Without a doubt I think the Falcons are one of the better equipped Super Bowl losers who can bounce back. However, many people thought the same thing with the Panthers last year and then they fell flat on their face. To me the Falcons should be competitive with their terrific roster, but I am hesitant to be all in on them since Super Bowl losers very rarely every repeat. I am also very hesitant to jump on Matt Ryan and put him up in the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the league. If you take out his rookie season and last years MVP season he is nothing more than an average B quarterback. So, before you go putting him up as one of the best quarterbacks in the league I would tell you to wait and see if he can do it another year. Much like how everyone assumed Cam Newton was here to stay after his MVP season and then he went to have a terrible season last year. I am not saying Matt Ryan is like Newton, but I need to see it from him again to be totally all in. Overall, in a tough division I can still see them in the playoffs.
As mentioned above, Matt Ryan to me is just a solid quarterback who can move your offense and he showed he can bring a team to the Super Bowl. However, I would like to see how he comes back this season if he will continue to be one of the better quarterbacks in the league or just go back to being an above average signal caller. Luckily for him the Falcons bring back one of the better offensive lines with Jake Matthews, Andy Levitre, Alex Mack, and Ryan Schraede are all back at their respective positions. The only new guy is their second year pro Wes Schweitzer at right guard. They did bring in solid back up Austin Pasztor who I think can come in if the young player falters. They also have a dual headed beast at running back with Devonta Freeman and Telvin Coleman behind Matt Ryan who he can give the ball to. Coleman is oft-injured however and suffers from sickle cell disease so Freeman is usually the more consistent driving force. Either way they should be fine at running back. Then of course they also have Julio Jones on the outside who is like a cheat code on the outside who can beat any type of coverage. His running mates at the position include a solid group of Mohammed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, and Justin Hardy who Ryan can dump the ball to. If they can stay balanced and learn how to run the ball to close out games I can see this offense being difficult to stop.
This defense has surprisingly been turned around rather quickly after being one of the worst in the league for a few seasons. Part of that is coach Dan Quinn who is a defensive mind and one of the architects who built the Seattle defense. From front to back this is a solid unit and their only real weakness to me is their stamina up front. Their ends Brooks Reed, Adrian Clayborne, and rookie Tak McKinley create an nice blend of speed and power. However, I would love to see McKinley beat out either of the incumbent starters due to their limited explosive ability on the outside. Then on the inside they have young Grady Jarrett who exploded at the Super Bowl then went on to fizzle as he got tired down the stretch. They brought in buy-low candidate Dontari Poe, but with his back issues and weight issues I am a bit skeptical if he can make the type of impact he used to when he was at Kansas City. Overall, I wished they did more to strength their depth at this unit. Their linebackers are a definite strength with second year pro Deion Jones looking like a stud during his rookie season last year. His size is a little bit of an issue, but he proved able to over come it. They went on to bring his former teammate at LSU Duke Riley who is a similar roving style of linebacker who can create a good tandem. Then of course last year's sack leader Vic Beasley is back to terrorize quarterbacks. The biggest strength of this defense is their young secondary that is getting Desmond Trufant back to shut down one side of the field to go along with solid Robert Alford and Brian Poole across from him. Then at safety they have another stand out rookie from last year Keanu Neal and veteran Ricardo Allen. Overall, this unit should be better as they develop, but I still worry about their stamina up front due to their quick attack offense that forces their defense to play a lot of snaps.
In the end, this team should be able to make it out of their division at least as a wild card team in the playoffs. The NFC South to me is one of the toughest divisions with the Panthers, Bucs, and Saints all looking like they got better. Their schedule has some easy match ups against the Bears, Lions, Bills, Dolphins, Jets, and Vikings. They do have some challenging match ups against the Packers, Seahawks, Patriots, and Cowboys. If they win at least two of those and split wins in their division they should at least get a 11-5 record.
1 (26) - Tak McKinley DE - If I did this prediction prior to the pre-season I would have had this down as a bad pick especially since they traded up for him. However, with many top pass rushers off the board at the time they were forced to get their guy at a big position of need on the edge. At the time I did not like his size, scheme fit, and already coming into the league with an injury. However, he has looked good during the pre-season and looks like a possible quality running mate to Vic Beasley.
3 (11) - Duke Riley LB - The Falcons needed another linebacker to pair with Deion Jones on the inside of their defense so why not nab his former teammate. He should be a starter right away and prove to be a quality coverage linebacker, which is what you need in today's NFL. If not he could turn into a special team stud like he was at LSU. However, I doubt the Falcons drafted him in the 3rd round to be just a special teamer.
4 (30) - Sean Harlow OG - One of the biggest needs the Falcons faced was at the guard position vacated by the retiring Chris Chester. Harlow is currently still behind second year pro Wes Schweitzer, but I think he will get a shot at some point if Schweitzer falters as many expect.
5 (5) - Damontae Kazee DB - Kazee was one of my favorite under the radar players this past draft. He is a bit undersized however, and the Falcons are smartly moving him to safety where he can a better fit. Kazee is a great ball hawking player who has a penchant to create takeaways. I think he could beat out Ricardo Allen who is just a veteran place holder.
5 (12) - Brian Hill RB - I was surprised Hill fell down this far as he was one of the better running backs in college with pretty great numbers across the board. If Coleman ever has to miss games or Freeman for that matter I think Hill would be a nice back up to come in and pound the rock when needed. His pass catching skills are less than stellar, which may be why he slid down the board. I think this is a terrific pick for the Falcons who seem to know how to draft late round running backs recently.
5 (31) - Eric Saubert TE - Saubert is strictly a pass catching tight end at his slight stature. However, his hands are less than reliable and he needs to really work on that if he wants to see the field in anything other than special teams. He is also stuck behind Austin Hooper, Levine Toilolo, and Alex Gray so it may be a year or two before we see if Saubert can play.
2018 Off Season:
Like I said I think the Falcons make the playoffs, but I highly doubt they make the Super Bowl again since the loser rarely even make the playoffs in the first place. To me they need to keep working on their pass rush on defense and find better depth to rotate in since their offense tends to score in a hurry. However, I think their offense could use some work also surprisingly and one such improvement can come at the receiver position. Julio Jones is great, but every year it seems like he gets hampered by a nagging injury and then teams continue to rotate coverage over him. Sanu, Gabriel, and Hardy are just okay options who benefit from the lack of coverage over them. If the Falcons take advantage of this solid group of receivers in the draft and find a quality number two option this offense can be truly dangerous.
My 2018 Mock Draft:
1 (31) - Courtland Sutton WR SMU