With high hopes entering the 2020 season, the Atlanta Falcons had visions of their Super Bowl run four years ago.
Then Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff stacked Atlanta’s offense by signing a prolific, free-agent running back to a multi-million-dollar, one-year deal.
Also, with returning Pro Bowl QB Matt Ryan and DT Grady Jerrett, Atlanta fans looked forward to a promising season.
Unfortunately, much like how everything else turned out in 2020, the Falcons started 0-5 and finished with only 4 wins.
As such, Atlanta Falcons franchise owner Arthur Blank cleaned house and shopped for a new general manager and head coach.
Eyes set forward with a renewed management and the fans in mind, new head coach Arthur Smith related:
“The Falcons organization stood out to us in this process primarily due to the leadership and support from the top in Arthur Blank. His actions and core values provide a great model on how to operate for so many and align with how I plan to move forward in reaching the levels of competition the passionate Atlanta fans so richly deserve.”
Looking back, the Atlanta Falcons have compiled a subpar 18-30 win-loss record spanning the course of three seasons.
With the fourth overall pick in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft, the opportunity for change is just around the corner.
Working with a budget projected at $37.4M over the salary cap, Atlanta needs to address the following three concerning areas.
1. Atlanta Needs an Edge Rusher to Pressure the QB
As the old saying goes, defense wins championships, and Atlanta needs to improve their pass rush if that is true.
First, the Falcons defensive team ranked ninth from the bottom in QB sacks (29) this year.
Second, the Dirty Birds have not had a solid pass rush since Vic Beasley‘s huge 2016 season with 15.5 sacks.
A nice fit to fill the gap in Atlanta’s defensive line is the U of Miami’s DE Gregory Rousseau.
Standing at 6-foot-7, and weighing in at 265 pounds, the underclassman is comfortable lining up anywhere on the D-line.
The All-American plays the edge comfortably standing in a two-point position and in the three-point stance over tackle.
Disciplined to press out of the bock, the Miami alum has quick hands and is agile with his step.
With his natural talent, Rousseau is a future perennial All-Pro player.
2. Falcons Must Upgrade the Secondary
During the 2020 season, the Atlanta secondary ranked at the bottom of the league in passing yards allowed (4,697).
In addition to a rash of injuries, the Falcons also gave up the third most passing TDs last year (34).
Strong safety Keanu Neal missed 29 of 48 games in the past three seasons due to a ruptured Achilles and torn ACL.
If that wasn’t enough, the team lost free safety Damontae Kazee to a season-ending ACL tear in week four.
Adding insult to injury, both safeties completed their four-year contracts and opened to test the free-agent market in 2021.
Alabama’s CB Patrick Surtain II is a top-tier prospect worthy of the Falcons taking a close, hard look.
Son of former NFL 11-year veteran Patrick Surtain Sr., Pat Jr. stands in at a solid 6-foot-2 and 202 lbs.
The unanimous first team All-American possesses a lengthy frame, elite football IQ, and a wealth of experience.
All things considered, Surtain Jr. will make an immediate impact with the Falcons in 2021.
3. Fill the Running Back Position
Conservative wisdom points to the aging QB position and finding a successor for Matt Ryan.
However, HC Arthur Smith stated he intends to tailor the offense around the incumbent:
“Just because we did something with Ryan [Tannehill], doesn’t mean we’re gonna do the same with Matt. We’re gonna play to Matt’s strengths. Just like we tried to play to Ryan’s strengths. But I’m obviously looking to getting in there and coaching Matt when the time comes.”
Also, looking at the Falcons upcoming free-agents, a more pressing issue is to get someone under contract to carry the rock.
Ranking sixth worst in rushing yards (1,351), RB Todd Gurley recorded career lows in attempts (195) and yards (678).
Besides backup RB Brian Hill reaching the endzone only once this season, he and Gurley are free-agents in 2021.
Enter Clemson University RB draft prospect Travis Etienne.
Returning to school for his senior year, Travis finished his college career as ACC’s all-time leading rusher (4,952).
An explosive player, the All-American, CFP national champion is capable of scoring anywhere on the field.
Most rushing missed tackles forced since 2019:
1. Travis Etienne, Clemson – 134
2. Jaret Patterson, Buffalo – 132
3. Javonte Williams, UNC – 131
4. Najee Harris, Bama – 128 pic.twitter.com/HsQHEh7OEl
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 22, 2021
Travis is the perfect RB needed to fill the Falcons backfield.
3. A New Era and New Look, the Falcons are Ready to Rise Up
Terry Fontenot no doubt has a slew of important choices to make in his debut as the team’s new general manager.
His most important decision is coming up on the evening of Thursday, April 29, 2021, at the 2021 NFL Draft.
Tipping his draft-related poker hand, Terry revealed:
“You definitely want to take the best player available. There’s not going to be a position where you say, ‘Oh, we’re good there, we’re not going to draft there.”
Terry Fontenot: At any position, it's always a good thing to add competition. "You definitely want to take the best player available." 👀👀👀
— William McFadden (@willmcfadden) January 19, 2021
Looking towards the future, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith added:
“That will all start with the culture we as a team create and thrive in. I’m excited to get started on this new journey and cannot wait to see what the future holds for our city and its fans.”