What the Atlanta Falcons’ Plan of Attack Must Be for the 2022 NFL Offseason
The Atlanta Falcons hired Arthur Smith as the new head coach before the 2021 NFL season and parted ways with Julio Jones in a trade with the Tennessee Titans — Smith’s former employer. The Falcons went for it in the 2021 NFL Draft by selecting stud tight end Kyle Pitts from Florida instead of taking Penei Sewell or Ja’Marr Chase. Nonetheless, they surprised everybody and managed to remain competitive for much of the season.
In what was expected to be somewhat of a lost season for the Falcons, they played decent football at times and went 7-10, thanks in large part to the breakout of Cordarrelle Patterson.
Furthermore, the play of Matt Ryan took a massive step back, and the offense has its questions everywhere except for tight end. Going into his second season as head coach, Smith has his hands full in an effort to bring a playoff team back to Atlanta.
Here’s the plan of attack for the Falcons going into the 2022 offseason.
Biggest offseason questions
Yes, Ryan played poorly and looks like he is on his way out of the league very soon. On the other hand, he didn’t have a lot to work with.
Mike Davis disappointed, Russell Gage was here and there, and Calvin Ridley’s future with the team is up in the air after taking time off from football earlier this season.
The Falcons had just one wide receiver with more than 500 yards (two if you count Patterson), and players such as Tajae Sharpe, Olamide Zaccheaus, and Christian Blake got quite a bit of run.
Clearly, the Falcons need a franchise quarterback, but first, they need pieces around him besides Pitts, who topped 1,000 yards in his rookie campaign.
Top free-agency decisions
Top free agents: Dante Fowler Jr. (OLB), Russell Gage (WR), Younghoe Koo (K), Isaiah Oliver (CB), Cordarrelle Patterson (WR/RB)
The situation is dire for the Falcons. As it stands, the cap space doesn’t look promising for Atlanta, making it challenging to navigate free agency.
After Ridley stepped away, Gage emerged as a top receiving threat, and the Falcons needed pass-catchers badly. Younghoe Koo needs to be re-signed, and Patterson has been one of the biggest steals of the 2021 free agency period in the entire NFL.
Oliver was playing well before suffering a season-ending knee injury back in October, and the Falcons secondary needs him healthy and back with the team.
The biggest wild card here is Patterson, who broke out with over 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns combined in the passing and running games. Will he earn big money elsewhere? Or will teams see this performance as a one-off?
2022 NFL Draft needs and potential targets
Top Picks: First round (own), second round (own), second round (from Titans via Julio Jones trade),
Draft Needs: QB, RB, EDGE, OL, CB, S
The Falcons need help across the board. The good news?
Atlanta has three picks in the first round and could have four picks in the first 75 selections in the 2022 NFL Draft. That is one quick way to add an influx of talent.
For starters, they need a quarterback. Ryan’s clock is ticking faster than ever. Furthermore, there was a substantial argument that the Falcons should have selected a quarterback instead of drafting Pitts.
While this class isn’t loaded at the QB position like the 2021 class was, the Falcons can most likely wait around and get Carson Strong or maybe even Desmond Ridder in the second round if they want to wait a little bit.
With Fowler expected to hit free agency, that leaves a giant hole at the EDGE position. Ade Ogundeji is under contract in 2022, and after that, it looks barren. George Karlaftis from Purdue is the way to go for the Falcons, and he can come in and make an immediate impact.
Karlaftis is exceptionally talented and could be a top-10 pick, but he could fall just enough to land in Atlanta.
Safety Kyle Hamilton from Notre Dame could land in Atlanta if he drops enough. Ole Miss star Matt Corral could be taken if the team decides to snag a first-round quarterback.
The pick they acquired from the Titans is valuable, and they can go a few different ways — OL, RB, WR, CB, LB, you name it. They need help everywhere. Isaiah Spiller, RB from Texas A&M, or George Pickers, WR from Georgia, could be a smart choice.
With limited cap space available, the Falcons need to do a great job of adding talent in the draft, and the first three picks will be crucial for Atlanta.
1 player on each side of the ball who must step up in 2022
Matt Ryan, plain and simple.
Yes, he isn’t expected to be a Pro Bowl quarterback. But he is earning a lot of money, even after his deal got reworked multiple times.
He threw for 3,752 yards on the year with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Yikes.
That won’t get it done, and if the Falcons do decide to move on from him, they will need to eat some serious cash. Worst case scenario is Ryan plays at an average level and helps groom the next quarterback in Atlanta.
On the defensive side, everybody needs to step up. Oliver was playing well before his injury and he is a free agent. Grady Jarrett is doing everything he can to get to the quarterback, even while facing double teams and triple teams all season long.
Deion Jones needs to play better behind Garrett, and the entire Atlanta secondary has been suspect at best this year, besides Pro Bowl snub A.J. Terrell, of course.
The Falcons are hoping for more from rookie Adetokunbo Ogundeji, who will likely step into a full-time role with Fowler’s expected departure this offseason.
It will be a challenging offseason for the Falcons, but changes are coming in Atlanta.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference