NFL

Falcons Set NFL Record With 10 First-Round Starters

When the Falcons offense takes the field this year, it’ll do so as the most talented lineup in NFL history. Atlanta already boasted star power in Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. And after adding Todd Gurley and Hayden Hurst, the Falcons will start 10 first-round picks on offense—the most in league history.

Whether that star-studded lineup translates into victories remains to be seen. After all, the Falcons featured the NFL’s No. 1 offense in 2016, but they infamously blew a 28-3 lead against the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. Head coach Dan Quinn has led his team to back-to-back 7-9 finishes and his job will be on the line. Now the defensive-minded head coach will have to rely on the NFL’s most loaded offense to combat two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in the NFC South.

Falcons bolstered backfield depth by signing Todd Gurley

The Falcons brought back a hometown hero by signing former University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley to a one-year, $6 million contract. The 25-year-old once looked like one of the NFL’s best all-around weapons in his early days with the Rams. Unfortunately, the 2017 NFL Offensive Player of the Year spent more time on the sidelines than in the end zone in 2019.

Gurley played a pivotal role in the Rams’ 2018 Super Bowl run, but a troublesome knee injury led him to be phased out of Sean McVay’s offense. The two-time All-Pro averaged a career-high 4.9 yards per carry in 2018. That number slipped all the way to 3.8 last season, and he finished with just 857 rushing yards—the lowest mark of his career.

Los Angeles made a tough but financially responsible decision to move on from the former top draft pick. Atlanta quickly brought him on board, and perhaps playing behind a stacked offensive line can help Gurley regain his Pro Bowl form.

Falcons traded for Hayden Hurst to replace tight end Austin Hooper

For the last two seasons, Austin Hooper locked down the tight end spot. The former Stanford standout developed into a reliable target for Matt Ryan. Even though he started just 28 games for the Falcons, Hooper’s sure hands made him a high-volume pass-catcher. Cleveland signed him to a record-breaking $44 million contract to add to their own impressive arsenal of weapons.

The Falcons managed to swing a smart trade with the Ravens for backup tight end Hayden Hurst. Baltimore actually selected Hurst ahead of Lamar Jackson just two years ago, so he certainly doesn’t lack for talent. Injuries and Mark Andrews’ emergence led Hurst to fill more of a complementary role. However, he should excel with more opportunities in a pass-first offense. Though he is older than most players in his draft class, Hurst’s maturity and physical style of play should be valuable.

Dan Quinn needs to make deep playoff run to save his job

Heading into the 2020 season, Dan Quinn needs all his new pieces to come together. The offense will have no shortage of weapons, including promising third-year wideout Calvin Ridley. Paired with future Hall of Famer Julio Jones, Atlanta has one of the top receiver tandems in the NFL. The Hooper and Gurley additions should only diversify an offense that has become too reliant on its star receiver.

On the defensive side of the ball, Quinn got a big boost by signing Dante Fowler to a three-year, $48 million contract. Fowler played for Quinn at the University of Florida, so the fit makes sense on paper. The pass-rush artist benefited greatly from playing alongside Aaron Donald in Los Angeles. He could have a similar situation in Atlanta, where defensive tackle Grady Jarrett wrecks havoc on the interior.

Of course, Atlanta’s Super Bowl path got more difficult with the Buccaneers going all-in on Tom Brady. And with Drew Brees also back in New Orleans, it’ll be a fierce battle for the NFC South. But given their extraordinary level of first-round talent, the Falcons’ offense will have to carry them to the playoffs. If not, Quinn will be searching for a new job next offseason.