The Atlanta Falcons have an offense loaded with former first-round picks that features a former league MVP at quarterback and an All-Pro wide receiver and running back. During Matt Ryan's time with the team, the Falcons have often had one of the league's best offenses, and they have the talent to once again rank among the best in 2020.
Pro Football Focus, however, isn't quite as high on Atlanta. The evaluators and analytics experts at the site aren't necessarily low on the Falcons, but they do have them outside of the top 10. Entering the 2020 season, the Falcons rank 12th on PFF's list of the league's best offenses.
"If Matt Ryan had a reliable offensive line, we'd be more confident in placing Atlanta higher here," PFF's Anthony Treash writes. "The Falcons' offensive line in 2019 was undoubtedly the worst of Ryan's career — the unit failed to crack the 25th percentile in team pass-block grade and allowed pressure on 39.2% of Ryan's dropbacks, the fifth-highest rate in the league. And that lowly line certainly played a part in him producing the second-worst grade of his career.
"Ryan looked like his top-tier self when he was kept free from pressure, though, as he ranked fifth league-wide in clean-pocket passing grade. However, the bad news is the line doesn't look like it'll be much better in 2020.
"On the bright side, he still has one of the league's best receiving units at his disposal, and it's led by the single best in the NFL in Julio Jones. Jones has been one of the NFL's three highest-graded wide receivers in each of the past five seasons and has produced 225 receptions that resulted in a 15-plus yard gain, 50 more than any other wide receiver over those five years."
Falcons coach Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter have expressed their desire to get back to an identity centered around outside-zone runs and play-action passes, a combination that has proven to be effective in the past. With Todd Gurley in the fold, any improvement from the offensive line should help Atlanta's run game become more reliable and impactful.
Ranking all 32 NFL quarterbacks
Sticking with Pro Football Focus, writer Sam Monson shared his ranking of all 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Matt Ryan fared a bit better in this ranking than the Falcons offense did, earning the No. 8 spot between Aaron Rodgers and Dak Prescott.
"Ryan might be the best of the quarterbacks who don't have it in them to be transcendent and raise the level of everybody around them," Monson writes. "Ryan showed in 2016 that he could be an MVP-caliber player if the situation around him is optimal, but his grades before and after that season showed how dependent he is on that support structure around him. Last season saw the worst pass-protection he has had in front of him since 2013, and unless the offensive line can improve, he will be limited in terms of his ceiling. Still, Ryan can be as good as any passer in football when he has the help — he even completed 73.9% of his passes from a clean pocket last year, earning a PFF grade of 91.9."
Falcons' rookie Davidson could miss season opener
Among the information provided by Dan Quinn during his Tuesday press conference was an update on the health status of rookie defensive tackle Marlon Davidson, who missed much of training camp with a knee strain. While Quinn isn't worried about the missed time affecting Davidson's understanding of the team's playbook and his assignments, the time off the field could impact his conditioning and game-readiness. With the season-opener quickly approaching, D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Davidson could be in jeopardy of missing it.
"Not concerned from certainly a learning standpoint because this guy really gets the football part of it," Quinn said. "The conditioning part, he's pushing it. But now, just the flow of it and getting into it. We're excited to get him back on the field and that's coming soon. So, for us, knowing that he's pushing it and getting there ... for game conditioning, it will take a few weeks to get into the right space for sure."
Three traits Hawkins looks to bring to the Falcons
Falcons rookie Jaylinn Hawkins had a knack for making big plays as a safety at California, and he's got some specific qualities he brings with him to Atlanta. He detailed what those were while talking with the media on Tuesday, and Jason Butt elaborated on them further in a piece for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"Jaylinn Hawkins picked two talented safeties to emulate in Ed Reed and Sean Taylor," Butt writes. "When studying these players in his younger days, Hawkins noticed they played the game in similar ways.
"They were physical. They played with a lot of intelligence. They had a knack for intercepting passes.
"Hawkins, one of the Falcons' two fourth-round selections in this year's NFL draft, has tried to mold those aspects into his own playing style. When it comes to being physical, Hawkins said that's an element he's always wanted to be known for. In high school, Hawkins played receiver and enjoyed mixing it up with defensive backs. As a defender, landing hard hits is something he hopes to do in each possession."
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