FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today’s Early Bird Report includes a list of the NFL’s most underrated units, and the Falcons’ offensive line is on it.
The Falcons addressed no other position this offseason to the level that they addressed their offensive line. Not only did the Falcons use two first-round picks on guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary, but they also added four offensive linemen in free agency.
That influx should allow the Falcons to find a few guys to fit around left tackle Jake Matthews and center Alex Mack, and the team did sign right tackle Ty Sambrialo to a three-year deal this offseason as well.
Given the unit’s struggles in 2018, when they allowed 42 sacks and played a role in the Falcons averaging less than 100 yards on the ground, it might be a surprise that The Ringer’s Danny Kelly has Atlanta’s offensive line on his list of the seven most underrated units in the league.
“Training camp battles still must play out, but the team’s looking at a starting lineup that includes Jake Matthews at left tackle, [James] Carpenter at left guard, Alex Mack at center, and Lindstrom and McGary at right guard and tackle,” Kelly writes. “That group still has much to prove—especially on the right side, as Lindstrom and McGary will be under pressure to hit the ground running. But that unit also might have more potential than any starting five we’ve seen in Atlanta for years.”
To see the other six units that Kelly believes is underrated, click here.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
ESPN: Barnwell’s to-do list for all 16 NFC teams
After addressing many of their primary needs in free agency and the draft, what remains on the Falcons’ to-do list for the rest of the offseason? While we don’t know exactly what is on the team’s list, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell has a few items of his own that he believes Atlanta should address.
Barnwell’s suggestions aren’t off the mark, because they mostly fall in line with things the Falcons have said are priorities. He thinks Atlanta’s more important remaining three moves this offseason are negotiating long-term extensions with Grady Jarrett, Julio Jones and Deion Jones.
“Jarrett doesn't have the sort of pass-rushing production we've seen from interior disruptors like Aaron Donald, so he can't expect to get that sort of deal,” Barnwell writes. “The closest comparison might be someone like Kawann Short, who signed a five-year, $80 million deal after being franchised by the Panthers in 2017. The cap has risen by 12.7 percent since then, so Jarrett might very well ask for five years and a hair over $90 million for his own deal.”
The Falcons have stated that reaching an agreement on extensions with Jarrett and Julio Jones is their top priorities for this offseason, and Deion Jones has become one of the best off-ball linebackers in the league.
To see the rest of Barnwell’s remaining offseason to-do lists for the NFC, click here.
AJC: Falcons have major holes, but so do their foes
Until the players actually suit up and take the field this fall, there will be plenty of talk about how NFL teams stack up on paper. Roster strength can be a good indicator of which teams will be successful, but, as the Falcons found out in 2018, injuries and disappointing play can quickly undo a talented roster. In looking at the league’s current landscape, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Michael Cunningham thinks the Falcons have some remaining holes, but they aren’t alone in that.
“I still think my doubts about the Falcons are warranted,” Cunningham writes. “Maybe the offensive line is fixed, but the defensive line still looks problematic. The Falcons are shaky at cornerback: Desmond Trufant no longer is elite, and Isaiah Oliver needs to make a second-year leap.
“These are not small concerns but — back to my theme — pretty much every team has at least a couple of major issues. Few teams have a quarterback-wide receiver combo better than Ryan and Jones. Only the Saints compare in the division. I don’t see another team in the NFC on that level.”
To see the rest of Cunningham’s column, click here.
SI.com: Three days in rookie camp with the Falcons
The Falcons wrapped up their rookie minicamp for 2019, but fans can get an inside glimpse at what occurred during those three days. Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit was given a special behind-the-scenes view of rookie minicamp with the Falcons, and he chronicled much of what took place during that time.
“NFL walkthroughs typically go exactly like as the name suggests—unless it’s with a bunch of rookies trying to make the team,” Benoit writes. “At the starting horn, the entire O-line group sprints to its station with the urgency of men fleeing a live grenade. Halfway there, they realize they’re going the wrong way and, clumsily, all 10 turn around and sprint back to where they just came from. Eventually everyone is situated, and it’s here where players start looking their part. The first-rounders, McGary and especially Lindstrom, exit their stances with a crisp burst. Some of the undrafted guys are visibly processing the calls. One even waits for the rest of the group to perform an action before coming out of his stance to copy them.”
For any fan who wants a peak behind the NFL curtain, Benoit’s piece is certainly worth a read.
CBS Sports: Ranking NFL’s top triplets for 2019 season
The Falcons expect to have a former NFL MVP at quarterback, an All-Pro at wide receiver and a two-time Pro Bowler at running back for the start of the 2019 season. Yet, in CBS Sports’ recent ranking of top NFL triplets, they don’t seem to think too highly of the Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman.
CBS Sports ranks that Falcons trio 11th in their list of triplets, behind such teams as Seattle (Russell Wilson, Chris Carson, Tyler Lockett) and Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, Davante Adams), who are tied for seventh. Yes, this is all subjective and ultimately pointless, and perhaps Freeman’s recent injuries have colored opinions, but that does seem a bit low for Atlanta’s potent trio.
“The Falcons say Freeman is healthy after struggling with injuries the past two years, and, well, he better be,” CBS Sports’ Jared Dubin writes. “Tevin Coleman is gone and Ito Smith did not look ready for this last year. Ryan is two seasons removed from winning MVP, and he was nearly as good last year as he was in 2016. Julio is Julio.”
To see the rest of CBS Sports’ ranking of NFL triplets, click here.
ESPN: Ranking NFL’s most underrated offseason moves
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.
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.