2023 Atlanta Falcons Offseason Preview
Whether they wanted to admit it or not, the Falcons’ 2022 season was the first step in a rebuild by design. They opened the year with Marcus Mariota, who hadn’t started a game since 2019, at the helm. Mariota was on a two-year deal structured for an easy breakup if things didn’t go well. As expected, the results were middling. Mariota averaged 171 yards per game as the Falcons hid him behind a successful rushing attack. Playing for low-scoring wins worked for a while, getting Atlanta to 5-6. However, the cracks began to show as they lost four of their next five games before benching Mariota for third-round rookie Desmond Ridder. Kyle Pitts and Drake London both showed glimpses of their potential, but the run-first (and second and third) approach made Tyler Allgeier the star of the show. Arthur Smith now enters his third year as Atlanta’s head coach in desperate need of a winning season.
Key Offensive Stats
- Points per game: 21.5 (15th)
- EPA per play: 0 (19th)
- Dropback EPA per play: 0 (20th)
- Passing yards per game: 158.8 (31st)
- Rush EPA per play: 0 (4th)
- Rush yards per game: 159.9 (3rd)
For all of the hate fantasy players heaped upon the Falcons’ offense, they weren’t exactly a trainwreck. Their run-heavy style becomes far more palatable when you see there was almost no difference in expected points perspective between their ability to run and throw the ball. Their pace—29.3 seconds per play, 27th in the league—also makes sense as a strategy to hide their poor defense. Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Caleb Huntley all finished the year with positive rushing yards over expected. When the Falcons did pass, Smith did his best to set up Mariota and Ridder for success. Mariota led the NFL in play-action rate, drawing defenses in with a play-fake on 44 percent of his dropbacks. He threw nine of his 15 touchdowns in play-action. Ridder was also near the top of the league in play-action usage. With a better quarterback under center, Smith may be able to construct a winning offense.
Key Defensive Stats
- Points per game: 22.7 (23rd)
- EPA per play: 0.07 (29th)
- Dropback EPA per play: 0.13 (29th)
- Passing yards per game: 231.9 (25th)
- Rush EPA per play: -0.01 (25th)
- Rush yards per game: 130.2 (23rd)
The Falcons had a toothless defense in 2021 and did little to address their issues in the offseason. Their biggest additions were Casey Hayward via free agency plus Arnold Ebiketie and Troy Anderson in the second round of the draft. Hayward went on season-ending injured reserve after Week 6. The rookies combined for fewer than 1,000 snaps on defense. Getting little from their young players, the Falcons ranked 32nd in pressure rate and 31st in sacks per game. It was their second consecutive season being ranked dead last in pressure rate. Grady Jarrett, signed to a three-year extension in the offseason, was one of the defense’s few bright spots. He generated 45 pressures and six sacks. Both are impressive numbers from an interior defensive lineman.
Draft Picks (Top-150)
8th, 45th, 76th, 11th, and 114th
Notable Free Agents
QB Marcus Mariota ($12 million in savings) and CB Case Hayward ($5 million)
There are other players the Falcons could move on from, but they have the second-most cap space in the league and are all but certain to add to that total by moving on from Mariota.
Atlanta may switch for a 4-3 defense under their new defensive coordinator, though teams stick to their base look less often every year. Regardless of the exact personnel they choose to deploy, Atlanta needs someone to replace the lack of production from Adetokunbo Ogundeji and free agent Lorenzo Carter.
The Falcons didn’t pick up the fifth-year option on right tackle Kaleb McGary‘s contract last offseason. He is now coming off a career year and heading into free agency. Assuming they don’t bring him back, a new right tackle will be a high priority.
With Mariota expected to be gone, quarterback is an obvious need, though the Falcons could opt to push it off for another season. This would allow them to drop a rookie into the ideal situation in 2024.
The Falcons only lost quarterbacks coach Charles London on the offensive side of the ball. On defense, coordinator Dean Pees was fired and replaced with Saints co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen. A handful of position coaches on defense were also let go and have yet to be replaced. Atlanta ranked 29th and 23rd in points allowed in Pees’ two seasons with the team. Though he didn’t have a wealth of talent to work with, a change was needed.
The Falcons are likely in a holding pattern for 2023. The defense is nowhere near being competitive, but they have too many holes on offense to dedicate an entire draft to the other side of the ball. If they do spend most of their high-value picks on defense, they could position themselves to get a quarterback in 2024. The team would also be better equipped to insert a young passer into the lineup and hit the ground running at that time. However, can Arthur Smith survive a third losing season?