The Atlanta Falcons have had a quiet offseason so far. The biggest question mark on this staff/roster will be the offensive coordinator position after Kyle Shanahan left to coach the 49ers. Steve Sarkisian is a brilliant offensive mind, but can the Falcons recreate the historic offense they had a season ago?
The answer is no. There is a reason they were the fifth best offense of all time. However, while the offense may regress, the defense continues to get faster and improve. Dan Quinn has a keen eye for talent, especially to fit his defensive scheme.
This offseason, the Falcons have done a nice job of relinquishing players they do not need and signing pieces that fit the puzzle well.
Key 2017 Losses:
Jacob Tamme (TE) – Free Agent
Chris Chester (OG) – Retirement
Paul Warrilow (ILB) – Detroit Lions
Jonathan Babineaux (DT) – Free Agent
Key 2017 Additions:
Dontari Poe (DT) – from the Kansas City Chiefs
Jack Crawford (DE) – from the Dallas Cowboys
Takkarist McKinley (DE) – 2017 NFL Draft (UCLA)
Duke Riley (OLB) – 2017 NFL Draft (LSU)
Damontae Kazee (CB) – 2017 NFL Draft (San Diego State)
Here’s what you should keep up with during the Falcons training camp.
3 Position Battles to Watch
1. Defensive End
The most interesting training camp battle is at the left defensive end position between Brooks Reed and the 2017 first rounder, Takkarist McKinley. While Reed has been a suitable player, expectations are high with McKinley. This defensive line has tremendous depth; something Atlanta fans have not been accustomed to since John Abraham.
2. Right Guard
Moving to the opposite side of the football, another interesting battle to watch in training camp is between two right guards – Wes Schweitzer and rookie Sean Harlow. Although Chris Chester played this position for the last two seasons, he retired at the beginning of the offseason. Since Chester’s retirement, the Falcons main offensive objective is to find a replacement. Which guard will Dan Quinn go with?
3. Outside Linebacker
While Kemal Ishmael is listed as a safety, Quinn noted this offseason that Ishmael will also take snaps at linebacker. Second-year players Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell already hold the Mike and Sam positions, so this leaves the Will position open for competition. Rookie, Duke Riley was drafted to fill this role but will have to pry it from the hands of Ishmael and Josh Keyes.
Ready To Break Out: Grady Jarrett
Grady Jarrett is widely known as the “player who sacked Tom Brady three times in the Super Bowl”. Jarrett is my break out player for this season, but for a different reason. Over his first two years with the Falcons, Grady Jarrett has shown Dan Quinn he is willing to anchor this defense in the middle. Now that the Falcons signed Dontari Poe, gaps will open for other players on that defensive line. Grady Jarrett will take advantage.
Fantasy Sleeper: Austin Hooper
Austin Hooper performed above and beyond expectations this past season. After being drafted in the third round a season ago, his role was to back up tight end Jacob Tamme and compete with Levine Toilolo for the second tight end position. After Tamme went down with a season ending shoulder injury, Hooper and Toilolo shared reps. While he only recorded 25 receptions and three touchdowns last season, he showed Matt Ryan that he can be trusted (he caught a touchdown in the Super Bowl). Look for Hooper to get more action this season.
Rookie To Watch: Duke Riley
When Deion Jones was drafted in the second round of 2016, the media shredded the pick. By the end of the season, he was a rookie-of-the-year finalist. So naturally, when the Falcons drafted fellow LSU linebacker Duke Riley (captain of the LSU defense over Jamal Adams), the media salivated at the mouth with comparisons. Riley is going to come out strong and fast just like his former and current teammate, Deion Jones. With the addition of Riley, the Falcons continue to get faster and more athletic on defense.
The Falcons will win the NFC South once again. Their roster continues to accumulate talented, hard-working playmakers. Combine that with their belief in a common goal and how tightly knit they are as a unit, and you make one hungry team. This may be the year they get over the hump.