Early Bird Report: ESPN names one Falcons' offseason move as among the most underrated in the NFL

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today’s Early Bird Report includes an offseason move by the Falcons that could be among the most underrated in the league.

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Following the 2018 season, the Falcons decided to part way with their offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators. Head coach Dan Quinn will assume the role of defensive coordinator, Ben Kotwica was hired to run special teams and former Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter is returning to Atlanta as offensive coordinator.

It’s that last move, Koetter’s return to the role he held from 2012-14, that ESPN fantasy writer KC Joyner is among the most underrated moves of the offseason.

“Matt Ryan's metrics have seesawed over the past four years,” Joyner writes. “The return of Koetter should keep Ryan at the upper tier of that production scale, as Ryan had arguably his best three-year span while Koetter was the Falcons' offensive coordinator in 2012-14.”

Since working with Koetter, Ryan’s level of play has taken a jump, peaking with him earning the NFL MVP Award in 2016.

To see what else ESPN’s experts believe are underrated moves this offseason, click here.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:

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... And It Continues. 🏁

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CBS Sports: The fatal flaw for all 32 teams

Regardless of how talented an NFL team is, there is always one doomsday scenario. A flaw that could prove fatal if exposed in the right way. CBS Sports’ Will Brinson took a look at all 32 teams to determine what that fatal flaw could be. For the Falcons, Brinson believes that flaw is defensive depth, which was greatly exposed in 2018 after some big injuries to key player at the start of the year.

“One of the surprising things from this draft was the Falcons a) not having a pick on the second day of the draft and b) not using a Day 1 or Day 2 pick on a defensive player,” Brinson writes. “The right side of the offensive line is now much better, albeit very young. But the undoing of the Falcons in 2018 was a host of injuries on defense, specifically with guys like Deion Jones and Keanu Neal. And now that same flaw is glaring: if the Falcons are dealt a bunch of injuries on defense, there is not a lot of depth for them to overcome. There's star power with guys like Grady Jarrett, Takkarist McKinley, Jones, Neal and Desmond Trufant -- just to name a few -- and I can see the defense taking a leap forward ... if everyone stays healthy.” 

To see the rest of the league’s fatal flaws, click here.

ESPN: Rankings how married each NFL team is to its QB

Since drafting quarterback Matt Ryan with the No. 3 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons have enjoyed their most successful era in franchise history. It’s no surprise then that the Falcons awarded the former NFL MVP with the biggest contract in league history at the time in 2018.

Ryan was once again excellent in the first year of his five-year, $150 million deal, completing 69.4 percent of his passes for 4,924 yards and 35 touchdowns. The Falcons spent both of their first-round picks in this year’s draft on offensive linemen to give Ryan more support up front.

Given the structure of Ryan’s contract and the team’s moves to protect him, ESPN’s Dan Graziano ranked the Falcons as the NFL team most committed to their starting quarterback.

“Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger all have passed Matty Ice in average salary since he signed his deal,” Graziano writes. “But the structure of this contract keeps Ryan in the top spot when we talk about commitment. As of March 15, an even $100 million of Ryan's deal was fully guaranteed, including $20.5 million in 2020 and $5.5 million in 2021. It would cost the Falcons $68.9 million in dead money to cut Ryan next offseason and more than $35 million to do it after 2020. Ryan looks set in Atlanta for at least three more years.”

To see the rest of Graziano’s ranking of how committed each NFL team is to its quarterback, click here.

AJC: Falcons offensive line coach starts major project

By selecting Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary with their first two picks in the NFL Draft, the Falcons have made a clear statement that they are investing in their offensive line and the protection of franchise quarterback Matt Ryan.

They have also given offensive line coach Chris Morgan two new and important pieces to work with. Morgan has been with the Falcons since 2015 and also serves as the team’s run game coordinator. Morgan was mic’d up during the team’s rookie minicamp practice this past weekend, providing a first glimpse of him working with Lindstrom and McGary.

D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote a bit more about Morgan working with the Falcons’ two first-round rookies, which you can read here.

The Ringer: The best player and team fits from the draft

With their first pick of this year’s NFL Draft – No. 14 overall – the Falcons believe they got a player who can really improve their team in Chris Lindstrom. Given recent reports that Lindstrom would have been taken by the Minnesota Vikings at No. 18, it’s hard to consider the pick a reach anymore.

The value discussion should be tabled at this point, anyway. If Lindstrom turns out to be a solid, reliable offensive lineman for the next decade it won’t matter when he was selected. And one thing is clear: He is a really solid fit for what the Falcons do offensively.

The Ringer’s resident draft expert Danny Kelly agrees, including Lindstrom in his recent piece about the best player-team fits from this year’s draft.

“I didn’t love the overall value the Falcons got with Lindstrom, as using the 14th overall pick on my 44th-ranked player felt a little bit rich,” Kelly writes. “But there’s no denying his near-perfect fit for the Falcons’ outside zone–heavy run game: Lindstrom is one of the premier athletes at the guard spot in this class—he tested out in the 96th percentile in SPARQ among NFL offensive linemen at the combine—and his quick feet and ability to keep his balance will be crucial for the types of blocks he’s asked to make in Atlanta. This wasn’t a super sexy pick, but Lindstrom brings toughness, reliability, versatility, and most importantly, elite athleticism to the team’s offensive line.”

To see the rest of Kelly’s best team fits from the draft, click here.

NFL.com: NFL’s top 10 offenses entering the season

For much of Matt Ryan’s tenure as the Falcons’ starting quarterback, Atlanta has been one of the top offensive teams in the league. Entering the 2019 season, that again appears to be the case.

Most of Atlanta’s key offensive pieces, including Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Jake Matthews are back in the fold for the upcoming season and that continuity should once again be worth trusting in. NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling trusts in the Falcons’ offense, and he named them the fourth-best offense in the NFL heading into the 2019 season.

He breaks down and assigns a grade to each position group on the Falcons’ offense, and Atlanta’s receiving corps leads the way, earning an A entering the fall.

“Ridley was an instant-impact player, recording 821 yards and 10 touchdowns on 64 receptions as a rookie,” Wesseling writes of the Falcons’ receivers. “If he takes another leap in his second season, Ryan might have the luxury of throwing to the NFC's most unstoppable receiving corps. Sanu has been a model of reliability since leaving Cincinnati, while Hooper emerged as a dangerous outlet receiver in his third season.”

To see the rest of the grades Wesseling assigned to the Falcons’ offense, as well as the rest of his top 10, click here.

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