How each Falcons position group stacks up to the rest of the NFL

There are a few positive surprises with Atlanta's position groups and some negatives as well

AFRPositionRanks

There are three games remaining for the Falcons in 2020, and all of them come against teams seemingly destined for the postseason. That may end up skewing how Atlanta's year-end stats look, especially for a defense that has been playing better of late, but we already have a pretty clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses of this club.

As more and more fans begin to turn their attention to the future, it will be important to have a realistic view of the Falcons' roster. It's unlikely any major roster decisions will be made until Atlanta has hired a new general manager or head coach, but changes are certainly coming.

With that in mind, let's take inventory of how the Falcons' various position groups stack up against the rest of the league, and we'll start with the offense.

Quarterback

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Table inside Article
Key players Attempts (NFL rank) Completions Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Sacks Rating PFF grade
Matt Ryan 498 (3) 317 (8) 3,660 (5) 19 (16) 11 (29) 33 (30) 89.3 (26) 81.9 (11)

Rest of depth chart: Matt Schaub, Kurt Benkert

Summary: Matt Ryan has had some great games this season, but he's coming off his worst performance of the year in which he tossed three second-half interceptions that cost the Falcons in their loss to the Chargers. At 35 years of age, Ryan is now among the older quarterbacks in the league. He's still able to handle a high amount of volume as a passer, which the offense requires, but the touchdown totals and completions aren't as high as they might be with that amount of volume. While Ryan's future with the team has become a topic of conversation in the national and local media, it's really a decision the next regime will have to make, albeit an important one. This is a group that could change anyway as Matt Schaub is currently 39 years old and likely won't have any ties to a new coach.

Running back

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Table inside Article
Key players Attempts Rush yards Average Total TDs Total yards PFF grade
Todd Gurley 181 (7) 645 (22) 3.6 (44)* 9 (7) 743 (64) 50.7 (125)
Brian Hill 79 (52) 337 (54) 4.3 (138) 1 (87) 460 (156) 55.0 (113)
Ito Smith 44 (81) 189 (80) 4.3 (138) 1 (87) 243 (256) 63.2 (77)

Rest of depth chart: Qadree Ollison, Keith Smith, Tony Brooks-James

Summary: The big-ticket signing of Todd Gurley this offseason looked like it was going to end up paying off for Atlanta through the first half of the season, but he's hit a bit of a rough patch of late. Like Ryan, Gurley's production doesn't match the large amount of volume he's received, and he hasn't received more than 10 carries or scored a touchdown in Atlanta's last three games. Injuries could be a factor in that, but the Falcons have opted for more of a committee approach recently and mixed in more carries for Brian Hill and Ito Smith. Hill and Smith deserve a look moving forward, but this also seems like a group that could have some turnover. All told, the Falcons have the 25th-ranked rushing offense with an average of 98.3 yards per game despite having the 14th-most rushing attempts this season. The efficiency just isn't there with this group.

Wide receivers

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Table inside Article
Key players Receptions Yards Average Touchdowns PFF grade
Julio Jones 51 (38) 771 (26) 15.1 (15)* 3 (65) 86.3 (7)
Calvin Ridley 67 (21) 1,029 (8) 15.4 (13)* 8 (9) 83.5 (17)
Russell Gage 54 (35) 604 (44) 11.2 (79)* 2 (99) 74.1 (49)
Olamide Zaccheaus 20 (170) 274 (146) 13.7 (74) 1 (160) 68.6 (86)
Christian Blake 12 (243) 142 (219) 11.8 (149) 0 (255) 52.6 (198)

Rest of depth chart: Brandon Powell, Laquon Treadwell, Devin Gray, Juwan Green, Chris Rowland

Summary: The emergence of Calvin Ridley has been a huge bright spot for the Falcons, particularly in a season where Julio Jones has missed four games due to injury. He's not the only one who has reached a new level, however, as Russell Gage is having a career year in his first full-time role at receiver. If Jones is able to return for the final three games, the Falcons have a shot at getting two receivers to 1,000 yards for the first time since the 2012 season. Like Ryan, there's been speculation about Jones's future in Atlanta. While he still is one of the most dominant players in the game when healthy, the Falcons are in good shape at the position regardless of what a new regime might decide to do with Jones.

Tight end

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Table inside Article
Key Players Receptions Yards Average Touchdowns PFF grade
Hayden Hurst 43 (12) 475 (13) 11.0 (36) 3 (15) 58.2 (40)

Rest of depth chart: Jaeden Graham, Luke Stocker, Jared Pinkney

Summary: There were high expectations for Hayden Hurst as a starter for the first time in his career. He's been about middle of the pack among NFL tight ends this season, which probably says more about the other options in Atlanta's offense than it does Hurst. It also makes clear how much chemistry played a role in Austin Hooper's ascension with the Falcons, as he became a trusted target for Ryan, something Hurst is still working towards. The third-year tight end has made some jaw-dropping catches this year, displaying the athleticism coaches raved about in training camp, but there appears to be more potential for the Falcons to tap into. Outside of Hurst, the Falcons haven't gotten a ton from their tight ends this season.

Offensive line

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Table inside Article
Key players Sacks allowed Pressures allowed PFF pass block grade PFF run block grade PFF grade
Jake Matthews 3 (19) 27 (22) 81.7 (5) 58.6 (30) 73.9 (21)
James Carpenter 3 (22) 22 (19) 62.6 (19) 53.1 (34) 57.1 (29)
Alex Mack 1 (7) 22 (21) 55.4 (17) 70.8 (8) 66.1 (13)
Chris Lindstrom 3 (22) 20 (16) 77.3 (4) 72.6 (7) 76.6 (4)
Kaleb McGary 4 (28) 28 (26) 58.1 (35) 65.8 (23) 64.6 (28)

Rest of depth chart: Justin McCray, Matt Gono, John Wetzel, Matt Hennessy, Sean Harlow, Willie Beavers, Willie Wright

Summary: Aside from their eight-sack performance against the New Orleans Saints, the Falcons' offensive line has had a marginally better year than in 2019. That is largely due to the consistency with the starting five, which has mostly stayed healthy this season, and the improvement of Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary in their second seasons. Alex Mack is possibly at the end of a Hall of Fame career, but he's had a downtick in his play this year compared to the stellar level he's been at throughout his run in the NFL. Matt Hennessy is purportedly being groomed as Mack's successor, but it's unclear how he'll be able to handle life in the NFL at this point in time. After investing a lot in the offensive line the past few offseasons, there might not be a ton of turnover with this group outside of Mack.

Defensive line

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Table inside Article
Key players Tackles Sacks Tackles for loss Quarterback hits Forced fumbles PFF grade
Grady Jarrett 47 (8) 3 (61) 6 (34) 17 (13) 0 (73) 84.8 (16)
Dante Fowler 20 (124) 2 (79) 3 (87) 7 (73) 1 (26) 53.0 (228)
Steven Means 33 (60) 3 (61) 3 (87) 6 (87) 2 (11) 57.7 (189)
Tyeler Davison 28 (81) 0.5 (175) 2 (127) 1 (194) 0 (73) 62.9 (141)
John Cominsky 24 (104) 1 (131) 3 (87) 2 (165) 0 (73) 66.9 (104)
Jacob Tuioti-Mariner 29 (79) 1 (131) 1 (173) 4 (117) 1 (26) 58.2 (186)
Charles Harris 15 (163) 3 (61) 3 (87) 5 (99) 0 (73) 54.6 (215)
Allen Bailey 13 (182) 1.5 (116) 2 (127) 4 (117) 0 (73) 52.0 (234)

Rest of depth chart: Marlon Davidson, Deadrin Senat, Austin Edwards, Chris Slayton

Summary: The Falcons have taken a committee approach with their defensive line this season. That's partially due to injuries and the departure of Takk McKinley, but it also has to do with some of those rotational players stepping up their level of play. Grady Jarrett is still the top player on the defensive line, but he's not having a monster statistical season like in years past. The sack totals have increased under Raheem Morris, but the Falcons are still near the bottom of the league with 25 sacks, which ranks 19th. As a run defense, however, they've proven to be a top-10 unit for most of the season. Atlanta has some young players like Marlon Davidson and John Cominsky, who could be part of a rotation moving forward, but this seems like a unit that could look very different under a new coaching staff.

Linebacker

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Table inside Article
Key players Tackles Tackles for loss Sacks Forced fumbles Fumble recoveries PFF coverage grade PFF grade
Deion Jones 84 (30) 8 (15) 3.5 (21) 1 (22) 1 (15) 76.4 (10) 78.7 (6)
Foye Oluokun 97 (14) 4 (47) 3 (23) 4 (1) 1 (15) 59.8 (43) 62.1 (34)
Mykal Walker 38 (84) 1 (113) 0 (116) 1 (22) 0 (54) 90.8 (1) 75.4 (12)

Rest of depth chart: LaRoy Reynolds, Edmond Robinson, Pita Taumoepenu

Summary: If the wide receivers have been the strength of Atlanta's offense this season, the linebackers have been the strength of the defense. Deion Jones still remains one of the league's most athletic linebackers and makes a handful of truly impactful plays throughout the course of a season. Foye Oluokun has proven he belongs as a starter in the NFL and has a knack for jarring the ball loose while playing run defense, and he has begun to show promise as a pass rusher as well. Whatever expectations there were for Mykal Walker entering the season, the fourth-round pick has likely surpassed them. His role has grown throughout the year, and he doesn't make very many mistakes. This is a young group with untapped upside and should remain a bright spot moving forward.

Cornerback

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Table inside Article
Key players Tackles Tackles for loss Interceptions Pass breakups PFF coverage grade PFF grade
A.J. Terrell 66 (7) 3 (9) 1 (39) 5 (55) 65.4 (44) 70.3 (30)
Darqueze Dennard 36 (71) 2 (18) 1 (39) 5 (55) 63.1 (47) 66.0 (40)
Isaiah Oliver 59 (11) 3 (9) 0 (81) 6 (44) 53.0 (86) 58.1 (70)
Kendall Sheffield 34 (78) 0 (103) 0 (81) 2 (98) 33.0 (133) 36.6 (133)
Blidi Wreh-Wilson 7 (162) 1 (41) 3 (7) 4 (70) 61.6 (52) 60.0 (63)

Rest of depth chart: Tyler Hall, Jordan Miller, Delrick Abrams Jr., T.J. Green, Chris Williamson

Summary: As players have settled into their roles under Raheem Morris and Jeff Ulbrich, this has been a group that's shown some promise for the future. A.J. Terrell looks like he has the makings of a good NFL starter, and he currently has the highest PFF run defense grade of any cornerback in the league. Darqueze Dennard has been a welcome addition for Atlanta, providing another veteran presence and fairly steady play on the outside. Isaiah Oliver is in a new slot role that allows him to shine as a run defender and open field tackler while also giving him some help in coverage. Blidi Wreh-Wilson has proven to be an opportune playmaker and leads the team with three interceptions despite limited playing time. After holding just one opponent under 300 passing yards in their first seven games, the Falcons have done that in five of their last six, a sign things are improving. The final three games will test that improvement in the biggest possible way, however.

Safety

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Table inside Article
Key players Tackles Tackles for loss Sacks Pass breakups Interceptions PFF coverage grade PFF grade
Keanu Neal 81 (12) 8 (3) 1 (18) 1 (74) 0 (61) 66.8 (32) 69.4 (26)
Ricardo Allen 18 (94) 1 (45) 0 (39) 4 (38) 1 (29) 65.4 (39) 66.3 (38)

Rest of depth chart: Jaylinn Hawkins, Sharrod Neasman, Damontae Kazee

Summary: After missing most of each of the previous two seasons, Keanu Neal has managed to stay healthy and once again take on the role of enforcer on the back end of Atlanta's defense. The Falcons have wanted Neal to stay focused on the "kill zone" and make downhill tackles in the short to intermediate areas of the field, an area in which he excels. Ricardo Allen has dealt with a couple of minor injuries this season, but he's been as reliable as always when on the field. Atlanta lost Damontae Kazee early in the year, and his absence left the Falcons without probably their best ball-hawking safety in the middle of the field. There haven't been too many contributions from rookie Jaylinn Hawkins on defense, but he's been a staple on special teams. This will be an interesting position to watch when the new coaching staff takes over.

*Denotes ranking among only qualified players

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