The conference games are upon us, with two quality matchups on Sunday. The NFC title won't be contested by an NFC South team, as it has in three of the past five times.
Buccaneers were in it last year and went on to win the Super Bowl. The Saints lost out on the conference title in 2018 and the Falcons earned it in 2016.
- Falcons Breakdown: QBs, RBs, WRs, TEs, OL, DL, OLB, ILB, CB, S
- Rookie Review: Kyle Pitts, Richie Grant, Jalen Mayfield, Darren Hall, Drew Dalman, Ade Ogundeji, Avery Williams, Ta'Quon Graham, Frank Darby, Feleipe Franks
- Question of the week: What do the Falcons do with Matt Ryan?
- Conquering the Cycle: Lee Smith retiring on his own terms
The Dirty Birds must work to get back in serious contention. The Saints must adapt after losing head coach Sean Payton. The Bucs must take advantage of the Tom Brady championship window, as long as it continues. The Panthers are, well, they seem like they're a million miles away.
The focus of these mailbags, as you know, is taking a close look at how the Falcons can become consistent contenders. You all set the agenda in this discussion, and this Bair Mail is therefore focused on the NFL Draft, where to get good value and which positions must be addressed.
We'll talk more about that in our Question of the Week, which arrives every Tuesday as a story and an episode of the Falcons Final Whistle podcast. Check out the latest topic, which is focused on Matt Ryan’s future.
Before you do that, dive into this Friday Bair Mail.
Emery Langston from Loganville, Ga.
Is there any possibility that the falcons take a WR with the no.8 pick or will they go with an edge rusher?
Bair: They absolutely could. If they're going with the best player on their draft board with, in my opinion, weighted toward premium positions. That includes edge rusher, offensive tackle, cornerback and, as you point out, Emery, receiver.
There are a few mock drafts out there suggesting they take Treylon Burks from Arkansas. We'll know more about receiver as a standard need or something more pressing before we get to the NFL Draft. Calvin Ridley’s status would have to be secured by then, either with him remaining on the team or being moved via trade. We'll also know if Russell Gage has been re-signed. If both of those guys come back, then receiver at No. 8 seems like overkill. A pick in rounds after that, however, is a good idea either way.
Will Smith from Summerville, Ga.
Hey, Scott, just read that Sean Payton is stepping down as HC of the Saints. With all that's going with the Panthers, and Brady rumors, suddenly it seems like the Falcons are the most stable team in the division. Does this make Terry and Arthur look at the draft and free agency any differently? To put it another way, would they "go for it" a year or two sooner if things were more stable? Thanks.
Bair: Going for it typically involves taking risks to possibly push a team into serious title contention. The Falcons are more disciplined than that. They have a process and a plan to get right with the cap, to stack quality draft classes while trying to win as much as possible. That'll be easier with more talent.
My point: Sean Payton leaving won't alter that plan. Neither will a Tom Brady retirement. Stay the course. Get right, and then stay there. That's how you usher in a period of sustained success.
Ken Gurta from Hoschton, Ga.
I have heard that it might be hard to keep Patterson due to cap restraints. And we all Know that Mike Davis is not the answer as a lead back. A good RB would also improve our passing game as other teams would have to respect the run. An elite RB is usually drafted at the end of the 1st round or the beginning of the 2nd. Could you see the Falcons trading both 2nd round picks to move up and draft an elite back or would you wait and gamble that one falls their way later?
Bair: I agree, Ken, that the Falcons will need to add a young running back this offseason. I think that'll be the case whether they re-sign Cordarrelle Patterson or not. A young, drafted runner seems like the way to go here, especially over the veteran route for a second straight season. The second-round seems a bit high, considering other premium needs, and there are lots of good runners to be found later in the NFL Draft. Go find a talent that specifically fits the scheme, like the 49ers often do, and implement him well.
Take a look at our favorite images of Cordarrelle Patterson's breakout season in 2021-22.
James Epps from Gainesville, Ga.
Please help me understand the acquisition of Feleipe Franks as a backup QB.
Bair: He isn't a pure backup quarterback. He's a jack-of-all-trades type player, someone who helped on special teams and played tight end and did some things as a mobile quarterback. He isn't, nor should you expect him to be Matt Ryan's primary No. 2 next season. The Falcons will add a veteran quarterback, I'd expect, or a younger passer to the mix.
Tori McElhaney wrote an excellent review of Franks, so check that out for a detailed look at what he has done and how his role might evolve right here.
Jerry B from Hinesville, Ga.
Hey Scott. I see you respond pass rusher every time someone asks what position you think we should pick at 8. Why? Because that's our biggest need? My next question is Who? Thibodeaux? Hutchinson? Give me a break. One played in the PAC-10(Red flag) and the other was dominated on a national stage by a probable 3rd round pick. Give me a break! I'm no NFL GM but even I can see that would be a bad pick. Let move down and get an OT, WR, or DB while picking up more picks. Atlanta has never drafted a successful edge rusher in the 1st round within the last 30 years and it won't start this year. But hey, what do I know. I'm just a fan writing in to a column. P.S. Please make me feel better in the future columns by responding with a different position 😂.
Bair: I can't do it, Jerry. Sorry about that, though I always enjoy the correspondence, even when you disagree with me, which is often. Ha.
The Falcons had 18 sacks last year. 18(!!) That's not enough. Dean Pees needs athletes at the position, and the team's history taking them has no relevance considering there's a new man making draft choices. That said, if there's an early run on edge rushers, the best player on the board might not be the Nos. 3 or 4 edge rusher in the class. The pair you mention will be gone before No. 8 anyway. Again, offensive tackle, cornerback, edge rusher, maybe receiver, are, in my opinion the biggest premium positions of need for these Falcons.
Call for questions
Another Bair Mail down, another one coming up on Monday. Submit your questions right for inclusion in that mailbag.
Falcons Final Whistle | A Postgame Podcast
Break down the hottest topics surrounding the Atlanta Falcons and how they can impact the team's success with Atlanta Falcons Insiders Scott Bair, Tori McElhaney and Kris Rhim. Like and subscribe to join us for the lively debate on Falcons Final Whistle.
Welcome to Falcons Final Whistle – an Atlanta Falcons football postgame podcast during the season that shifts gears in the offseason to answer a pressing question about the team's future each week through free agency, the NFL Draft and the offseason program.