Throughout much of the Matt Ryan Era, the Atlanta Falcons have fielded one of the NFL's consistently productive offenses. That figures to again be the case in 2020, despite some new faces taking the place of old ones.
Todd Gurley and Hayden Hurst are the noteworthy offseason acquisitions, but Laquon Treadwell and Matt Hennessy should have roles within the unit next season. In a piece for ESPN, Bill Barnwell ranked the offensive weapons for each NFL team. The Falcons have trended down offensively in recent years, at least in Barnwell's opinion, and that continues in this recent piece.
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After Barnwell ranked the Falcons third on this list in 2018, and 10th entering last season, he's got Atlanta at No. 12 in the latest iteration.
"The Falcons are in transition as they try to shift badly needed resources from their offense to their defense," Barnwell writes. "They've downgraded by dropping from Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper to Russell Gage and Hayden Hurst, although I'm optimistic about the former first-round pick Hurst's chances of repeating Hooper's production with the expanded role. Running back Todd Gurley is likely an upgrade on the oft-injured Devonta Freeman and will certainly be better as a receiver. Gurley has a high ceiling thanks to this offensive line and a low floor as a result of his knee condition; he could be an Offensive Player of the Year candidate or he could sputter through five games and miss the rest of the year.
"The Falcons have their core at wide receiver with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, although Jones' production dropped slightly from a league-high 104.8 receiving yards per game in 2018 to 92.9 yards per contest last season. Ridley's season-long numbers and snap rate were virtually identical, but he went from playing 16 games to 13. Prorated to 16 games, Ridley would have posted a 78-1,065-9 line, and while you can't count on perfect health, he should be able to top those marks without Hooper in the fold."
To see the rest of Barnwell's list, including which team he lists at No. 1 and where the other NFC South teams fall, click here.
ESPN: NFL won't allow jersey swaps in 2020
According to a report by ESPN, the NFL sent a new set of league protocols to teams in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Among the new protocols is a restriction on post-game jersey swaps between players.
"Jersey exchanges have gained in popularity in recent years, and their elimination was met with immediate derision from some prominent players on social media," ESPN's Kevin Seifert writes. "San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman tweeted that it was a 'perfect example of NFL thinking in a nutshell,' noting that players will 'engage in a full contact game' only to find that it isn't safe to exchange jerseys. Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson tweeted that it was 'DAMN SILLY.'"
The new protocols also involved other measures such as multiple pre-game temperature checks for coaches and players, restrictions on the number of people granted access to the field and mask requirements for certain people.
To see the rest of the changes reported by ESPN, click here.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
PFF.com: Best/worst case scenarios for NFL teams
One of the things that makes the NFL such an entertaining and exciting league is the level of variability in a team's success from one season to the next. Every offseason fan bases can talk themselves into why the upcoming year will be their year, and there's enough turnover among playoff teams each season to make those hopes plausible.
The Falcons are one such team who have enough on-paper talent to make a run at the playoffs after a two-year absence. With an offense still led by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, and a defense that has been re-tooled in an effort to improve some key areas, the Falcons will look to build upon their strong finish to the 2019 season and put together a memorable 2020.
Pro Football Focus recently ran simulations for each team in the league, providing a 10th percentile outcome (the low-end expectation) and a 90th percentile outcome (the high-end expectation) for every team's record. When it comes to Atlanta, PFF believes the low projection is a 5-11 record while a 10-6 record is a reasonable high-end mark.
"It seems that a whole lot of people have forgotten that Ryan is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL," Ben Linsey writes of how the Falcons can reach their best projected record. "The Ryan-Julio Jones-Calvin Ridley connection clicks all season and several of the young players along the offensive line progress to the point that gives Ryan adequate protection to find his wide receivers. Defensively, those young cornerbacks do take steps forward, and free-agent acquisition Dante Fowler Jr. (career-high 73.3 pass-rushing grade in 2019) continues his upward trajectory as a pass-rusher to serve as a nice upgrade over Vic Beasley Jr."
The NFC South figures to be one of the league's toughest divisions next season, and PFF's projections back that up with both New Orleans and Tampa Bay having double-digit wins in their 90th percentile projections. Even if the Falcons put everything together this fall, they will be in for some well-fought games.
To see the rest of PFF's projections for NFL teams this season as well as the rest of what Linsey has to say about the Falcons, click here.
PFF.com: Offensive line rankings entering 2020
The offensive line is undoubtedly one of the most important position groups for the Atlanta Falcons in 2020. For Atlanta to reach its offensive potential, the play in the trenches must improve.
Pro Football Focus highlighted just how much improvement will be needed in a recent ranking of all 32 offensive line units in the NFL. The Falcons ranked 24th in the league up front in 2019, but there are reasons to believe they can improve this fall.
"After years as one of the most stable units in the league, Atlanta's offensive line has regressed, and they finished 24th in our final 2019 rankings," PFF's Steve Palazzolo writes. "The good news is that Atlanta still has strong pillars up front in left tackle Jake Matthews and center Alex Mack, who are still two of the league's best at their respective positions. Matthews is one of the best zone blockers in the league (89th percentile over the last two years), while Mack has ranked second, fourth and ninth among centers over the last three seasons.
"Questions abound beyond that, but there is hope. The Falcons invested two first-round picks in right guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary in 2019, but Lindstrom only saw the field for 309 snaps and graded at 66.6 overall, while McGary struggled to a 53.0 overall grade that ranked 79th out of 89 qualifying tackles."
Improvement from Lindstrom and McGary would be the quickest way for the Falcons' offensive line to take a step forward. Third-round pick Matt Hennessy is also an intriguing player to keep an eye on at the left guard spot. Atlanta invested heavily in its offensive line last offseason, and it took steps to bolster its skill positions this year. For the Falcons to get the most out of their talented weapons, their offensive line needs to perform.
To see the rest of PFF's offensive line rankings and Palazzolo's thoughts on the Falcons, click here.