starter. Older, mentor types that could help in the mentor and rotational role include guys like Ryan Kerrigan, Pernell McPhee, Jamie Collins and Everson Griffen.

In the draft, there are a lot of interesting options. Ideally one of Kayvon Thibideaux or Aidan Hutchinson slip to the Falcons in the first round. However, options like George Karlaftis or David Ojabo could end up being great fits in the first round. Additional mid-round guys would include Myjai Sanders, Kingsley Enagbare, Zach Harrison and Nolan Smith. With such a strong edge class, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Atlanta go out and get multiple options in the draft and add just one veteran.

2022 Atlanta Falcons Offseason: Breaking Down the Defensive Line

Grady Jarrett, star of the Atlanta Falcons defensive line
Photo Credit: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons defensive line is one of the worst units in the NFL in terms of pass rushing and run defending. Adding more talent should be imperative for the Falcons moving forward on their defensive line. Grady Jarrett is great, but he’s the only one with any sort of super star talent. The rest of the line is average at best. That needs to change moving forward.

Under Contract:

DL Grady Jarrett: 1 year, $23.833 million left on his contract

DL Marlon Davidson: 2 years, $4.085 million left on his contract

NT Tyeler Davison: 1 year, $5.013 million left on his contract

DL Ta’Quon Graham: 3 years, $3.083 million left on his contract

EDGE/DL John Cominsky: 1 year, $1.087 million left on his contract

DL Nick Thurman: 1 year, $825,000 left on his contract

The Falcons have one of the best defensive line talents in the league in Grady Jarrett. However, his contract situation for the long term should be addressed. In extending Jarrett, they can create more cap space for the 2022 season and lock up one of the best defenders on the roster. Marlon Davidson, Ta’Quon Graham and John Cominsky are all solid depth guys, but shouldn’t be more than that moving forward based on their play.

The biggest move the Falcons should make is cutting Tyeler Davison. He’s been inactive for almost half the games this season. When he has been active, he’s been outplayed by Mike Pennel and Anthony Rush. The Falcons should let the former Saint walk and save the $3.5 million that they would save from the move. That money would be better spent on another player that could actually compete for a starting role and not just a low-talent rotation player.

With the amount that it cost to bring him back, Nick Thurman is a good candidate for a re-sign. He isn’t expensive and will allow the Falcons to have some more depth along the front of the line.

Restricted Free Agents:

NT Anthony Rush

Anthony Rush was a huge surprise for the Falcons in the 2021 season as a competent, cheap nose tackle for the rotation. The Falcons shouldn’t tender him, but they should try and re-sign him for a minimum deal like they did with Younghoe Koo before free agency starts.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

DL Jonathan Bullard

NT Mike Pennel

Jonathan Bullard and Mike Pennel played quite a few snaps for the Falcons in 2021. They should be allowed to walk in 2022. Neither one was impactful, and both are replacement-level guys. Atlanta would be better off spending the money on other players.

Current Need

The biggest need for the Falcons in the coming draft and free agency periods will be on the defensive line. They need someone who can help Grady Jarrett create interior pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Focusing on the free agents available, someone like Akiem Hicks, Ndamukong Suh, or Jadeveon Clowney for a deal that averages around $7-8 million per year for 2-3 years makes a ton of sense for the Falcons.

Potential Future Need

The Falcons could end up striking out on the extension attempt for Grady Jarrett in the offseason. If they do, they could potentially move on from the excellent defensive tackle after 2022, and this would create a huge need for the team. Players in the draft that could signal a potential long-term move away from Jarrett include DeMarvin Leal from Texas A&M. However, the Falcons could still get Leal and keep Jarrett and end up with a pair of wreckers on the interior.

What the Plan Should Be Moving Forward

Moving forward, the Atlanta Falcons biggest move along the defensive line should be to extend Grady Jarrett and lower his cap hit for 2022 while extending him through 2026. After they do that, focusing on high-level talent in the draft like Aidan Hutchinson or DeMarvin Leal makes a ton of sense. The Falcons should also look for mid-round options at nose tackle who can also pass rush. Guys like Travis Jones from Connecticut or Phidarian Mathis from Alabama would be high on the list.

2022 Atlanta Falcons Offseason: Breaking Down the Offensive Line

Atlanta Falcons, G, Chris Lindstrom, a key piece of the offensive line
Atlanta Falcons, G, Chris Lindstrom

On the surface, the weakest unit of the Atlanta Falcons is their offensive line. They’ve allowed Matt Ryan to be hit more than any quarterback in the NFL, and the offensive line only creates around 1.2 yards before contact on the average rush. Atlanta needs to improve the offensive line whether by talent or by upgrading the coaching. At worst, adding some competition along the line should be the primary goal moving forward for the team.

1. Under Contract

LT Jake Matthews: 2 years, $46.089 million left on his contract

LG Jalen Mayfield: 3 years, $4.261 million left on his contract

C Matt Hennessy: 2 years, $2.746 million left on his contract

RG Chris Lindstrom: 1 year, $4.68 million left on his contract plus a potential 5th year option

RT Kaleb McGary: 1 year, $3.27 million left on his contract plus a potential 5th year option

OL Drew Dalman: 3 years, $3.403 million left on his contract

The entire starting offensive line is back under contract for at least 2022 with 2023 likely for four of the five starters. That should help with chemistry moving forward. There are easily needs that will be addressed. However, Jake Matthews is a top 10 left tackle. Chris Lindstrom is a top 5 right guard. Matt Hennessy was an average center this past season, and Kaleb McGary was an average right guard in 2021. The real hole was at left guard with Jalen Mayfield.

Drew Dalman was a good backup at center, but the Falcons don’t really have any depth under contract but him. Mayfield needs competition for his role, and Dalman could be one of the pieces that can compete with him. One thing that could help this entire offensive line is if they worked with an outside coach in the off-season like Kynan Forney—a former Falcons offensive guard who runs an offensive line training school in the off-season in the Atlanta area.

2. Exclusive Rights Free Agents

  • Rick Leonard
  • Colby Gossett
  • Willie Beavers
  • Ryan Neuzil

While there are four names listed here, the only one that really matters for the Atlanta Falcons offensive line is Colby Gossett. He saw real playing time for the Falcons on special teams units. The other three were pure practice squad guys the whole time.

Expect all four guys to get exclusive rights contracts for the veteran minimum for a first or second-year player. This group will help depth for training camp, but there probably isn’t more than depth players in this group for the regular season.

UPDATE: The Falcons have re-signed Neuzil and Beavers to futures contracts as of 1/10/2022.

3. Unrestricted Free Agents

  • Matt Gono
  • Jason Spriggs
  • Josh Andrews

With who these players are, it wouldn’t be surprising to see all three of them brought back as depth solutions for the offensive line group. Matt Gono was the swing tackle in 2018-2020, but he was out all season with an injury. Jason Spriggs and Josh Andrews were not great in their limited action this season. This would be a trio of signings for veteran minimum, so getting them and the exclusive rights group back would give the Falcons a total of 13 linemen on their depth chart.

4. Current Needs for the Atlanta Falcons

As it is right now, the Falcons are able to bring back essentially the entire group of linemen that played any snap in 2021 with very little overall investment. And they should bring all of them back. The best way to improve the unit is from the top line. Get some competition for the starting group and the depth as a whole will improve. They should also look into getting an older player who can be a mentor for the unit as a whole and help out as almost an extra offensive line coach.

5. Potential Future Need

While the entire offensive line is under contract or team control for two years, a potential future need would be left tackle if the team doesn’t feel Jake Matthews is the guy moving forward there. More than likely, they do like Matthews, but feel that McGary would be easier to move on from after 2022. If the Falcons do draft any offensive linemen, taking a right tackle for long-term would be the move to make.

What Should the Plan be for the Atlanta Falcons Moving Forward?

Names like Andrew Norwell, Cameron Robinson, Matt Paradis, and Duane Brown are out there in free agency. While bringing in any one of them could help the Falcons roster as potential starters, focusing on someone who could come in and help as a mentor is just as important. Free agency could also lead to more secondary options like Riley Reiff, Billy Price, Trai Turner or Bobby Massie joining the team for a similar role. The only question here will be cost.

They should also try and re-sign all of the guys who are listed under both free agent tags for minimum deals for a lot of depth. Outside of that, they could end up looking at prospects in the draft should they fall farther than they should have. Offensive linemen like Evan Neal, Alec Lindstrom, Nicholas Petit-Frere and Jackson Kirkland could enhance depth for the roster early on while providing competition at center, left guard or right tackle.

However, with the whole Atlanta Falcons offensive line under contract and looking like a reasonable group of starters who just need to develop more as a unit, it wouldn’t be shocking if the Falcons didn’t draft anyone and decided instead to bring in value free agents to help with depth and competition.

Atlanta Falcons Running Backs: Breaking Down the 2022 Situation

Running backs were considered the focal point for the Atlanta Falcons when Arthur Smith was named head coach in 2021. Many began to think that he would look for his own Derrick Henry type running back to lead his group. Atlanta then brought in Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson on short term contracts designed to help the team build an offense with a talented backfield. They supplemented them with options through the year like Wayne Gallman, Qadree Ollison and fullback Keith Smith.

In 2020, the Falcons had 1,922 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns from their running back group. They had a big improvement in 2021 by replacing Brian Hill and Todd Gurley with Patterson and Davis. The Falcons have exceeded their running back production from 2020 in 2021 with 2,174 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns. They have become a more explosive group, but construction of the group might take a different dynamic moving forward.

Under Contract:

RB Mike Davis: 1 year, $3.25 million left on his contract

FB Keith Smith: 1 year, $1.67 million left on his contract

In terms of money, the Falcons have very light commitments to their backfield at this time. Keith Smith is a supremely underrated fullback, and Mike Davis is a solid running back when the blocking is there. While neither of the guys listed have any business being cut, the team could end up sending them on their way should they decide that the money would be better spent elsewhere.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents:

RB Qadree Ollison

RB Caleb Huntley (practice squad)

Due to the low cost of what free agents like this command, expect the Falcons to bring both of these guys back for training camp. Qadree Ollison has been solid and shown flashes of a bruising runner during his time in the pros. However, he’s been terrible in pass protection, hurting his chances at carving out a role in the offense. Caleb Huntley was a solid back in the preseason, but is camp fodder.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

RB/WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson

The Falcons leading rusher and receiver at running back was the surprising Cordarrelle Patterson. He played his best games when Calvin Ridley was still active on the roster and opposing teams couldn’t look at him as a primary or even second option. The Falcons bringing him back should be imperative. He was a unique option for the team and has a total of 1,154 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns with just one fumble all season. Not to mention, but even he’s alluded to wanting to stay.

Current Need

At running back, the Falcons could run it back with this same group and see more success in year two of Arthur Smith’s schemes. Bringing back Patterson or someone who can win in the same ways makes a lot of sense for the team. However, running back is a low-value position due to the massive supply of guys out there that can come in and impact right away.

Potential Future Need

Even if the Falcons bring back Patterson, he and Mike Davis are older in terms of running back age at 31 and 29 to start the 2022 season. A long-term guy needs to come in and, at worst, learn from the two of them to start his career. This draft has a ton of great options that would fit the wide-zone and split-zone schemes that Arthur Smith runs in Atlanta that predicate vision and balance. With so many different options in the draft, that will likely be the avenue they look towards moving forward.

What the Plan Should Be Moving Forward

In terms of free agent running backs, the Falcons should look to Patterson or not look at all. Running back is a position of diminishing returns in the free agent market similar to a car being bought off of a used car lot. Focusing on draft picks, there are a bunch of great fits all throughout the draft. Players like Zachary Charbonnet from UCLA, Brian Robinson from Alabama, and Breece Hall from Iowa State are just a few perfect options for a zone scheme that would be able to help the Falcons past 2022.