2018 Season Recap: Atlanta Falcons

2018 SEASON RECAP: ATLANTA FALCONS

Division: NFC South

Record: 7-9 (4-2, 2nd place in the NFC South)

Introduction

Hi r/NFL and my mom, who will be maybe be reading this. The Falcons 2018 was a roller coaster ride that ultimately ended in disappointment. Thought to be Superbowl contenders, they failed to live up to expectations.

To better understand the Falcons 2018/19 season, we need to briefly look at the 2017/18 season. In 2017, the Falcons finished 10-6, 3rd place in the loaded NFC South, and the 6 seed in the NFC playoffs. They shut down the Rams impressive offense in the wildcard round, and then lost to the Superbowl Champion Eagles (congrats guys!) in the most maddening game the Falcons played in the previous 10-or-so-months. They were very streaky throughout that season, but in the second half they turned it on. Especially the defense, led by Deion Jones, the NFL’s best coverage linebacker according to PFF, Keanu Neal, the Kam Chancellor 2.0, Ricardo Allen, the on-field DC and “eraser” free safety, and Grady Jarrett, who is quietly one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL.

In 2018, all of those defensive stars missed time. Keanu Neal tore his ACL week one, out for the year. Deion Jones broke his foot week one and didn’t play until the Falcons were practically eliminated from playoff contention. Ricardo Allen tore his Achilles week 3 in OT vs the Saints. Grady Jarrett suffered a sprained ankle in week 4 and missed the next 2 weeks vs Pittsburgh and Tampa, where James Conner wrecked the defense.

So five weeks in to the season, the Falcons were 1-4 and the season was seemingly done. Here is where the Falcons actually seemed to wake up. The offense wasn’t consistently good the first few weeks, it was either looking like the 2016-Shanahan offense, or the 2017-Sark offense. The Falcons won the next 3 games and got back to .500 after close wins over the mediocre Buccaneers (Winston edition), the outright bad Giants (before they traded Snacks), and the really good Redskins (who were 5-2, shutting down the run, and battering teams into the ground with AD).

Hey look! Optimism! A previously lost-looking season is looking up! The offense is humming, the defense is gelling even with backups in several key positions!

The Falcons promptly did their thing and lost the next 5 games and got eliminated from playoff contention. The offense struggled. The defense was very inconsistent, in games where they played alright, the offense didn’t do enough. And then some games they just got beaten into the ground like all of the 28-3 jokes on r/NFL.

At 4-9, most fans were hoping that the team would just tank for a high draft pick. This next draft class is loaded with defensive line talent, and a top 5 draft pick with the possibility of landing a Quinnen Williams or Ed Oliver type of player was more exciting to many fans than the prospect of winning games and having watchable football.

The Falcons promptly did their thing and won the last three games of the season against 3 of the more pathetic teams in the league: The Cardinals, the Panthers (Taylor Heinicke edition), and the Buccaneers (catered by Famous Jameis’ turnover bakery).

To their credit, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones played most of the season. Following a week one game that was one of the worst games of his career, Matt did the best he could with an injured and regressing offensive line and a suspect-at-best play caller, putting up numbers similar to his MVP season. Julio did his normal thing, leading the league in receiving yards and a respectable 8 touchdown receptions. There was also the emergence of rookie WR Calvin Ridley and 2nd year safety Damontae Kazee. I’ll give a more detailed writeup on players below.

Season Highlights by Carlton

Offensive stats

Stat Total stats Per Game stats NFL Rank
Total Offense 6226 389.1 6
Passing Yards 4949 309.3 5
Rushing Yards 1573 98.3 30
Points Scored 414 25.9 10
Turnovers 18 1.1 7

Fairly impressive, but this would indicate that they were better than they were. The offense completely dissapeared vs the Eagles, Steelers, and the 5 game losing streak from week 10-14. Matt Ryan was pretty consistent, even in most of the losses, but the absence of a running game really hurt the team.

Defensive Stats

Stat Total stats Per Game stats NFL Rank
Total Defense 6152 384.5 28
Passing Yards 4153 259.6 27
Rushing Yards 1999 124.9 25
Points Scored 423 26.4 25
Turnovers 19 1.2 20

I feel like these stats dont do justice to how bad the defense was. They couldn't stop the run to save their lives, They couldn't stop teams from converting first downs, and they couldnt get off the field. It's no surprise that each each of their losses where the offense struggled were to teams with good running games. They got bulldozed over and over again/ Frankly, Im amazed that there were defenses worse than the Falcons in 2018.

Weekly Game Recaps

This was basically a repeat of the divisional round in last year’s playoffs. Awful offense with good defense on both sides, but the difference is Doug Pederson is a good enough coach to adjust when necessary. He also knew that he could keep pounding with Jay Ajayi, and since Keanu Neal was out fairly early into the game, the Falcons would be toast vs power running without their Box Safety. We all know Sark isn’t a great coordinator. It is what it is.

Couple this with Matt Ryan having a terrible showing, and there’s no way they were winning this one. To Sark’s credit, he called game winning plays on the final goal line sequence, such as a pick play where Tevin Coleman was wide open on a shallow crossing route for a walk in touchdown, but Matt threw some terrible balls in Julio’s general direction, having learned nothing from the playoffs.

Other issues with this game included, the best WR in the entire draft, got two targets and extremely limited snaps. As you may remember, the field conditions were horrible, and the start of the game was delayed. Keanu Neal tore his ACL, and Deion Jones broke his foot.

The Falcons have handled the Panthers pretty well at home the past few years. Remember, the Falcons were the 1 in the Panthers 15-1.

This was more what was out of this season. The defense played pretty well, especially considering that Jones and Neal, two of the best and most important defenders were out.

Tevin Coleman had a 100 yard game, the first against the panthers in a long time, and Calvin Ridley caught his first NFL TD. Did I mention the Ryancopter? The Falcons had the game under control for the most part, aside from a bust in coverage allowing DJ Moore to torch everyone for a 50 yard TD. The game came down to a last second throw to the endzone from about 30 yards out, and it fell incomplete.

This was a really good win to have, and the offense especially had momentum going into the next week. More important than any other regular season game from a fan perspective is playing against the Saints.

Stat of the week- the Falcons were 4/4 in the red zone, which is a big deal because of how bad they’d been under Sark previously.

Normally, Falcons games don’t always have the best crowds. I’ve been to enough games to see the dead crowds (week 14 vs Arizona) and the great crowds (NFC Championship vs Green Bay), and this crowd was probably the second best crowd I’ve ever been a part of.

Anyways, the game didn’t start great for Atlanta. Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and Taysom Hill all had touches on the Saints’ opening drive, which resulted in a touchdown. The Falcon offense took a bit to get going, but it really got into gear. Calvin Ridley had a breakout game (PJ Williams got owned) with 150 yards and 3 touchdowns, Matt Ryan threw for 374 yards and 5 touchdowns, and they also were 2/2 on 2pt. conversions. They rode the offense to their second win of the season, and-

Yeah no they lost because the defense gave up 43 points, including a touchdown drive in overtime.

As frustrating as the loss was, it’s much more preferable to lose an exciting game where your offense plays well than a hard to watch a boring abomination like week 1.

Stat of the week- Matt Ryan’s 148.1 passer rating is the highest all time in a loss.

Heading into this week, optimism was still high by normal standards. The Bengals played well the first two weeks of the season, but had a horrible 4 turnover loss in week 3. I thought the Falcons would win a shootout, pulling away at the end.

For most of the game, that looked to be the case. The teams traded blows in the first half, which ended on a long Matt Bryant field goal. The Falcons then started to pull away in the second half. A devastating injury to Tyler Eifert (don’t click if you’re squeamish) seemed to take the wind out of Cinci’s sails. Damontae Kazee logged his first INT of the season, and the Calvin Ridley added two more TDs. I mean, just look at him absolutely COOK Dre Kirkpatrick

It was a much needed win for the Falcons who were able to-

Nah, had you for a second. Andy Dalton led a last minute TD drive to win the game. Multiple fourth down conversions, a dropped INT by the 70 million dollar man Desmond Trufant, and a last second TD to AJ Green. Isaiah Oliver was too shallow on his depth in his zone responsibility, and Dalton fired a beautiful pass to AJ Green to drop the Falcons to 1-3. Not the start anyone wanted, but success was not out of reach yet. The offense looked really good for the most part, and the last two losses were super close and decided by the last second.

Next week, the Falcons got to take on the struggling Steelers. Unfortunately, Grady Jarrett suffered an injury in the loss to the Bengals that would keep him out for at least week 5.

Stat of the week- Matt Ryan’s passer rating of 134.5 another top 10 QB performance in a loss.

This game didn’t have a great outlook. The Steelers had struggled, and were 1-2-1, but they had a fantastic rushing attack. Ben and Mr. Big Chest didn’t have a “good wifi connection”. With Grady Jarrett being added to the already long list of injured Falcon defenders, this was looking like James Conner would have a big game.

Conner did run all over the Falcons in the first half, but thanks to decent red zone defense by the Falcons, a beautiful play by Matt Ryan to Mohamed Sanu, and this play by Ben, the score was 10-13 at the half in favor of Pittsburgh. The Falcons needed to get the offense in to gear. Instead, the Steeler offense exploded, Big Ben and Mr. Big Chest got the wifi back on, and TJ Watt destroyed out the formerly elite RT Ryan Schraeder to log 3 sacks. We hadn’t seen this carnage since Adrian Clayborn got the privilege of lining up across from Chaz Green and baptized poor Dak 6 times.

The game got so bad that the starters were pulled in the fourth and Matt Schaub got playing time for the first time since 2016 (but that time, it was because the Falcons were blowing teams out).

The season was lost after this game. The offensive line couldn’t give Matt Ryan enough time to do anything, the run game was garbage, the defense was a landfill. In conclusion, Dan Quinn turned into Jason Garrett when it came to adjusting, and the game wasn't close.

Stat of the week: Matt Ryan was sacked 6 times. That goes against the idea of not letting your franchise QB get hit a lot.

Ok, even though the season was clearly lost at this point, most fans still confident that we would beat the Bucs. They just… suck. It seems like no matter how bad the Falcons may suck, the Bucs still suck worse. This game was no exception. The Falcons jumped out to a 21-6 lead, and were mostly in control until a lateral sequence on the last play of the game that almost won it for the Bucs.

Kazee logged his 3rd INT, Matt Ryan continued to be excellent, Julio had 144 yards and continued his annual demolishing of the Bucs, and the Falcons improved to 2-4.

Oh, and this game resulted in TB firing Mike Smith as defensive coordinator. Long overdue.

Stat of the week- Julio Jones 121.1 yards per game vs the Buccaneers is the highest of any player vs any team in NFL history.

The Falcons are 2-4, but at least they had another somewhat easy looking game. The Falcons generally had a favorable matchup, offensively at least, despite this being a giants team that featured Snacks Harrison anchoring the defense, along with Dalvin Tomlinson.

The game was boring for the first quarter, with teams exchanging punts and sacks. Luckily, the eye candy of the Falcons’ black throwbacks and the Giants’ beautiful red-trimmed away uniforms helped to get over the boringness of the first quarter. Grady Jarrett returned for the Falcons, and his impact was felt with 2 sacks and the shutting down of Saquon Barkley.

Things really got started with a beautiful, high arcing pass to Marvin Hall for a touchdown, after Austin Hooper mossed someone. The Falcons kind of ran away with it, but not enough to get comfortable. There never is a comfortable lead for the Falcons. The Falcons didn’t let the game get too far out of reach for the G-Men and it was looking like some 4th Quarter 3LI time.

Enter, Giorgio Tavecchio. Italian Ice. The Italian Stallion. Filling in for an injured Matt Bryant, aka Money Matt, or the other Matty Ice. He saw the Giants trying to come back. He wasn't keen on letting it happen, and clinched the game for the Falcons with a 57 yard field goal. The Giants scored another TD, but it wasn’t enough as they didn’t get the ball back.

The Falcons moved to 3-4 heading into their bye, and suddenly the season wasn’t dead? Who knows.

This week, you get two stats of the week:

  1. The Falcons were the first team in Saquon Barkley’s young career to hold him to under 100 scrimmage yards.
  2. This Monday Night Football broadcast was the one where Booger Mcfarland revealed that he had shit his pants on the sideline during his NFL career.

No one felt great about this game for Atlanta. The Redskins looked like the team that would end the Falcons season. They were a really hot team, with a resurgent Adrian Peterson and the reliable Alex Smith. Their DLine, the vaunted Bama Boys, was looking like they would shut down the Falcons piddly running game and probably murder Matt Ryan in the process.

None of that happened. The Redskins looked like the team Dan Snyder deserves. They sucked in all aspects. Their run game got shut down, their already underwhelming pass game didn’t do anything, and their defense got picked apart by Matt Ryan and a surprise appearance by a run game. Somehow, the Reskins lone bright spot was Josh Doctson.

The Falcons ran all over the Bama Boys, Matt Ryan threw 4 touchdowns, and alas… Julio Jones scored his first touchdown of the season. He was second in the league in receiving yards going into this game, but had yet to score a td.

Unfortunately for the Redskins, their OLine got decimated by injuries. It seemed like every drive one of their OLine needed to be helped off the field. This gif summed up the game pretty well, I think.

Stat of the week: This week, Matt Ryan’s streak of 203 pass attempts without an interception was ended by an interception by Quinten Dunbar on what looked like a miscommunication with Calvin Ridley.

The Falcons signed Bruce Irvin. Many figured he would make a big impact and add momentum for the resurgent Falcons.

This week, the Falcons traveled to Cleveland to take on the 2-6-1 Browns who had just fired Hue Jackson the week prior. This was the most confident Falcons fans felt all season. Just about everyone expected the Falcons to walk into Cleveland and leave with an easy, convincing W.

Well...

The Falcons got beaten handily. Nick Chubb, getting more than his usual 3 carries, ran all over the Falcons battered, but more importantly unprepared Defense. He had 200 scrimmage yards and 2 TDs, including a 90 yard run for a touchdown. The offense struggled to get going, the receivers didn’t get consistent separation, and Myles Garrett and co. had a grand ol’ time making Matt Ryan’s life hell.

Insult to injury, after the game, Devondre Campbell explained why the team played so badly. To paraphrase: “We didn’t prepare well because we figured, it’s the Browns, so it would be easy”

Props to the Browns, they came to play. Freddie Kitchens and Gregg Williams did a great job rallying that team, similar to Dan Quinn in the 5th through 8th games of the season.

I think this is a great example of how Ricardo Allen was missed. If he wasn’t injured, I bet that the defense would have been more ready to play. He is such a tremendous leader for the defense, and is basically an on-field defensive coordinator. But Dan Quinn and DC Marquand Manuel needed to pick up the slack in leading the defense. Spoiler: They didn't.

Stat of the week: Nick Chubb’s 92 yard run was the longest offensive play for the Browns all season. (I feel like the fact that my stat is a positive one for the other team is telling. I do love Chubb though. He’s a Damn Good Dawg.)

As deflating as the last week’s loss was, there was still hope for the Falcons. Bruce Irvin figured to be more of a factor the defense as he had another week to get more of a role, and Dallas was struggling at this point as well. Personally, I thought the Falcons would win this game.

Deion Jones was off of the IR, but he didn’t play. That was a big blow, because even if he wasn’t full strength he would be a significant boost to the team.

It was another lethargic performance by the offense. On paper the defense did well, but they couldn’t make a stop when it was really needed. Where was the fire? Didn’t this team just recover from a 1-4 record to claw their way back into it? Why did they seemingly stop caring?

The offense scored 12 points until Matt Ryan threw a touchdown to Julio Jones to tie things up with two minutes left, but I had no confidence that we would see the ball again. Two minutes left was plenty of time for Dak and co to drive down field and for Brett Maher to kick a last second, game winning field goal.

It was a tough one to swallow, because you could see all of the hope leaving. The fans, the team, everyone seemed to realize that this was the likely end. Turns out Pittsburgh wasn’t the final nail in the coffin, but Dallas really felt like it could be.

Stat of the week: After 0 touchdowns in the first 7 games, Julio had his third in three games.

If ever there was a time to come alive, this was the game for it to happen in. Everyone who reps red in black, as a player, coach, or fan hates the Saints.

Deion Jones, who has 3 INT in 4 career games vs Drew Brees, did not play again. It was a bummer, because any Saints fan will tell you that he is a bonafide Saints-killer.

This game was hard to watchfor every non-Saints fan. Julio fumbled. Matt Ryan fumbled. Calvin Ridley fumbled at the end of a nice catch and run at the Saints one yard line. Matt Ryan threw a pick, a pass tipped at the line on a nice play by the Saints DLine.

There was no fire, there was no fight. The season was REALLY over this night, as the falcons were eliminated from playoff contention. Well, not technically, but it was pretty clear that 9-7 with tiebreaker losses to the Cowboys and Eagles would not be enough to get in to the playoffs.

Stat of the week: Marcus Williams’ strip sack of Matt Ryan on the goal line was the quickest sack since they started tracking that stat. (thanks u/UsernameChecksOut104 for the correction)

There was no hope going into this game. The Raven’s defense is a well oiled machine, and Sarkisian got out schemed.

The offense looked decent in the first drive, running the no-huddle offense, but never went back to that until garbage time.

I don’t have much to say about this game. This was a pretty clear example of why Sark failed as an NFL coach.

At least Deion Jones was back on the field, ineffective as he was. Grady Jarrett, as he had been all season, was the main bright spot of the defense.

Aside from a Vic Beasley fumble recovery TD, there was nothing good in this game for Atlanta

Stat of the week: The Falcons sucked

In recent years, the Falcons have owned the Packers. This was not the case. Julio was really the only one on the Falcons who showed up to play, with two touchdowns and some amazing toe-tapping catches along the way.

In the week after Mike McCarthy was fired, the Packers executed like the team they were thought to be before the season started.

For the Falcons, they continued to plummet. There was really no good reason for the team to play this bad against Green Bay, but that was also the case vs Cleveland.

Stat of the week: Aaron Rodgers set the record for consecutive pass attempts without an interception during this game, a streak which would eventually end at 402.

I went to this game with my dad. We always make it out to one game per year together, and this was a really good one to get to. The season was over, but it was the Cardinals this week. The Falcons took out their frustrations of the lost season on this train wreck of a team, sacking Jacuzzi Josh more times than I can count on one hand. The offense went off, and Julio continued to win in battles vs the future Hall of Famer Patrick Peterson. Deion Jones had a pick 6.

It got so ugly for the Cardinals that Mike Glennon was put in at QB. The Ginger Giraffe (bend the knee) led a garbage time TD drive, but the game was over by halftime.

Atlanta was officially eliminated from postseason contention this week,

Stat of the week: In his first 3 NFL seasons, Deion Jones has 8 interceptions. For reference: Brian Urlacher had 6 in his first 3 seasons, and Derrick Brooks had 5.

Cam Newton was injured, and Taylor Heinicke made his NFL debut in his place. It did not end well for Taylor as he was injured early in the game, played through it, only to be taken out again and placed on IR. He threw interceptions, including one to a defensive lineman. Julio scored another TD, but was limited due to injury and didn’t play after the first quarter. Ridley had another 75 yard score due to a bust in coverage.

Running back Brian Hill earned himself a roster spot for next season as the third back, showing great power and elusiveness on his way to his first career 100 yard rushing performance. Hill showed promise, and mainly needs to work on ball security.

There isn’t much to say about this game, to be frank. It wasn’t particularly exciting, nor did it matter at all as both teams were already eliminated from playoff contention.

Stat of the week: Julio Jones has 7 touchdowns in the last 8 games.

The Falcons always beat the Bucs, it seems. This week looked to be different as the Bucs got out to a 17-0 lead with one minute left in the half. But the tables turned, as this time it was the Falcons coming back from a huge deficit, starting with a 26 second drive just before half, ending with a Julio Jones touchdown.

The Falcons would battle back and get the ball back with a little time left, down 32-31. Matt Ryan led a drive downfield, and let the other Matty Ice win the game on a last second kick. This would be the last moment of Bryant’s career as a Falcon, and it was a nice moment to end on. I’m still gonna miss him.

Stat of the week: Julio destroys the Bucs. He went off for 138 receiving yards and a touchdown, playing through injury in a meaningless week 17 game. He is a true team player and the Falcons are fortunate to have him.

Free Agency and Draft Needs

My main positions of concern for the Falcons next year are:

Defensive End

Cornerback

Offensive Tackle

The Falcons most likely wont have the money to sign any of the premier Free Agents this offseason. They will be devoting most of their cap space to Grady Jarrett's new contract, and Julio Jones' updated deal. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if the Falcons dont sign any new Free agents this offseason, save one or two for depth.

However, the draft will be huge. They have nine picks, including all seven of their original picks in the 14th spot of each round, and 4th and 5th round compensatory draft picks (for the losses of Dontari Poe and Taylor Gabriel).

Because of this, I can see Atlanta packaging picks to move up in the first and second round of the draft. They need another playmaker on the defensive line. I'd look for them to trade up into the 8-10 range in the first round, targeting the likes of Clelin Ferrell or Christian Wilkins. Dan Quinn loves Clemson DLinemen, and this draft features some of the best ones yet.

If Ed Oliver is available for Atlanta, they will almost certainly target him, but I doubt Oliver will fall past Buffalo or Detroit.

There is also the possibilty that they target and OT such as Jonah Williams or Tytus Howard, because the Right Tackle position is the biggest area of concern for the offense. Regardless, I expect them to spend most of their picks on OL and DL, with a CB in the mid-to-late rounds.

When it comes down to it, they will likely take the best player available of all of the OLine and DLine prospects.

2018 Draft Class

The Falcons had the 26th pick in every round. They had no comp picks. They were missing their 5th round pick due to trading it to the Broncos for Ty Sambrailo. This was a pretty bad trade, but it seems like every year this FO makes one of these head scratching deals.

Picks:

1.26: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. Many people figured the Falcons would draft a defensive player, particularly a pass rusher. However, Quinn and Dimitroff decided to go with the best player available. That player was Ridley, who was mocked as a potential top 10 pick but instead fell to the Falcons at 26. Also on the board at that time was DL Taven Bryan from Florida, who was equally ranked as a draft prospect by the Falcons, but Quinn decided to go with Ridley.

Ridley validated that choice by catching 10 touchdowns and over 900 receiving yards. He did struggle with all security, but fortunately most of his fumbled were at the ends of runs where he seemingly got careless with the ball as he was heading out of bounds. He was a tremendous deep threat for Matt Ryan, and broke on to the scene with a 150 yard, 3 touchdown game vs the Saints. Most analysts considered Ridley to be the most pro-ready receiver in the draft, and he showed that they were correct in their assessment. Not only is he a tremendous athlete, but he has a great understanding of reading coverages, manipulating defenders, and generally just getting open. He has an excellent mentor in Julio Jones as well.

Compared to DJ Moore who was drafted by the Panthers two picks earlier, Ridley was the better receiver. Moore was a more versatile player who worked better in the Panthers offense than Ridley would have. DJ and Calvin will likely be compared to each other for much of their careers, especially as long as they are both in the NFC South, but I think both teams are happy with their draft choices. They certainly should be.

I think Ridley can develop into an excellent receiver in the next few years, and is the heir-apparent to Julio Jones.

2.58: Isaiah “Brett Kollman is my only fan” Oliver, CB, Colorado. Oliver was another example of the Falcons going with the best player available. He was considered by some to be the best CB in the draft, so the Falcons chose him when he unexpectedly fell to the late second round. Going into the season, it did not seem to be a position of need for the Falcons. Just like picking Ridley, it was adding to an already stacked position group. Trufant’s play had declined a bit, but he was still a good, starting quality CB. Alford was coming off of the best year of his career, and Brian Poole was a decent nickel corner.

Oliver did not play much, especially in the first part of the season. Denzel Ward and Donte Jackson were both clearly better rookie cornerbacks than him, but he definitely flashed his talent. As the season went on, and especially when the Falcons were eliminated from playoff contention, Oliver got more playing time. He definitely got better as the season went on, and is now looking like a sound draft choice as Robert Alford was released, and Brian Poole is being allowed to test Free Agency.

He showed his talent, and is the de facto starter opposite Trufant next season. Hopefully he performs.

3.90: Deadrin “I am the” Senat, DT, South Florida. Dan Quinn and co. love Grady Jarrett so much that they went out and got themselves another. Senat is an “undersized” DT (I put the quotes on because Aaron Donald just won back to back DPOY) who is extremely strong, plays with good leverage, and is primarily a run stuffing DT. He supposedly has upside as a pass rusher, and while I wont judge that upside based on his very limited snaps as a rookie, I didn’t see it.

Senat got very limited playtime. I don’t understand why, he played very well against the run. Senat’s biggest strength is his ability to play 1 and 3 tech, which are positions that Grady Jarret is also very good at. This allows Quinn to use Jarrett wherever he has the best matchup on the interior. Hopefully Senat develops as a pass rusher, but even if he doesn’t, he needs more play time. I expect him to get it next year.

4.126: Ito Smith, RB, Southern Miss. Ito smith is a small running back. Going into the season, Smith was expected to get extremely limited carries behind the lethal duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, but with Freeman only playing two games all year, he became the number 2 back behind Coleman. His stats don’t jump out at all, with a measly 3.5 yards per carry, but he passes the eye test.

His inexperience showed a good bit. He would dance behind the line and make bad reads when it came to hitting the hole. I think this is a product of adjusting to the NFL where the players are so much better athletically and technically, and Ito was used to college where he was a better athlete than everyone else. He definitely has talent, and showed it on his runs. He also has surprising power for such a small guy. He’ll be the number two back behind Freeman this upcoming season, and that’s something that the Falcons should feel good about. My only concern is that we didn’t really see him in pass protection. Hopefully he’s better than Freeman.

6.194: Russell Gage, WR, LSU. This pick was not because Quinn felt that the team needed another WR, but for special teams depth. Gage is a pretty good athlete, and played as a gunner for the Falcons horrendous special teams unit. That’s not an indictment of Gage, as I’ll explain later.

Russ also got a few plays on offense, even showcasing his hurdling ability.

I think Gage will be competing for the KR and PR positions this training camp, and with the possible losses of Justin Hardy (more likely) and Marvin Hall (less likely), he may be expected to be a more active depth piece at WR. I do hope to see him get the ball more next season, because he supposedly can be electric with the ball in his hands.

6.200: Foyesade "Foye Oluokun, LB, Yale. Fitting in with extremely well established mould of Dan Quinn’s system, Foyesade Oluokun (Foy-yay-sah-day Oh-Lou-Oh-Coon) is an undersized but extremely athletic linebacker. Foye was never expected to play as much as he did in 2018. He was mostly expected to be a special teamer and possibly compete with Duke Riley for the third LB spot, but when he didn’t win the job in camp, no one really held it against him.

With Deion Jones being injured, and Duke Riley being ass, Foye ended up starting all over the LB corps for most of the season. He was pretty good in the run game, he is mostly a sure tackler and was generally in the right spot. His pass coverage is not good, which is to be expected as he played at an Ivy league school, but if he can improve it a bit I would feel good about him being the Falcons third LB going forward. Regardless, he played at all three LB spots with a degree of competence, so I feel good about him if he is relegated to depth, even if he doesn’t improve his skillset.

This draft class looked to be pretty good, and while Oliver didn't quite live up to expectations yet, it looks like the Falcons snagged a few contributors to look for a possible 2019 Superbowl run.

2018 Free agent signings

Name Position Contract Player Info
Logan Paulsen TE 1 year/ 1 million Paulsen was signed to be the blocking TE. He was pretty alright at that, and also caught a TD pass.
Brandon Fusco OG 3 years/ 12 million Fusco was brought in from San Francisco due to his familiarity with the west coast/ zone run scheme that the Niners and Falcons run. He was the starter and was fairly average until he broke his ankle week 7 vs the Giants. He missed the remainder of the season.
Steven Means DE 1 year/ 895 thousand Means was released by the eagles before the start of the season. The Falcons signed him as depth. He was nothing special, but was signed to a 1 year contract for the 2019 season.
Justin Bethel CB 1 year/ 1.75 million Bethel is a pro bowl special teamer and was brought on to be just that. He was alright on special teams, but was another victim to the coaching of Keith Armstrong.
Bruce Irvin DE 1 year/ 1.5 million for 8 games Irvin was released by the Raiders, and managed to clear wavers. This wasn't because of his skill, but because no one wanted to take on his salary. He wanted to play for his hometown, calling it a dream-come-true. Unfortunately for Bruce, he didnt win a meaningful game for the Falcons. By the time he got a win for his hometown, it didnt matter for the outcome of the season. He logged 3.5 sacks and 8 QB hits with Atlanta.

That's it. The Falcons were not active in FA, as they did not have much cap space, nor felt the need to make any splash signings. None of the signings were bad, but an additional DL depth piece would have been a good idea. Or signing Eric Reid. I really don't know why they didn't sign Eric Reid.

Impending Key Free Agents

Player Position Information
Brooks Reed DE Reed was a rotational piece who never lived up to his 5 year, 22.5 million dollar deal. He was cut to save 5 million dollars against the cap, and has already signed with Arizona
Robert Alford CB Alford was a cut to save 8 million dollars against the cap, with 1 year remaining on his deal. He had previously been a solid player and one of the better number 2 CBs in the league, but his play declined severely in 2019
Matt Bryant K Bryant was a surprise cut. He signed a 3 year, 12.5 million dollar extension before the 2018 season, and was cut to save 3 million in cap space. He was a very reliable kicker in 2018, going 16 for 17 on FGs, but with Giorgio Tavecchio waiting in the wings, the Atlanta FO opted to put their faith in the younger lefty. Bryant missed time due to injury in 2018, but will be the premier FA kicker this offseason. I bet he goes to Chicago.
Grady Jarrett DT Jarrett is the FA the Falcons cannot stand to lose. They wont, if they are unable to sign him to a long term deal, he will be placed under the franchise tag. He reportedly wants Aaron Donald money, leaving contract negotiations at a bit of an impasse as the Falcon FO does not want to give him that number.
Logan Paulsen TE Paulsen was signed to be the blocking TE. He is replaceable, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him back on another cheap 1 year deal
Julio Jones WR Julio still has 2 years left on his contract, but was promised a reworked deal to include a more money, and a large guaranteed sum at that. He is out of guaranteed money on his contract, but the real issue is that his average salary is 11th among WR in the league, but he is certainly not the 11th best WR in the NFL. he could be looking at a new deal of anywhere between 18-20 million AAV, with a large portion of that figure being guaranteed.
Andy Levitre OG Levitre has ended up on IR with torn triceps the past two seasons. I wouldn't be surprised to see the 32 year old retire considering his injury issues, but there is also a good possibility that he gets a contract. I honestly have no idea what the Falcons are inclined to do regarding Levitre, but a 1 or 2 year deal with a low cap number is not out of the question.
Justin Hardy WR Justin has been a reliable possession receiver for the Falcons in his 4 years in Atlanta, but he will most likely not be back next year. He never rose above the number 4 receiver on the depth chart, partially because of the talent above him, but nevertheless, he will be a cheap pickup for a team needing WR depth next year.
Matt Schaub QB Schaub has been more coach than player during his time in Atlanta. He was kept on for his great ability to run the scout team, as several defensive players praised him for teaching them to play defense in the NFL, especially when it comes to reading a QB's eyes. I doubt Schaub will come back though, unless it is a 1 year deal for the veteran minimum. Trivia: Schaub is married to an Atlanta Falcons cheerleader

There are a few other impending FAs, but those were the key ones. Using the word "key" is also a bit more credit than some of those players deserve, but they were everyone I felt were worth noting.

Coaching Staff Review

Head Coach Dan Quinn will remain at the helm for 2019. It was a disappointing season for sure, but when your worst season as HC is a 7-9 effort that was largely due to extremely bad injury luck, it's rash to call for a total shakeup.

However, a huge number (6) of assistant coaches were fired.

Coach fired Position Information
Steve Sarkisian OC Just about every criticism in the book has been aimed at Sark. It was mostly deserved, and he was fired after the 2018 season.
Marquand Manuel DC This was a bit of a surprise, as Manuel did pretty well in 2017 in his first year as Defensive Coordinator. However, Dan Quinn chose to part ways with Manuel in favor of being the defensive playcaller himself.
Keith Armstrong ST This was long overdue. Armstrong's special teams were just awful for the past few years. Andre Roberts, aka 1st team All-Pro returner for the Jets, was the Falcons KR last year. He was pretty awful, but his bounce-back performance with the Jets is pretty telling of Armstrong's abilities, or lack thereof, as a Special teams coordinator

The falcons also fired their TE coach, but I can't find his name

Coach hired Position Information
Dirk Koetter OC Dirk was fired as HC of the Buccaneers, but most of the issue was not his offense. While his QBs did produce a lot of turnovers, they were also very productive. Koetter was the Falcons OC from 2012-2014, which is Matt Ryan's second most productive stretch as a QB outside of his 2016 MVP season under Kyle Shanahan. Assuming the OLine is better in 2019, the run game that Koetter was missing in his time in Tampa (and Atlanta, for that matter) will hopefully be improved. I feel like he was never given a great situation to make the run game work, aside from Doug Martin's stellar 2015 campaign.
Ben Kotwica ST Kotwica's special teams were ranked in the top 10 the past few years in DC, the best area being kickoff and punt coverage. Without a dynamic return man, Kotwica is not likely to improve the Falcons' return game, but he still looks to be a massive upgrade over Armstrong
Mike Mularkey TE Many Falcons fans panicked when it was announced that Mularkey was being interviewed for a coaching job on Quinn's staff. Some called it a courtesy interview, others called it a nightmare. As it turned out, he was interviewing for the TE coach job, which he got. Most Falcons fans will feel comfortable with Mularkey as the TE coach, but hopefully nothing more, considering his recent track record.
Dan Quinn DC Quinn decided to run the defense itself. It's best stretch, from week 14 to throughout the playoffs in 2016, was when Quinn took over playcalling of the defense. Combined with getting many star players back, the defense is looking to have a nice bounce-back year with Quinn running the show.
Bob Sutton Senior Assistant Falcons fans absolutely lost their minds when Sutton was brought in. Not realizing that he would be the "game management" coach that Quinn so desperately needed to help with timeout and clock management, there was widespread panic at the thought of Sutton running the defense. His defense in KC was terrible, and he was probably the most hated man in KC after their AFC Championship loss to New England. I think this is another good hire, as it give Quinn much needed help in his weakest area as a coach.

Final Thoughts

The Falcons need to hit homeruns in this draft. If they do, they could be on their way to another deep playoff run, but if not, it could be the end of Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff's time in Atlanta. Because of the limited cap space, this draft will make or break the next season for the Falcons.

The NFC South is a tough division though, assuming the Saints are still fairly healthy, and assuming Cam Newton can throw a football, it will be a tough road even to the playoffs. But this team certainly has the talent, it's just a matter of if the coaching can get it right.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to u/therealDoctorKay for this opportunity.