Atlanta Falcons Minicamp, built by The Home Depot, came to a close on Thursday after three days of workouts in the Georgia heat. Fans came to Flowery Branch for one more look at the team.
With training camp fast approaching, it's now time to break down what Thomas Dimitroff and Co. have achieved since the 2014 season came to an end. Sports Illustrated has done just that by grading every NFL team's offseason — and it likes what the Falcons accomplished.
SI writer Doug Farrar gave Atlanta a solid B for its offseason work, noting the new coaching staff, free agent signings and draftees should collectively improve the team next year.
"It all looks better on paper, but Falcons fans have heard that before," Farrar said. "Now, it needs to transfer to the field for the first time in three seasons."
Farrar believes Atlanta's best free agent acquisition was Justin Durant, a versatile linebacker who's enjoyed lots of success in the 4-3. If he can avoid serious injury — Durant has missed 16 games in the last two years — he should be a significant upgrade for Atlanta.
"(W)hen he's healthy, Durant is a perfect addition to a (Dan) Quinn-led defense that demands that its linebackers fly around the field with abandon," said Farrar. "Durant amassed 49 tackles in just six games before last year's injury, and if he can keep that pace all the way through the '15 season, he'll make his three-year, $10.8 million contract look like a relative bargain."
Farrar is also impressed with fifth-round selection Grady Jarrett who, along with first-rounder Vic Beasley, Jr., contributed to Clemson's stellar defense in 2014. Scouts believe he fell due to a lack of size, but several people within the organization — including D-line coach Bryan Cox — have said they aren't concened about Jarrett's stature.
The young defensive tackle is something of a project, but with the right mindset and instruction, he should become a long-term force along the interior.
"When I watched the 6'1'', 304-pound Jarrett, I saw a player with tremendous explosiveness and determination and thought the recent success of Geno Atkins and Aaron Donald would break the bias against tackles with less size than the ideal prototype," said Farrar. "In any case, the Falcons have a great player here, and at quite a bargain — Jarrett's fifth-round deal will pay him $2.527 million over the next four years."
In the end, these grades will mean little if recent changes don't result in more wins. Nonetheless, as we've seen throughout OTAs and minicamps, players have quickly bought in to the new system. That's an important first step for Quinn and his staff.
Now, the hard part begins.
"There's a lot of connecting to be done," said Farrar, "and that's where Quinn will ultimately succeed or fail."