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Early Bird Report: NFL bans post-game jersey swaps for 2020

According to a report by ESPN, the NFL sent a new set of league protocols to teams in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Among the new protocols is a restriction on post-game jersey swaps between players.


"Jersey exchanges have gained in popularity in recent years, and their elimination was met with immediate derision from some prominent players on social media," ESPN's Kevin Seifert writes. "San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman tweeted that it was a 'perfect example of NFL thinking in a nutshell,' noting that players will 'engage in a full contact game' only to find that it isn't safe to exchange jerseys. Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson tweeted that it was 'DAMN SILLY.'"

The new protocols also involved other measures such as multiple pre-game temperature checks for coaches and players, restrictions on the number of people granted access to the field and mask requirements for certain people.

To see the rest of the changes reported by ESPN, click here.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today: Best/worst case scenarios for NFL teams

One of the things that makes the NFL such an entertaining and exciting league is the level of variability in a team's success from one season to the next. Every offseason fan bases can talk themselves into why the upcoming year will be their year, and there's enough turnover among playoff teams each season to make those hopes plausible.

The Falcons are one such team who have enough on-paper talent to make a run at the playoffs after a two-year absence. With an offense still led by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, and a defense that has been re-tooled in an effort to improve some key areas, the Falcons will look to build upon their strong finish to the 2019 season and put together a memorable 2020.

Pro Football Focus recently ran simulations for each team in the league, providing a 10th percentile outcome (the low-end expectation) and a 90th percentile outcome (the high-end expectation) for every team's record. When it comes to Atlanta, PFF believes the low projection is a 5-11 record while a 10-6 record is a reasonable high-end mark.

"It seems that a whole lot of people have forgotten that Ryan is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL," Ben Linsey writes of how the Falcons can reach their best projected record. "The Ryan-Julio Jones–Calvin Ridley connection clicks all season and several of the young players along the offensive line progress to the point that gives Ryan adequate protection to find his wide receivers. Defensively, those young cornerbacks do take steps forward, and free-agent acquisition Dante Fowler Jr. (career-high 73.3 pass-rushing grade in 2019) continues his upward trajectory as a pass-rusher to serve as a nice upgrade over Vic Beasley Jr."

The NFC South figures to be one of the league's toughest divisions next season, and PFF's projections back that up with both New Orleans and Tampa Bay having double-digit wins in their 90th percentile projections. Even if the Falcons put everything together this fall, they will be in for some well-fought games.

To see the rest of PFF's projections for NFL teams this season as well as the rest of what Linsey has to say about the Falcons, click here. Offensive line rankings entering 2020

The offensive line is undoubtedly one of the most important position groups for the Atlanta Falcons in 2020. For Atlanta to reach its offensive potential, the play in the trenches must improve.

Pro Football Focus highlighted just how much improvement will be needed in a recent ranking of all 32 offensive line units in the NFL. The Falcons ranked 24th in the league up front in 2019, but there are reasons to believe they can improve this fall.

"After years as one of the most stable units in the league, Atlanta's offensive line has regressed, and they finished 24th in our final 2019 rankings," PFF's Steve Palazzolo writes. "The good news is that Atlanta still has strong pillars up front in left tackle Jake Matthews and center Alex Mack, who are still two of the league's best at their respective positions. Matthews is one of the best zone blockers in the league (89th percentile over the last two years), while Mack has ranked second, fourth and ninth among centers over the last three seasons.

"Questions abound beyond that, but there is hope. The Falcons invested two first-round picks in right guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary in 2019, but Lindstrom only saw the field for 309 snaps and graded at 66.6 overall, while McGary struggled to a 53.0 overall grade that ranked 79th out of 89 qualifying tackles."

Improvement from Lindstrom and McGary would be the quickest way for the Falcons' offensive line to take a step forward. Third-round pick Matt Hennessy is also an intriguing player to keep an eye on at the left guard spot. Atlanta invested heavily in its offensive line last offseason, and it took steps to bolster its skill positions this year. For the Falcons to get the most out of their talented weapons, their offensive line needs to perform.

To see the rest of PFF's offensive line rankings and Palazzolo's thoughts on the Falcons, click here. Top five receivers in NFL

So much of this time of year is devoted to talking about the big-name players on each NFL roster, but, you know what, if you're Julio Jones, you've earned it. The All-Pro receiver has been on an absolute tear over the last half of the decade, and he deserves every bit of attention he gets. analyst Bucky Brooks also doesn't mind heaping the praise on Jones, naming him the best receiver in the game today in a recent article.

"The 10th-year pro is the prototype at the position: an explosive track athlete with A+ size and strength," Brooks writes. "Jones reached 12,000 receiving yards quicker than any pass catcher in NFL history (125 games) -- yes, including Jerry Rice (142). He also boasts the highest career average in receiving yards per game in NFL history (96.2), logging 1,300-plus yards in each of the past six seasons. As a dynamic route runner with strong hands and rugged running skills, Jones remains the gold standard at the position."

Jones is at the top of a list of truly elite NFL receivers in Brooks's mind. Notably, three of the five players on the list hail from the NFC South, which figures to be an extremely difficult division in 2020.

To see the rest of Brooks's list, click here.

AJC: Raheem Morris's uplifting coaching summit

Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris recently attended the third-annual NFL Quarterback Coaching Summit, which was conducted virtually this offseason.

The summit consisted of a series of panels, led by current and former NFL coaches as well as coaches from the college ranks, which were aimed at improving the league's diversity and ability to develop quality leaders.

"I was just an attendee," Morris told D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "To go and be a part of the breakout sessions, get answers to the questions. They talked to me about my head coaching experience. The ability to go back, the changes, what's now and what's next. I talked to the group about that."

Morris, a former NFL head coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has been one of the Falcons' top assistant coaches since arriving in Atlanta with Dan Quinn in 2015. Now, he's been tasked with leading the Falcons' defense since sparking a dramatic turnaround in the unit during the second half of the 2019 season.

After becoming a head coach at the age of just 32, Morris told Ledbetter that he's grown a lot from that experience and continues to develop as a coach in this league. The 2020 season provides another chance for Morris to take charge of a unit and demonstrate all that he has learned.

To read the rest of Ledbetter's story on Morris's experience at the NFL Quarterback Coaching Summit, click here.

ESPN: Which WR is best bet to lead NFL in yards?

Julio Jones has been among the best receivers in the NFL for quite a while now, and there's no reason to believe that will change in 2020. Coming off of a season in which he finished second in the league with 1,394 yards despite missing a game, Jones should be right up there in the mix to lead the league in that category next season.

In fact, Joe Fortenbaugh on ESPN's "Daily Wager" made Jones his pick to be the NFL leading receiver. Jones is currently being given 7-1 odds by Caesars Sportsbook to achieve that feat, which Fortenbaugh believes is better odds than a player like DeAndre Hopkins, who stands at 9-1.

"He's consistent as rain in the Amazon, based on what you see each and every year from this dude" Fortenbaugh says. "Top two in receiving yards in five straight seasons, and over the last six years he's averaged 1,564 receiving yards. He's got Matt Ryan as his quarterback, who – let's be honest, maybe he's not an elite quarterback. You can be on the fence however you want with Matt Ryan – but he's missed one game in the last ten years. These guys have been working together forever, they might have one of the most solid rapports in the National Football League."

Ryan and Jones both missed one game in 2019, the Falcons first working with new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, yet the former managed to lead the NFL in completions while the latter was second in receiving yards. If they continue to play the way we've seen throughout their careers, Fortenbaugh may have made a smart bet.

To see the rest of the conversation on ESPN's "Daily Wager," click here.

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