Cleat Geeks

On The Clock: Atlanta Falcons 2016 Offseason Preview

In his “On the Clock” series, NFL analyst Brett Casella (@NFL_iQ on Twitter) will take an in-depth look at all 20 teams that failed to make the playoffs as they head into the 2016 offseason. He will conduct a thorough examination of each roster and make recommendations on whom to cut and re-sign, as well as which players to target through free agency and the draft.

This article will focus on the Atlanta Falcons.

Team: Atlanta Falcons
2015 Record: 8-8
Draft Pick: #17


Season Summary

The Falcons came out blazing to start the 2015 season, winning all of their first five games. Things would take a turn for the worse from there, as they fell to 6-6 and would eventually finish the season 8-8. Matt Ryan seemingly took a step back this year, finishing the season with an unimpressive 1:1 touchdown to turnover ratio. His 21 passing touchdowns were the lowest since his rookie year.

There were some bright spots, though. Julio Jones had a monstrous year, leading the league in both receptions (136) and receiving yards (1,871). Him and Devonta Freeman were a two-man wrecking crew for the Atlanta offense. Freeman exploded onto the scene during his sophomore campaign, racking up over 1,600 yards from scrimmage and scoring 14 touchdowns.

What ultimately doomed Atlanta to a .500 season was their average defense and lack of weapons outside of Freeman and Jones. They will need to improve in these areas if they hope to make the playoffs in 2016.

Re-Signings & Cuts

roddy-whiteLast Wednesday, the Falcons announced they released Roddy White, the franchise’s all-time leading wide receiver. White spent his entire 11-year career in Atlanta, but will be looking for a new home this offseason. Other cuts that could be on the way include wide receiver/return specialist Devin Hester and tight end Jacob Tamme. Combined, the two would save Atlanta over $5 million in cap space if released.

Notable players with expiring contracts include defensive end Adrian Clayborn, linebackers Paul Worrilow and Philip Wheeler, and offensive tackles Ryan Schraeder and Jake Long. The Falcons should let Worrilow and Long walk, but attempt to re-sign Clayborn, Schraeder, and Wheeler.

Clayborne is far from spectacular, but would bring value to the Falcons defensive line if they can sign him for a price close to the $3 million contract he carried last year. Schraeder was the best player on a very good offensive line, and Atlanta is already too thin at the linebacker position to let Wheeler walk.

Free Agency Needs

The Falcons have just over $30 million in cap space. Plan on them using a good portion of this money to upgrade their linebackers, defensive ends, and pass catchers.

bruce-irvinThe one name that has been linked to Atlanta since last offseason is linebacker Bruce Irvin. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn coached Irvin in Seattle, where he was the defensive coordinator from 2013-2014. Besides that, Irvin’s versatility as an outside linebacker and pass rusher can help fill two of the Falcons biggest needs. Other linebackers that may draw interest from Atlanta include Tamba Hali, Danny Trevathan, and Jerrell Freeman.

The Falcons defense finished dead last in sacks last season, bringing opposing quarterbacks down only 19 times all year. With quarterback play being a strength of the NFC South, Atlanta needs to find ways to improve their pass rush. Some defensive ends to keep an eye on are Robert AyersWilliam Hayes, and Charles Johnson, who was cut by the Carolina Panthers last week.

With the exception of Julio Jones, the Falcons wide receivers are lackluster at best. Their second-, third-, and fourth-leading wide outs (Roddy White, Justin Hardy, and Leonard Hankerson) combined for only 90 catches in 2015. There are no marquee names available in free agency, but there are some solid players that could immediately step in as their number two receiver. Travis Benjamin is one of the best deep threats in the league, and Marvin JonesMohamed Sanu, and Reuben Randle are all solid players in their own rights.

The Falcons tight ends could use an upgrade as well. Ladarius Green and Dwayne Allen would bring an added dimensions to Atlanta’s passing game.

Potential Draft Picks

braxtonMillerThe Atlanta Falcons pick #17; expect them to go defense. A young pass rusher to pair opposite of Vic Beasley would be a smart move. Keep an eye on Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, and Leonard Floyd. If they don’t grab a pass rusher, look for them to take a linebacker: either Reggie Ragland from Alabama or Darron Lee from Ohio State.

If they don’t grab a linebacker in round one, Scooby Wright is a name to look for in round two. Another option is for them to draft a pass catcher such as Braxton MillerMichael ThomasSterling Shepard, or tight end Hunter Henry.

Have any questions, comments, or just want to talk about the article? Just use the comment section below.

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  1. Pingback: On The Clock: Full 20-Team Directory – Cleat Geeks

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