With New Orleans Saints training camp underway, we take a look at the division rivals, analyzing their draft and free agency acquisitions. First up is the Atlanta Falcons, the Black and Gold’s most hated rival. The Saints arch-enemy hired former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in an effort to turn the franchise back around after two horrible years under Mike Smith.
Starting RB Steven Jackson
Slot WR Harry Douglas
Tailback Jacquizz Rodgers
Key signings and projected role:
Brooks Reed, starting weak side linebacker
Justin Durant, starting strong side linebacker
Key draft picks:
Vic Beasley, Clemson, “Leo” pass rushing specialist
Jalen Collins, LSU, starting cornerback
Tevin Coleman, Indiana, will compete for the starting running back job with sophomore Devonta Freeman
Justin Hardy, East Carolina, will compete for snaps at the slot receiver position
Apr 30, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Vic Beasley (Clemson) poses for a photo after being selected as the number eighth overall pick to the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Grady Jarrett, Clemson, rotational player on the defensive line
Admittedly, the Atlanta Falcons had one of the better drafts in the entire league. This is all the more surprising given how little help the team has received from its rookie classes in recent memory.
Most improved: The front seven.
The dirty birds were able to add a dynamic pass-rusher in Vic Beasley and were able to acquire two solid defensive ends to replace the retired Osi Umenyiora. Brooks Reed and Justin Durant might not have been the high-profile free agents many teams coveted but both know how to play in a 4-3 defense and will provide veteran leadership in an otherwise horrible linebacking corps. Grady Jarrett might have been the steal of the draft in the fifth round and will push Ra’Shede Hageman and Jonathan Babineaux for a starting job at defensive tackle.
Least improved: The offensive line.
It has become a tradition for quarterback Matt Ryan to face pressure every Sunday afternoon. After drafting Jake Matthews last year at sixth overall, this unit has to bank on this talent to fulfill his potential to become an average unit. This team still lacks a true identity in the trenches on this side of the ball, likely limiting the success of an otherwise high-powered offense.
Offseason grade and record prediction: This draft and free agent class will help to improve in the short run but also build a core of future contributors. However, the Falcons will face some dominant defenses able of taking over games, and I doubt that Dan Quinn’s ideas will come to fruition this soon. Make no mistake, this team improved, but anything far off from an 8-8 record would be shocking to surprising. Grade: B+
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