The offense in Tampa Bay will be, if nothing else, very interesting to watch in 2020. The Falcons' division rival reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with running back Leonard Fournette on Wednesday night, who joins a group that also features Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski – that's a lot of name power.
It remains to be seen how big of a role Fournette will have with the Buccaneers, who recently signed LeSean McCoy and have Ronald Jones poised for a lead role in his third season. Tampa Bay also drafted two running backs in 2020 – Ke'Shawn Vaughn in the third round and Raymond Calais in the seventh round – and have third-down back Dare Ogunbowale on the roster.
Jenna Laine, who covers the Buccaneers for ESPN, provided more context for what the addition of Fournette could mean in Tampa Bay.
"Between Fournette and McCoy, the Bucs now have two running backs who have combined for eight 1,000-yard rushing seasons," Laine writes. "Tampa Bay has had a total of 12 1,000-yard rushing seasons in franchise history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
"The Bucs averaged 3.7 yards per rush over the past three seasons -- the worst mark in the NFL. While they were known for pushing the ball downfield with Jameis Winston, the offense has taken a more balanced approach since Brady signed during the offseason."
Fournette carried the ball 265 times for 1,152 yards and three touchdowns in 2019, and he gained 522 yards on 76 receptions. The Buccaneers have long been known for their passing offense under Jameis Winston, but they appear to be seeking a more balanced approach with Brady now behind center. Tampa Bay averaged 95.1 rushing yards per game in 2019, which ranked 24th among all NFL offenses.
The Falcons' run defense made strides last season, finishing the year ranked 15th and allowing 110.9 yards per game. That aspect of the team's defense will need to play well once again in 2020, given the level of running back talent in the division.
NFL's 40 most compelling people for 2020
Ahead of the 2020 season, ESPN's Bill Barnwell listed the 40 people he believes will be the most compelling to watch this fall. These are people who range from established superstars to rookies to head coaches, but they are all individuals who could shape the story of this season. There's one member of the Falcons on Barnwell's list, but it might not be who you expect. Coming in at No. 39 on the list is second-year tackle Kaleb McGary.
"You probably didn't see McGary coming on this list," Barnwell writes. "I might be the only one fascinated by the former Washington product. In the 2019 draft, though, the Falcons decided against using their first-round pick on a player to help out their ailing defense and used the 14th pick on offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom. At the end of the round, the Falcons then traded up to draft McGary. Given how Matt Ryan's dominant 2016 season came behind a fully healthy and dominant offensive line, you can figure that the Falcons thought they might be able to just win shootout after shootout if they upgraded their line.
"It didn't go well. The defense was a mess for most of the season. Lindstrom broke his foot and missed 11 games. McGary was healthy for all 16 games, but ESPN's pass block win rate analysis ranked him 166th out of 171 qualifying offensive linemen. The right tackle was assigned the blame for a league-high 18 sacks, two more than any other player. McGary has a great story as someone who has overcome multiple heart procedures to make it to the pros, but the Falcons made a big bet on their right tackle. I'm rooting for him, but he has a lot to prove in 2020."
Patriots reportedly release Mohamed Sanu
The New England Patriots will release wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, according to NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport. The former Falcons receiver was traded to the Patriots midway through the 2019 season for a second-round pick. Atlanta then sent that second-round pick and a fifth-round pick to Baltimore for tight end Hayden Hurst and a fourth-round pick, which the Falcons used to select safety Jaylinn Hawkins in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Ranking all 32 NFL defenses
There's no question that the Falcons defense will need to improve if the team is to make a serious push at the playoffs in 2020. If the defense does take a jump, it will likely land much higher on Pro Football Focus's ranking of NFL defenses heading into the 2021 season than it is on the current iteration of that list. Heading into the fall, PFF views the Falcons as having the 28th-best defense in the league.
"Atlanta has one of the more underappreciated interior defensive linemen in the NFL in Grady Jarrett. He's produced back-to-back single-season PFF grades above 90.0, forming a two-year grade that is the fourth-best at the position. In addition to Jarrett, linebacker Deion Jones is a standout on this defense — he has proven year after year that he has some of the best coverage ability at the position. His coverage grade since entering the league in 2016 trails only Luke Kuechly and Lavonte David. As great as those two players are for Atlanta, they can't make up for the shortcomings of the secondary.
"The Falcons' cornerbacks and safeties combined to produce the third-worst team coverage grade a season ago, and the one player who prevented them from being last is no longer on the team (Desmond Trufant). The Falcons did make a great late signing for minimal cost in slot corner Darqueze Dennard, but there's reasonable concern elsewhere. A (hopefully) healthy Keanu Neal will help matters some if he can get back to his rookie form when he was incredibly productive in coverage (sixth in 2016 in coverage grade)."
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