A franchise going in the wrong direction, the Atlanta Falcons’ depth chart still has several holes after a relatively stagnant free agency period. As we approach the 2021 NFL Draft, Arthur Smith has to nail his decisions if the Falcons are going to get out of the NFC South’s basement.
Atlanta Falcons Depth Chart
Outside of the notable stars, who fills out the Falcons’ depth chart?
Quarterback: Matt Ryan, AJ McCarron, Feleipe Franks
Running Back: Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson, Qadree Ollison, Tony Brooks-James, Javian Hawkins, Caleb Huntley
Fullback: Keith Smith, John Raine
Wide Receiver: Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, Christian Blake, Chris Rowland, Greg Dortch, Frank Darby, Juwan Green, Antonio Nunn, Austin Trammell
Tight End: Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst, Lee Smith, Jaeden Graham, Ryan Becker, Parker Heese
Offensive Tackle: Jake Matthews, Kaleb McGary, Matt Gono, Jalen Mayfield, Jack Batho, Kion Smith
Offensive Guard: Chris Lindstrom, Willie Beavers, Bryce Hargrove, Joe Sculthorpe, Ryan Neuzil
Center: Matt Hennessy, Willie Wright, Drew Dalman, Sam Jones
Interior Defensive Line: Grady Jarrett, Tyeler Davison, John Cominsky, Marlon Davidson, Deadrin Senat, Chris Slayton, Jonathan Bullard
EDGE: Dante Fowler Jr., Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Barkevious Mingo, Alani Pututau, Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Kobe Jones, Steven Means, Zac Dawe, Eli Howard, Ta’Quon Graham
Linebacker: Deion Jones, Foyesade Oluokun, Mykal Walker, Brandon Copeland, Erroll Thompson, Dorian Etheridge
Cornerback: A.J. Terrell, Kendall Sheffield, Fabian Moreau, Isaiah Oliver, Delrick Abrams, Tyler Hall, Chris Williamson, Avery Williams, Darren Hall
Safety: Jaylinn Hawkins, Erik Harris, T.J. Green, JR Pace, Duron Harmon, Richie Grant, Dwayne Johnson Jr., Marcus Murphy
Kicker: Younghoe Koo
Punter: Sterling Hofrichter, Dom Maggio
Long Snapper: Josh Harris
Atlanta Falcons Depth Chart Analysis | Offense
Ryan, Jones, Ridley, Davis, and now Pitts make this offense one of the deadliest in the NFL.
Are we at the end of the line with Matt Ryan leading the Atlanta Falcons’ depth chart? It is a possibility — the Falcons can designate Ryan as a post-June 1 release and stop any future dead cap from hitting in 2021. As it stands, Ryan will account for a $26.9 million cap hit in 2021 and $48.66 million and $43.61 million over the next two years, respectively.
At 36 years old in May, Ryan can still sling the football. In 2020, he set a career-high for completions (407) and attempts (626) while amassing 4,581 yards and 26 touchdowns. It was Ryan’s 10th consecutive season throwing for over 4,000 yards. One way or another, Ryan won’t be on the team next season.
Behind Ryan on the depth chart is journeyman AJ McCarron. over his seven year-career he has played on three teams, completing 109-of-174 passes for 1,173 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. He was last with the Houston Texans, starting one game and appearing in four the past two seasons.
Last on the depth chart is undrafted free agent (UDFA) Feleipe Franks. Franks has a cannon for an arm and enough athleticism to escape the pocket when needed, but his accuracy is all over the board. He is a solid developmental project to stash on the roster — the tools are there.
After one year of production from Todd Gurley, the Falcons opted not to re-sign their 2021 leading rusher. Instead, the Falcons made a thrifty move in acquiring former Panthers RB Mike Davis. Not only did they sign him to a team-friendly deal (two years, $5.5 million), but they stole him from a divisional rival.
Filling in for the injured Christian McCaffrey, Davis went from relative obscurity to a household name and savior of fantasy teams nationwide. Davis was one of the top free-agent running backs available. He set career-highs in carries (165), receptions (59), yards from scrimmage (1,015), and touchdowns (8) across 15 games for the Panthers last season.
With Arthur Smith as the head coach, we can assume he wants to incorporate more of a rushing attack with the Falcons. They do not have a workhorse like Derrick Henry, so expect a committee approach.
Ito Smith should play a more prominent role in the rushing game. An explosive rusher, Smith should serve as a competing RB2 so long as the Falcons don’t address the position further in the draft. He finished the year with 268 yards and 1 score on 63 carries. Qadree Ollison has garnered 24 total touches since entering the NFL in 2019. He carried the ball once for 3 yards last year.
The Falcons also signed the versatile Cordarrelle Patterson in the offseason. Last year for the Bears, he accumulated 232 yards and 1 touchdown on 64 carries while adding another 132 yards on 21 receptions. Former Louisville back Javian Hawkins and Ball State RB Caleb Huntley signed as UDFAs and will battle for one of the last spots on the depth chart.
I am not sure people appreciate how special Calvin Ridley is. He was not just a wingman to Jones. In the 36 games where they have shared the field, Ridley averaged 6.6 targets, 4.4 receptions for 61.25 yards, and 0.6 touchdowns per game.
On a 16-game average, that is 71 receptions on 106 targets for 980 yards and 10 scores. As the alpha on the field a year ago, Ridley went wild on a level that would make Gwen Stefani proud. His 16-game average was 116 receptions on 178 targets for 1,712 yards and 6 touchdowns. Ridley is an elite wide receiver who does not get the respect he deserves.
With Jones gone, Russell Gage enjoyed his best year yet. Playing in 16 games (eight starts), Gage corralled 72 of his 102 targets for 786 yards and 4 touchdowns, setting career-highs across the board. He even added 1 score through the air as a passer and could have thrown a second passing touchdown if it were not for a drop.
Olamide Zaccheaus is entering his third season out of Virginia. He saw 32 targets in 2020, catching 20 for 274 yards and 1 touchdown. Atlanta drafted Arizona State’s Frank Darby in the sixth round and he will look to earn a WR5/WR6 role. Aditionally, they signed Memphis’ Antonion Nunn and Rice’s Austin Trammell as UDFAs.
Although there was speculation that Atlanta would take a QB at No. 4 overall, the Falcons opted to choose the best player available in Florida’s Kyle Pitts. As one of the most talented players in the draft, Pitts comes in as the third option in an offense that already contains Jones and Ridley. Ryan has th weapons surrounding him to produce another MVP-caliber season.
An uber-athletic tight end, Hayden Hurst walked into a prominent role on the Falcons’ depth chart following Austin Hooper’s departure. Hurst stepped up and set new career-highs in 2020. Playing in 16 games with nine starts, Hurst caught 56 of 88 passes for 571 yards and 6 touchdowns. Atlanta will not pick up the fifth-year option on his contract.
The lone trade for the Falcons came in a deal with the Buffalo Bills. In exchange for a 2022 seventh-round pick, the Atlanta Falcons added inline TE Lee Smith to their depth chart. Smith, 33, was a fifth-round pick by New England in 2011. For his career, he has 64 receptions for 458 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Having protected Ryan’s blindside since 2014, Jake Matthews is a crucial part of the Falcons offense. Outside of his rookie season (15 starts), Matthews has started all 16 games for the organization. Playing on 100% of the offensive snaps, Matthews was never called for a holding while drawing only 2 false start penalties.
Kaleb McGary only committed 1 penalty and surrendered 4 sacks all season as the starting right tackle in 2020. What makes this more impressive is that he played over half the season with an MCL sprain.
Third-round pick Jalen Mayfield will compete along the offensive line. He played tackle in college, but best projects as a guard at the next level. Still, there has been no official word and what position he will play and Mayfield himself said he can play across the entire offensive line.
Fayetteville State’s Kion Smith joined the Falcons as a UDFA and will attempt to forge a role on the depth chart.
A first-round selection by the Falcons in 2019, Chris Lindstrom looked the part last season. He missed all but five games as a rookie due to a broken foot.
Matt Gono, an undrafted free agent out of Wesley College in 2018, has appeared in 21 games with four starts over three NFL seasons.
Signed to Atlanta’s practice squad in September, Willie Beavers has not appeared in a game since joining the Vikings in 2016.
With Alex Mack hitting free agency, Matt Hennessy should take over the Falcons’ starting center role. Hennessy was a third-round pick and saw limited action in 2020, starting in two games at the end of a year.
Willie Wright is a UDFA from Tulsa who has spent the last two seasons on the Browns’ and Falcons’ practice squads.
The Falcons selected Drew Dalman in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft and actually has a similar profile to Matt Hennessy. Although he likely won’t start, he provides solid depth on the interior of the line.
Falcons Analysis | Defense
The Falcons’ defense hopes their 2021 rookie class can bolster the unit.
Interior Defensive Line
Since 2018, DT Grady Jarrett has totaled 300 tackles (160 solo), 17.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 53 quarterback hits. Depending on how the season goes for Atlanta, Jarrett could be a potential trade candidate as his contract expires after the 2022 season.
A free-agent signing in 2019, Tyeler Davison has played in all 32 games (27 starts) over the past two seasons. Over that span, Davidson has recorded 91 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 QB hits, and 6 tackles for a loss.
John Cominsky saw a significant increase in playing time in his sophomore season on the Atlanta Falcons’ depth chart. Playing in 30.6 snaps per game on defense, Cominsky totaled 39 tackles and 1.5 sacks over 13 games in 2020.
2020 second round selection Marlon Davidson suffered a horrendous rookie year. He flashed immense talent and potential while at Auburn, but was marred with injuries, COVID-19, and a coaching staff that believed he needed time before he could hit the field. Now, under Arthur Smith, Davidson has a second chance to prove his ability in 2021.
Deadrin Senat enjoyed a solid rookie campaign in 2018, recording 30 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 3 QB hits. Unfortunatly, he has registered just four total tackles and played in just seven games since. A former third-rounder, there is talent there if he can remain healthy for a full season.
After a breakout 2019 campaign during his contract year, Dante Fowler Jr. took a giant step back in production last season. Playing in 14 games, Fowler dropped from 58 tackles, 16 QB hits, and 11.5 sacks to 23 tackles, 8 QB hits, and only 3 sacks. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, played in all 16 games last season for Atlanta, finishing with 31 tackles (24 solo), 5 QB hits, 3 fumble recoveries, and 1 sack. He re-signed with the Falcons on a one-year deal during the offseason.
Due to crippling cap issues, the Atlanta Falcons only made a few additions to their depth chart this offseason. One of the new faces on the roster is Barkevious Mingo. A member of the Bears last season, Mingo registered 35 tackles and 2.5 sacks as a rotational player. In eight seasons, Mingo accumulated 255 tackles, 5 forced fumbles, and 12.5 sacks.
Atlanta drafted Notre Dame edge rusher Adetokunbo Ogundeji in the fifth round this year. On a Falcons’ roster bereft of defensive depth on the edge, it would not be surprising to see Ogundeji carve out a role this season.
After restructuring his contract, Deion Jones shepherds the Falcons’ linebacker room. Second on the team in tackles (106) last year, Jones set a new career-high in sacks (4.5) and intercepted 2 passes — 1 of which he took for a touchdown. Outside of an injury-shortened 2018, Jones has racked up over 100 tackles in every season of his five-year career.
The leader in tackles with 117, Foyesade Oluokun made 14 starts for the Falcons. A Pro Bowl snub initially, Oluokun added 3 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and a pair of interceptions to his breakout season. As a 2018 NFL Draft pick, he is entering the final year of his contract.
Mykal Walker, a Day 3 pick out of Fresno State, made six starts in his 16 appearances and generated 45 tackles and 1 forced fumble.
Signed during free agency, Brandon Copeland appeared in six games with four starts for the New England Patriots in 2020. In six seasons, Copeland has tallied 98 total tackles (63 solo), 7 sacks, 4 passes defensed, and 17 special-teams tackles in 66 games with 18 starts.
UDFA linebackers Erroll Thompson (Mississippi State) and Dorian Etheridge (Louisville) expect to compete at a position of need for the Falcons.
The 16th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, A.J. Terrell has the makings of one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Terrell started in all 14 games in which he appeared, totaling 74 tackles (61 solos), 3 forced fumbles, and 7 passes defensed.
The Falcons gave up a league-worst 4,697 yards passing in 2020, and Kendall Sheffield was at the center of it. Likely on the hot seat in 2021, Sheffield has yet to record an interception in 29 career appearances. Last year, he had 3 passes defensed and 51 tackles but allowed a 73.6% completion percentage when targeted and a QBR of 114.7.
Isaiah Oliver was moved into the slot and allowed the team to utilize him in more of a pressure role rather than just in coverage. Making 12 starts (16 games), Oliver had 6 passes defensed along with 70 tackles and 4 tackles for a loss. In Week 8 against Carolina, he recorded the first sack of his career.
Some were surprised when Atlanta drafted Boise State CB Avery Williams with pick No. 183. However, Williams is one of the best kick and punt returners coming out of the draft. His play at corner is a work in progress and he may never be a true contributor on that side of the ball, but his special-teams ability is electric.
A rookie corner that will be asked to contribute on the defensive side of the ball is Darren Hall of San Diego State. The fourth-rounder was uber productive in college, breaking up 16 passes in 2019, most in the FBS.
The safety position is a considerable concern for the Falcons, with Damontae Kazee, Keanu Neal, and Ricardo Allen all no longer on the roster.
Jaylinn Hawkins made only two starts as a rookie in 2020. He recorded 13 tackles (8 solo) but appeared to be more of a depth piece rather than a starter on the Atlanta Falcons’ depth chart.
Acquired during free agency, Erik Harris played 12 games for Las Vegas in the 2020 season. Harris started 12 games last season, where he accumulated 61 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 5 passes defensed.
T.J. Green has done little over the last few seasons. Selected by Indianapolis in 2016, Green started 11 games while recording 88 tackles. He is now on his fourth team and has been active for just two games since leaving the Colts.
After spending his first seven seasons in New England (2013-2019), Duron Harmon followed Matt Patricia to Detriot for the 2020 season. With Patricia out, Harmon was on the move again, this time landing in thin safety room in Atlanta. Harmon will presumably take over one of the starting safety positions.
Yet another San Diego State player to find himself on Atlanta’s depth chart, Dwayne Johnson Jr. signed as a UDFA this offseason. A more typical box safety, Johnson has the potential to stick on the roster in that role.
The second selection for the Falcons in the 2021 NFL Draft, UCF’s Richie Grant didn’t have to wait too long to hear his name called at No. 40 overall. Grant may not have to start from Day 1 with the additions of Harris and Harmon, but he possesses the skill set necessary to succeed at the NFL level.
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