With the start of the NFL Combine less than a week away, colleges preparing to host pro days and free agency set to open in a few more weeks, the football calendar is about to hit one of its busiest seasons. And with it, teams have a plethora of decisions to make and that - of course - includes the Falcons. With the second-highest cap space in the league, Atlanta should be in a lot of these conversations league-wide.
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The expectation for the Falcons is that this offseason looks vastly different than the last two offseasons under Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith. For starters they have more money to play with, but that doesn't take away from a foundation that has already been formed in Atlanta.
With this in mind, let's break down this 2023 team by positions and highlight one of the (many) burning questions each position has to answer by the start of the 2023 season. The offense will get us started and the defense will follow suit later in the week.
Who gets the nod in 2023, Desmond Ridder or someone else?
This is the question on just about everyone's minds, right? Who will be the Falcons starting quarterback come Week 1 of the season? Did Ridder do enough in his four starts in 2022 to justify the reins of the offense being handed to him in 2023? For the time being, we don't know. And the truth is that we may not know for a while.
The Falcons are going to meet with, interview and evaluate the quarterbacks in the 2023 Draft. They're also going to weigh the veteran options they could acquire via free agency or a trade. Whatever the case may be, the Falcons are going to add to the quarterback room. They have to, especially if they part ways with Marcus Mariota, which is a decision that will save them quite a bit of money towards the cap if they do. How they decide to fill it, though, will tell us a lot about what they think of Ridder and the future of the quarterback position in the post-Matt Ryan era.
Can the Falcons run game success in 2022 be replicated?
It goes without saying that the primary strength of the 2022 Falcons was their ability to consistently put together a run game that was productive for them. As one of the best rushing offenses in the league last year, the Falcons seemed to have finally cracked the code of being a team that could still run the ball even when every person in the stadium knew they were going to. They had an identity in physicality and a lot of that is thanks to Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson and Caleb Huntley (as well as the offensive line, too, but more on them later).
Allgeier was the biggest surprise of 2022 for the Falcons, and according to some, the league at large, too. When Patterson went on injured reserve early in the year, Allgeier picked up the rock and never laid it down. He was a force to be reckoned with for the Falcons last year. Patterson and Huntley, too, didn't miss much of a beat in 2023, either, despite injuries keeping them off the field at various points. Allgeier and Patterson are not going anywhere, and Huntley (despite his season-ending Achilles injury) may not say goodbye to Atlanta just yet, either. So, it leaves the question of whether or not 2022's run production was the Falcons identity under Smith or a one-year power-up?
Who fills out the room around Drake London?
Outside of London, the Falcons don't have very many receivers on long-term contracts, especially none that made a significant impact on offense in 2022. Olamide Zaccheaus, Damiere Byrd and Khadarel Hodge will all be free agents when the new league year begins on March 15. If the Falcons do not choose to bring any of them back, they're looking at London and Frank Darby essentially being the only carryover into 2023. They'll need to fill this room, likely via free agency and the draft if they can.
How does Kyle Pitts' return change the offense?
It's no question that Pitts' presence on the field was missed when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in late November. Even though his production wasn't what it was in his rookie year, you better believe defenses knew where Pitts was on the field at all times. Once he returns to full strength, that won't change. What may change, though, is how the Falcons operate offensively when they do get Pitts back.
We never saw Pitts partnered with Ridder in 2022. If Ridder gets the start as QB1, how does his presence and the way he plays affect Pitts? It affected London's production, could it do the same for the Falcons top-targeted tight end? We don't know. What we do know is that the Falcons should be better with Pitts back on the field, and after a so-so year for the former rookie phenom, don't you think the organization is itching to prove it?
Can the 2022 group stay together in 2023?
Go down the line from Jake Matthew to Kaleb McGary and everyone in between and Falcons offensive linemen would all say the same thing: The culture this group has built over a couple years together is something special, and its a reason they were able to lead the Falcons run game production the way they were.
Though Drew Dalman and Elijah Wilkinson were new to the starting five and though injuries to Wilkinson saw three different linemen rotate in at left guard throughout the year, the consistency this group portrayed was impactful. So much so that it begs the question of whether or not the Falcons can keep them together.
Matthews is on a long-term deal after signing a contract extension last offseason. Dalman is still on his rookie deal. And the expectation is that Chris Lindstrom could see a deal struck to keep him in Atlanta, too. But what of McGary? What of Wilkinson? That's where he questions begin.
Can the Falcons bring back McGary? He'll be a free agent this offseason if the Falcons cannot strike a deal to keep him in Atlanta, too. Wilkinson only signed a one-year deal in Atlanta. Will he walk, too? How much money are the Falcons willing to put into this position group in order to keep these five together? The coming weeks of contract negotiations will be the key to answering these questions.
Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos of our rookies from the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.