I remember fondly last season saying that Mike Smith will be fired as head coach of the Falcons (Facebook friends I know you remember). Guess what, Smith was fired as head coach as Atlanta struggled to finish 6-10. A bad defense doomed the Falcons. Dan Quinn, former defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks comes in as head coach hoping to fix up this porous defense. This team still has a lot of talent offensively, so if the defense improves, the Falcons can be extremely dangerous in a winnable NFC South.
1. Do the Falcons have the talent to effectively run Dan Quinn’s defense? Quinn wants his defenses to attack, be disruptive, and affect the quarterback. They did not do any of those three things last season, especially get after the quarterback. The Falcons sacked the quarterback only 22 times! No player recorded more than 5 sacks. Adrian Clayborn was brought in from Tampa Bay to help out at defensive end, but his career has been ravaged by injury. Vic Beasley was drafted to add more speed and pass rush ability. Those guys could help, but this defense still lacks serious playmakers on the line and in the secondary. Quinn and defensive coordinator Richard Smith will have to do a good job of coaching to put these players in position to make plays.
2. How does this running game “get going”? The running game was and has been virtually non-existent for awhile. In fact, they have not averaged 100 or more yards rushing as a team since 2011. I think inconsistency on the offensive line, and depending on Steven Jackson, who I think stuck around too long has derailed the running attack. Devonta Freeman and rookie Tevin Coleman will fight for the starting running back spot. Chris Chester was brought in from Washington to help out with the offensive line, but I don’t necessarily think that is enough. The most important person in this equation might be offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Everywhere he has been, Kyle has been able to get his offenses to have run-pass balance. Look at what he did in Washington with RGIII and Alfred Morris. The man has proven that he knows what to do with different talent bases.
3. What happens with Julio Jones? He is on the last year of his rookie deal, and has vehemently stated that he is not worried about a new contract. What is interesting is that Jones has now seen what other receivers like Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas did in the off-season with signing their new contracts, so Jones now has an idea of the market. I believe he will sign a new deal, but if both sides don’t will this become an issue? I think Jones wants to be in Atlanta, and it is paramount that the Falcons bring him back. How much money will Jones demand?
Julio Jones- Talking about guys like Dez, Demaryius, Jordy Nelson, and Antonio Brown, it seems as if Julio is a bit forgotten at times. Jones led the NFL in receiving yards and was second in catches. He should be in the conversation as a top 5 fantasy receivers, but the lack of touchdowns might have him out of consideration (only 6 touchdown catches last season). Still a WR1 in a PPR league, maybe a WR1 in standard.
Obviously, with a defensive-minded coach and a lack of talent on that side of the ball, defense was the order of the day in this draft. Vic Beasley used his talent as well as a great combine to grab the Falcons’ interest in the first round. Beasley should help a hapless pass rush with his speed. Jalen Collins gives depth to the cornerback position, I expect him to be brought up slowly. Tevin Coleman was a highly-productive running back at Indiana, and I am intrigued to see what Shanahan can do with him. Justin Hardy will compete for playing time at third receiver, a position that is a little lacking now that Harry Douglas has moved on to Tennessee. I like defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, their fifth round pick from Clemson.
Matt Ryan will throw 35 touchdown passes this season, a new career high.
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