FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – With training camp quickly approaching, teams aren't likely to drastically overhaul their roster between now and the start of the season. Teams addressed their identified areas of need via free agency and the draft, and now, it's time to get the most out of the roster they've assembled.
CBS Sports recently combed through each division, awarding letter grades to each team based on their moves over the offseason. The exercise is subjective in nature, but it helps shed light on how a team's decisions are being perceived.
For their offseason, the Falcons were given a B- by CBSSports.com's Ryan Wilson. As for the other teams in the division – the Panthers received a B from Wilson, the Saints earned a C and the Bucs were given an A.
The Falcons weren't among the most active teams in free agency due to limited cap space this season as well as the planning for future contracts that may come into play over the next few years. Atlanta also boasts a balanced roster without a glaring weakness, which may have also played a role in the team's free agency approach.
Wilson named tight end Logan Paulsen, cornerback/special teams ace Justin Bethel and guard Brandon Fusco as the Falcons' key free agent acquisitions. He also identified Adrian Clayborn, Dontari Poe, Taylor Gabriel and Levine Toilolo as the key losses this offseason.
"Perhaps it says something about the depth chart that the team wasn't active in free agency, and the fact that the front office and coaching staff passed on a much-needed defensive lineman with their first-round pick says even more about their collective mindset heading into '18," Wilson writes. "Even with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, who combined for 155 receptions and 2,147 yards last season, the Falcons took Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley with the No. 26 pick."
The selection of Ridley in the first round came as a bit of a surprise to many, but he was considered the top receiver by many draft experts and he fit a need for the Falcons after the departure for Gabriel. With their next two picks, the Falcons targeted the defensive side of the ball, selecting cornerback Isaiah Oliver and defensive tackle Deadrin Senat.
Wilson believes the Falcons' defensive play may be the determining factor in their overall success this season, citing their dip in Football Outsiders' defensive efficiency rating from 2016 to 2017, so he offered up his thoughts on those two picks.
"How much this defense improves will ultimately decide how far Atlanta goes," Wilson writes. "In '16, the unit ranked eighth in the league and proved too fast and too physical for the Patriots for nearly three quarters of Super Bowl LI. Last season, however, the group fell to 22nd and were equally ineffective against the run and the pass (they ranked 20th in both categories).
"Third-round pick Deadrin Senat is a run-stuffing defensive tackle and he fills an obvious need after Dontari Poe left in free agency. Second-rounder Isaiah Oliver joins a talented secondary that includes Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Oliver, who is listed at 6-1, 200 pounds, has drawn comparisons to Richard Sherman. Given coach Dan Quinn's ties to Seattle, it makes sense that the Falcons would be interested."