The Atlanta Falcons have high expectations heading into the 2020 season, despite a challenging schedule and competitive division in front of them. There's no denying the talent on the Falcons roster, especially with all the former first-round picks in the starting lineup. How good will the Falcons be is anyone's guess, but this team may go as far as franchise quarterback Matt Ryan will take them. Ryan threw for 4,466 yards, but also threw 14 interceptions in 15 games. Atlanta finished the season 6-2 and improved its defense from one of the worst in the NFL to a middle of the pack unit.
They finished tied for second in takeaways after ranking dead last at the midway point of the season and tied for 10th in sacks after also ranking dead last at the midway point. They also are in the top 10 in red zone efficiency after ranking 31st through eight games. If the second half Atlanta defense shows up all 16 games in 2020, the Falcons will be in the hunt for the NFC South title.
How will the new-look Falcons stack up in 2020? We take a look at the depth chart as the team would be concluding minicamp. The virtual offseason hurts the young players' chances to make a move up the depth chart, and any undrafted rookies an opportunity to get on the radar heading into training camp.
For the purpose of this depth chart projection, we will be projecting up to the top-four at any given position. The Falcons, like all 32 teams, have a bloated roster at the moment that is nearing the triple-digit mark -- but come September, that number will drop significantly when the coaches settle in on the 53-man roster.
Rookies will be denoted with a (*).
Here's how the Falcons depth chart looks heading into the summer:
The Falcons offense certainly has plenty of talent across the board, and the potential to be one of the top units in the game. Matt Ryan is the unquestioned franchise quarterback and one of the highest-paid signal callers in the NFL, but Atlanta's season is over if Ryan is forced to miss a significant amount of time. Matt Schaub will be 39 this year and played admirably in his lone start for Ryan, but the Falcons had him threw 52 times in his lone start last season -- way too much for a quarterback that threw 106 passes combined since 2013 (prior to the start).
Gurley is the No. 1 running back after being signed this offseason with Hill taking over the No. 2 duties. Ollison and Smith will battle for the No. 3 job, but the Falcons have a red zone back in Ollison (four touchdowns in his rookie year). Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter used a fullback last season, and Smith is a very good blocker, so his position remains in the starting lineup. If the Falcons take Smith off the field and go to a three-receiver set, Treadwell will be the leading candidate for that third wideout. Look for Gage to be the front-runner for the slot receiver job in certain sub-packages. Per Sharp Football Stats, Atlanta used "11 personnel" 61% of the offensive snaps last season, so Treadwell and gage will be battling for playing time for that third wide receiver slot.
There aren't too many battles on the starting five for the Falcons offensive line, but third-round rookie Matt Hennessy is in line to be Alex Mack's replacement down the line. Hennessey can also play guard and should be the front-runner for the left guard job in a normal offseason. Of course, we'll see how the virtual offseason with no OTAs plays a role in his development. Brown and Carpenter are serviceable, but Ryan was sacked 48 times in 2019 so the Falcons need the five best linemen on the field Week 1 (and the unit healthy). Having Lindstrom available for a full season makes this line instantly better.
|LDE||Charles Harris||John Cominsky||Steven Means|
|DT||Tyeler Davison||Deadrin Senat||Hinwa Allieu*|
|DT||Grady Jarrett||Marlon Davidson*||Sailosi Latu|
|RDE||Takkarist McKinley||Austin Larkin||Austin Edwards*|
|DE||Dante Fowler Jr.||Jacob Tuioti-Mariner||Bryson Young*|
|SLB||Deone Bucannon||Foyesade Oluokun||LaRoy Reynolds|
|MLB||Deion Jones||Deone Bucannon||Mykal Walker*|
|LCB||A.J. Terrell*||Jordan Miller||Blidi Wreh-Wilson|
|RCB||Isaiah Oliver||Kendall Sheffield||CJ Reavis|
|FS||Ricardo Allen||Sharrod Neasman||Jaylinn Hawkins*|
|SS||Keanu Neal||Damontae Kazee||Jamal Carter|
This defense will have a fresh look under Raheem Morris, who was instrumental in the team's transformation in the second half of last season. Morris comes from a Cover 2-based defensive system in Tampa, but will apply the Cover 3-zone principles head coach Dan Quinn brought with him to Atlanta. Here's where the safety in the box comes in, which would be where Bucannon (drafted as a safety and plays as a hybrid linebacker) comes in as a linebacker with Jones.
Charles Harris gets the first crack at starting at defensive end opposite Fowler, who played off the line with the Rams at the edge and linebacker (as a pass-rushing specialist). Fowler will play a similar role in Atlanta. Harris moved around in the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme as an end and tackle, so these positions are interchangeable. McKinley has one of the end spots locked on the line, while Jarrett is set at defensive tackle. Marlon Davidson was drafted in the second round and should battle for playing time. The Falcons pass rush would be better if Davidson plays a larger role.
If the Falcons use the slot cornerback, Kendall Sheffield is a contender for that job. Terrell, the team's first-round pick, and Oliver are projected to start in the new-look secondary. Kazee played safety in place of Neal last year (as injuries have devastated his career), but Neal should take over the job. Kazee has to be on the field in some capacity, which may make him the front-runner for the slot cornerback role. If Kazee does play safety, where does Neal play? The Falcons could try him out at linebacker, similar to a Bucannon role, or they can keep him in the back as an extra safety. Atlanta's defense is better when Kazee and Neal are both on the field.
|K||Younghoe Koo|| |
|P||Ryan Allen||Sterling Hofrichter*|
|LS||Josh Harris|| |
|KR||Chris Rowland*||Olamide Zaccheaus|
|PR||Chris Rowland*||Olamide Zaccheaus|
The Falcons didn't bring in any competition for Koo, so it's presumed he'll be the kicker in 2020. Allen punted in just nine games for the Falcons last season, but Hofrichter (a seventh-round pick) has a strong leg and is an option for kickoffs.
Rowland was an outstanding returner in college at Tennessee State and is the only proven returner on the roster with Kenjon Barner gone. Olamide Zaccheaus is also a candidate for this role, even though he's never had a return in the NFL.