What’s in store for your franchise in 2022? Adam Rank sets the table, providing an overview of the state of the franchise for all 32 teams, focusing on key figures to keep an eye on and setting the stakes for the upcoming season.
Members of the Falcons organization, Falcons fans around the world and those who still love to make dirty bird:
Man, it’s going to be weird to see the Falcons take the field this season without Matt Ryan. I mean, it’s time for both sides to go their separate ways, I guess. But that doesn’t make things easier. Just ask the Detroit Lions, who saw their longtime quarterback traded last year and then win the Super Bowl.
One high from last season: Defeat the Saints in week 9 to level up to 4-4. You started to think that maybe the Falcons could tie a few wins together. Can they run a little? Nope.
Cons of last season: The Cowboys are 43-3 in Week 10, followed by a 25-0 loss to the Patriots on Thursday night in Week 11. After losing 68-3 in less than a week, it’s hard to bounce back.
Head Coach: Arthur Smith. You must feel a little sorry for Smith. I mean, he’s the head coach of the NFL, which is cool. But in the offseason, the Falcons traded their former QB league MVP. I mean, the offense was already a disaster (26th in points per game and 29th in yards last season). And now you’re asking him to end his current quarterback situation, which we’ll get into in a moment. Add to the equation that Calvin Ridley is suspended for at least the 2022 season, and it’s not an ideal situation for a sophomore coach trying to establish himself in the league. My biggest fear is that we will end this season without knowing who Smith is and also without giving him a full chance of success. Even an order from Chick-fil-A won’t make me feel better about this team. Although it couldn’t hurt.
Defender: Markus Mariota. At least for now. But here’s the thing: The last non-Matt Ryan quarterback to start in Week 1 for the Falcons was… Joey Harrington in 2007. It’s been a long time. Mariota seems like a better choice given his history with Smith going back to their time with the Titans. And, to be honest, he looked good in short bursts for the Raiders. So there’s hope that Mariota can come to Atlanta and experience the same career renaissance that Ryan Tannehill had in Tennessee when he replaced… Marcus Mariota.
Now, if third-round pick Desmond Ridder wins the job, he will be just the fourth rookie in Falcons history to start in week one. The last one, of course, was Ryan in 2008. Ridder did have 43 career wins in Cincinnati (third in FBS history), where he set numerous high school and American Athletic Conference records. And it ties in with what we were talking about Smith. Will the Falcons try Mariota for a few weeks, get some predictable results (not a reflection of Mariota, mind you), and then turn to Ridder? And then, how many chances does Ridder have? If the Falcons get a top pick in the draft next year – and I’m guessing they will – will they become quarterbacks, and what does that mean for everyone?
Predicted MVP 2022: Mariota or Ridder. You shouldn’t be looking for a cheap exit, but if the Falcons are going to surprise people this year, Mariota should be Returning Player of the Year, or Ridder should be in the conversation about offensive rookie of the year.
New face: Casey Hayward, cornerback. We told you last year that the Falcons minor team would make a big move, especially if A.J. Terrell continues to develop in season two. And this dude did it, posting the second highest PFF coverage rating (85.6) among CBs with at least 150 coverage shots in 2021. Still, bringing in Hayward, a Year 11 veteran, was a good move. He will draw attention to himself while the quarterbacks avoid Terrell, who is now a real underdog. But last year, Hayward was pretty good. Last year, he allowed 54.6 percent completion, which was the sixth highest of 36 turns with at least 500 shots.
Breakthrough Star 2022: Mikal Walker, midfielder. The Falcons have some depth as an inside linebacker. They signed former Titan Rashaan Evans, who is familiar with defense coordinator Dean Peace, and selected Troy Andersen in the second round. Deion Jones is still in businessat least for now), but he is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Keep an eye out for Walker, who received a good passing rating from Pro Football Focus last year.
Three key dates:
- Week 1 vs. New Orleans Saints. I feel that so many people (myself included) will be unhappy with the Saints that we will miss the Falcons in the first week. This is one of those games where Atlanta can show up and shock the world. I don’t say that will happens, but it could happen.
- Week 10 at the Carolina Panthers (Thursday night). If there’s a point in the season when you look at the Falcons schedule and think to yourself, here the team could make a jog, it starts here. Such an opportunity could be playing for the Panthers, and then playing against the Bears and Commanders.
- Week 18 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Dare to dream, Falcons fans. But in fact, the last segment of the season looks very difficult for Atlanta. The team ends with games against the Saints, Ravens, Cardinals and Bucs.
Can the Falcons…
…is there the best young WR-TE duo since Tyreke Hill and Travis Kelsey? The Falcons spent their last pair of first-round picks on Kyle Pitts’ TE and Drake London’s WR, with London being the last of the two at 6’4. I know a lot of people like to pretend that Pitts was a bad choice last year (I mean, I would have preferred Justin Fields, but that’s another conversation), but in reality he was really great. In 2021, he led the Falcons in targets (110), receptions (68), and receiving yards (1,026). Pitts had the second most receiving yards by a tight end rookie in NFL history, behind only Hall of Famer Mike Ditka. London was the Pac-12’s top hitter last season despite missing the last four games with an ankle injury. He chaired the conference on receptions (88) and reception yards (1084). With Calvin Ridley suspended for the 2022 season, at the very least, these two pass catchers can bring some stability to the offense.
… find a consistent running attack? Cordarrell Patterson is returning to the Falcons after leading the team in yards (618), touchdowns (6), receiving touchdowns (5), yards in scrimmage (1,166) and touchdowns in scrimmage (11) last year. Thing is, fantasy football fans already know about it, that he was confident in the middle of last season and then gradually faded away, peaking in week 12 against the Jaguars (108 yards in the rush, 2 touchdowns). . But the Falcons need more consistency. Last season, they finished second to last in rushing offense (85.4 yards per game). And they haven’t had a 700-yard runner since 2018. The ideal situation would be if Cordarrell did his thing while rookie Tyler Allgayer also ignited the spark in the team.