Optimism doesn’t exactly abound for the 2022 Atlanta Falcons. Far from it in fact. Instead, two separate sites expect the rebuilding Falcons to be propping up the standings based on their latest win-loss predictions.
The prevailing notion is Atlanta will enter the season with a roster bereft of talent, particularly at some of the most important areas in the game. Those areas include, quarterback, offensive line and pass rush.
General manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith endeavoured to fortify these positions this offseason. They’ve used both free agency and the draft to restock the cupboard, but none of their efforts appear to have won favor with many observers and prognosticators.
Here’s why the Falcons are being tipped to be the worst team in the NFL this year.
Two Predictions Make for Bleak Reading for Falcons Fans
The first prediction comes from Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon. He attempted to gauge the win-loss record for every team and put the Falcons at a league-low 3-14.
Kenyon zeroed in on the transition at quarterback as the chief reason for a bleak outlook: “Longtime quarterback Matt Ryan requested a trade, and the Falcons moved him to the Indianapolis Colts. Atlanta replaced him with Marcus Mariota, a stopgap QB who’s taking snaps until 2022 third-round pick Desmond Ridder is ready.”
It’s true both Marcus Mariota and rookie Desmond Ridder face a tall order attempting to replace franchise passing leader Matt Ryan. There are some intriguing playmakers at the skill positions at their disposal, but Mariota and Ridder aren’t surrounded by enough strength at the foundational positions.
That’s the view of several NFC executives who helped Mike Sando of The Athletic rank every team in the conference. The theme of the Falcons residing in the basement continued, and one exec told Sando why: “I just don’t think they have anything. They have one of the worst-pass-rushing teams in the league. Couple that with their quarterback situation in combination with the offensive line and it’s tough.”
Shaky quarterback play behind a feeble offensive line is a recipe for disaster. So is owning a lacklustre pass rush, particularly in an NFC South division fronted by Tom Bray and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and also featuring the potentially high-powered New Orleans Saints.
Both The Athletic and Bleacher Report pinpointed legitimate concerns about the Falcons, but the naysayers are overlooking the sneaky good talent elsewhere on the roster.
Why the Falcons Can Surprise their Critics
Yes, the Falcons logged just 18 sacks a year ago, the fewest in football. Yes, the receiving corps has been left short by the indefinite suspension handed to Calvin Ridley for betting violations. Yes, most members of the offensive line still don’t inspire much confidence.
All of those things are true, just like there’s no denying Mariota needs to rebuild his career after being a flop with the Tennessee Titans and spending the last two years as a backup with the Las Vegas Raiders.
It’s easy to reel off reasons why the Falcons could struggle this season, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to find reasons why they might surprise a few critics. Those reasons begin with the weapons around Mariota, specifically record-breaking tight end Kyle Pitts and wideout Drake London, the eighth player taken in this year’s draft.
They should form the headline double act in the passing game, but things look just as strong on the ground, where Cordarrelle Patterson continues to hold sway. Patterson enjoyed a breakout season in 2021, when his dual-threat skills forced defenses into some nightmare adjustments.
As good as Patterson was, he was still something of a solo act in the Falcons’ running game, while Mike Davis struggled. That ought to change now Damien Williams, a Super Bowl winner with the Kansas City Chiefs following the 2019 season, is in the fold.
There are other intriguing pieces, particularly slot receiver Damiere Byrd. He’s one of many former Chicago Bears signed since Ryan Pace joined the Falcons’ front office, and Byrd has the speed after the catch to be a prolific chain-mover underneath for either Mariota or Ridder.
Okay, so the O-line is still a worry, particularly in key spots like right tackle and left guard. Those positions look weak, but left tackle is strong thanks to Jake Matthews, while right guard Chris Lindstrom is one of the league’s best.
Add in the new dimension of Mariota and Ridder’s running threat, combined with an offensive-minded head coach, and there’s no way this unit won’t catch more than a few teams cold.
It may be a different story on defense, where veteran coordinator Dean Pees is trying to cobble together a pass-rush. Fortunately, he does have more options after the arrivals of Lorenzo Carter from the New York Giants, along with second- and third-round picks Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone.
While Pees may lack bluechip talent on the edges, he has some elsewhere in the form of nose tackle Grady Jarrett and cornerback A.J. Terrell. The latter is a darling of the analytics community and a rising star after last season:
Terrell should be even better now he has a capable running mate, the experienced Casey Hayward. If Pees, a wily play-caller, can coax some more pressure, the Falcons secondary will become a no-go area for many quarterbacks.
This Falcons roster looks better at key positions than the one competitive enough to finish 7-10 last season. While the quarterback situation bears watching, a stronger supporting cast should keep the Falcons at least as competitive this term.