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In 2019 the Falcons stumbled out of the blocks. But a hot finish helped Dan Quinn keep his job. When they stumbled again in early 2020, Quinn’s time ended. Raheem Morris took over as interim coach but the Falcons struggled throughout, finishing 4-12 and in last place in the NFC South. That earned the team a Top 5 pick in the NFL Draft that gives new coach Arthur Smith something to work with heading into 2021.
Coach wasn’t the only big departure for the Falcons, who traded star receiver Julio Jones to the Titans at his request in June. Jones is likely a future Hall of Fame player, and his departure will leave a big hole in the Falcons’ offense. The team also let last year’s starting running back Todd Gurley walk, and was unable to hold on to key free agents while facing salary cap issues. Center Alex Mack departed for the 49ers and safety Keanu Neal signed with the Cowboys, among other losses.
But it wasn’t all players going out the door for the Falcons. Mike Davis, who filled in for Christian McCaffrey and the rival Carolina Panthers in 2020, was added to the backfield. In 2020, Davis rushed for 642 yards and six touchdowns, adding 59 receptions for 373 yards and two more touchdowns. That helped him finish as RB12, and now he figures to lead the backfield attack. The Falcons also added Cordarelle Patterson, formerly of the Bears, to give them another versatile weapon out of the backfield.
But the real prize for the Falcons came in the 2021 NFL Draft. With the No. 4 overall pick, the Falcon selected game-changing tight end Kyle Pitts out of Florida. Largely regarded as the best tight end in the draft, and one of the best receiving options period, Pitts caught 43 passes for 770 yards and 12 TDs in just eight games in 2020. The Falcons loaded up grabbing Richie Grant, a safety, in the Second Round and tackle Jaylen Mayfield in the Third Round. The team also grabbed Arizona State receiver Frank Darby in the Sixth Round.
Returning to anchor the Falcons is quarterback Matt Ryan. While he still has weapons, it’s hard to say how robust the Falcons’ offense will be in 2021. Ryan was QB12 in 2020 and figures to be a solid QB2 option in 2021. I currently have him at QB17. I think he takes a small step back from last year’s production with no Jones.
In the backfield, Davis is the biggest name, with a group that includes Patterson, Qadree Ollison and undrafted rookie Javian Hawkins. I suspect Davis will be the starter and the main option. Some have projected a Top 12 finish owing to Smith’s offensive schemes in Tennessee, but the line here isn’t as good and I don’t think the Falcons will build many leads. I think Davis will have a solid season and return RB2 value. I currently have him as my RB23 for 2021. I am interested in stashing Hawkins, but I don’t think any other Falcons’ RB returns consistent value in 2021.
Among receivers, the belle of the ball is Calvin Ridley, who was incredible in 2020. Ridley finished as WR5 in 2020, catching 90 passes for 1,374 yards and 9 TDs. He thrived even with Jones missing time due to injury last season, and I think he could challenge for the WR1 spot in 2021. The next best receiver is Russell Gage, who saw more than 100 targets in 2020. I think he sees a few less as more of the offense shifts to TEs, putting him in the WR4/5 range.
At tight end, the Falcons have Pitts, as referenced above, but also return Hayden Hurst, who they traded for prior to the 2020 season. Hurst caught 56 passes for 571 yards and 6 TDs in 2020, finishing as TE10. While Pitts is the more explosive option, I suspect more two TE sets for the Falcons in 2021 with Jones in Tennessee and given the roster the team has. I have Pitts as a Top 10 TE option and Hurst finishing as a TE2.
The Falcons weren’t great in 2020 and they still don’t have an impressive roster. I think they’re the fourth best team in the NFC South and will likely finish at the bottom of the heap, quite possibly in line for a Top 10 draft pick again in 2022. With Ryan aging, the team will then be in a position to complete a rebuild by hopefully finding a way to move on and move forward, but I think it will be a few years before the Falcons are playoff contenders again.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.