Early Bird Report: Falcons ranked among NFL's top 5 offenses entering 2019 season

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today’s Early Bird Report includes a ranking of the league's top offenses by NFL.com, which has the Falcons right up there near the top.

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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.

ESPN: 2019 NFL power rankings

Draft season is complete, as is the bulk of free agency, so we’ve got our clearest picture of what NFL teams will look like heading into the 2019 season to date. Under that frame of thinking, ESPN has released an updated set of power rankings that includes projected wins for each team as well as playoff chances.

ESPN is using its Football Power Index ratings to determine these power rankings, which is a metric that combines predicted efficiency for each phase of the game as well as other analytics such as expected points added per play. It might sound confusing, but that’s fine. You’re really just here to see where they ranked the Falcons, aren’t you?

Well, ESPN ranks the Falcons ninth in their recent power rankings, and Atlanta is the fourth-highest NFC team on this list below the Saints, Rams and Bears. The Falcons are projected for 8.4 wins and have a 41.8 percent chance to make the postseason. Beat writer Vaughn McClure provided his thoughts on where the team improved the most this offseason.

“Offensive line. The Falcons really invested in the line both through the draft and via free agency,” McClure writes. “They drafted Chris Lindstrom No. 14 overall as a guard with toughness, then followed by trading back into the end of the first round to select tackle Kaleb McGary. The Falcons also signed a dependable veteran guard in James Carpenter along with guard Jamon Brown. Lindstrom and Carpenter should start at the guard spots, and McGary has the opportunity to start at right tackle if he outperforms Ty Sambrailo.”

To see the rest of ESPN’s power rankings, click here.

NFL.com: Projected 2019 All-Rookie NFL Team

For the first time since 2008, when Atlanta selected both Matt Ryan and Sam Baker in the first round, the Falcons made two first-round picks in the NFL Draft. By drafting Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary, the Falcons are hoping to sure up their offensive line for years to come.

NFL.com draft analyst Chad Reuter believes Lindstrom and McGary could make an early impact for Atlanta as well. In a recent piece in which Reuter projects his 2019 NFL All-Rookie Team, both Lindstrom and McGary were listed for the offense.

“McGary and Lindstrom will work together to solidify Atlanta's offensive line, much in the same way (Quenton) Nelson and second-round pick Braden Smith did for the Colts in 2018,” Reuter writes.

If that does indeed turn out to be the case for the Falcons’ two first-round rookies, Atlanta’s offense could once again become a dominant unit in the NFL. Despite averaging less than 100 yards per game on the ground in 2018, the Falcons still had a top-10 total and scoring offense. Even a small boost on the offensive line could make them even more dangerous.

To see the rest of Reuter’s projected All-Rookie team, click here.

ESPN: Biggest roster hole for all 32 NFL teams

The Falcons selected two cornerbacks in this year’s NFL Draft – Kendall Sheffield and Jordan Miller – yet ESPN still believes the position is Atlanta’s biggest remaining hole.

In a recent piece detailing the top remaining need for each NFL team, ESPN’s Andrew Potter provided his thoughts for the NFC South and why cornerback is Atlanta’s most glaring need at this point.

“The Falcons came into the offseason with two major goals: plug glaring holes in the defensive front seven and rebuild their offensive line,” Potter writes. “Veteran free agent Tyeler Davison and the returning Adrian Clayborn help immensely with the first of those, whereas the team spent massive amounts of draft capital on the second. That leaves cornerback as the most obvious area of uncertainty: Isaiah Oliver made only two starts in his rookie season but is now first in line to start opposite Desmond Trufant. The vital nickelback spot is a contest between a recently converted safety (Damontae Kazee), a career backup with one start in three years (Blidi Wreh-Wilson), and two developmental late-round rookies in Kendall Sheffield and Jordan Miller. Even if one of those players develops quickly into a worthy starter, depth in the secondary remains a clear issue. Atlanta only needs to look back a single season to see just how important that can be.”

Atlanta took steps to add to their depth in the secondary in the draft, but the Falcons are relying on a lot of youth at the position. Still, Kazee is an example of how things can break the right way with young players, but there is still risk involved.

To see the see the top remaining need for every other NFL team, click here.

CBS Sports: Ranking all 40 trades in the NFL Draft

The Falcons made three trades in this year’s NFL Draft, each one to move up in the draft order. But how do those three trades stack up compared to all of the other trades made during draft weekend? CBS Sports’ R.J. White ranked all 40 of the trades made in the draft, and the Falcons fared pretty well overall. In White’s opinion, Atlanta had the 32nd-, 26th- and ninth-best trades in the draft.

The lowest rated trade was the Falcons’ decision to move up in the fourth round to grab Kendall Sheffield, the 26th-rated trade was Atlanta move to grab John Cominsky and the team’s best trade was the move back into the first round to draft Kaleb McGary.

“While Kaleb McGary wasn't as big of a steal as the three players we just mentioned, the Falcons got him for a steal rather than overpaying in the deal, and that's before you factor in landing the fifth-year option,” White writes. “It would have been better if an impact defensive lineman had been there to grab, but the Falcons deserve credit for the value of this trade anyway.”

To see how White rated the rest of the trades in the draft, click here.

ESPN: NFL execs unfiltered on every team’s draft class

We know what those in the media think of each team’s draft, but what about those who have actually made decisions in the NFL? ESPN’s Mike Sando talked to several coaches, executives and evaluators to get their thoughts on each team’s draft, and they felt the Falcons’ moves were as much about the present as they were the future. The consensus is that they were adamant about protecting Matt Ryan, and one general manager is high on tackle Kaleb McGary.

"We think McGary can be the best offensive lineman in this draft," he told Sando. "What we don't know is exactly where that would be on the line."

To see what else they had to say about the Falcons’ draft, click here.

ESPN: McShay’s early 2020 projected mock draft

Given how completely wrong most mock drafts are in the days ahead of the NFL Draft, it’s astoundingly futile to try to project the first round one year out. And yet, that’s where we are.

ESPN’s Todd McShay understands that his projected 2020 mock draft isn’t going to turn out to be accurate, so he instead is viewing this as an opportunity to introduce fans to some of the early top prospects for next year’s draft. He also is basing the order of the draft on Football Outsiders’ early projected records for the 2019 season.

That projection has the Falcons selecting at No. 12, and McShay believes they will address the defensive line with their first pick, drafting Purdue defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal.

“The son of longtime NFL fullback Lorenzo Neal, this 315-pounder would help in the middle of a Falcons line potentially losing Grady Jarrett after the 2019 season,” McShay writes. “He made 30 tackles, including three for loss, last season.”

To see the rest of McShay’s early projected 2020 mock draft, click here.

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