Before the first official NFL kickoff on Thursday, September 5, there was a strong case for the NFC South to be one of the league’s toughest divisions. As the regular season came to a close last month, all but the New Orleans Saints ended their seasons with a whimper. One of the biggest underachievers were the Atlanta Falcons.
While they only fell one game behind a common 8-8 final mark, Atlanta was never an authentic playoff contender. Atlanta’s second consecutive seven-win season left more question marks than answers. First, we’ll look at free agents Atlanta may lose and where they might focus during June’s draft. Finally, we’ll discuss their high priority needs to return to prominence.
Atlanta currently has 23 unrestricted free agents heading towards the open market that begins on March 18. Three Falcon starters on the depth chart finished the season with an IR tag. The bulk of the 14 free agents off their defense provided depth.
However, three key players will certainly test the market. Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and defensive end Adrian Clayborn will draw interest, especially the Falcon’s leading tackler Campbell. Vic Beasley led the team in sacks and was second in tackles for loss.
Clayborn was third on Atlanta with four sacks, even though he is listed on the second-tier on the depth chart. Campbell is a centerpiece in the Atlanta defense, and early talks indicate that the Falcons would like to keep him. Beasley is another important player.
With some very talented free agents available from other sources, it would not be surprising to see Atlanta key on Beasley and Campbell, plus fill some spots in the defensive backfield with their own free agent signings.
Most projections envision Atlanta trying to improve on defense with their first pick. Javon Kinlaw out of South Carolina would be a huge improvement along the interior defensive line. There is also some talk about former Iowa Hawkeye edge-rusher AJ Epensea.
A lot could depend on how Atlanta’s front office handles Beasley’s contract. There is also some concern about how another defensive lineman, Takkarist McKinley, will handle his second shoulder surgery in three years.
There is speculation that Atlanta will target defense again with their second round selection. Defending the pass was an issue. Jaylon Johnson might be a sneaky pick. He’s not a big-name product, but he was the cover-corner Utah’s stingy pass defense.
A number of mock drafts insist Atlanta will add another running back and a wide receiver during the third and fourth rounds. However, a team that had difficulty running the ball might do well to improve their run blocking.
It wouldn’t be surprising for Atlanta to add the best offensive lineman on the board during either or both the third and fourth rounds. Things always fluctuate during the second day of the draft. However, it appears to be a foregone conclusion that considering 2019 performance and free agency, Atlanta will bolster their defensive line with their opening selection in June.
Betting on the Birds in 2020/21
If you’re fortunate enough to be in one of the more than a dozen states with legal sports betting, you can bet on Atlanta’s chances next season. There are at least a half a dozen states where you can also place a wager on the Falcons online.
New Jersey, New Hampshire, Indiana, Rhode Island and West Virginia already have mobile options for sports bettors. Keep your eyes on sports gambling news over the next few months. More states are primed to launch, plus those with existing brick and mortar venues will invariably add online betting. A Michigan sports betting bill was signed in December and the hope was that there would be sports bets taken for the Super Bowl, but it looks unlikely.
Kansas City is the normal favorite to win Super Bowl LV, before the current big game is even finished. As far as futures odds go, Atlanta is grouped with Buffalo and the new look Las Vegas Raiders, unfortunately well off the pace.
There’s a host of teams who missed this year’s playoff bracket ahead of the Falcons. However, the Birds have some appeal as a playoff team, and there is some intrigue in taking them as the NFC South winner.
There is at least a glimmer of hope that by filling the right holes Atlanta could be worthy of at least a long shot to make the playoffs and win their division. Until a lot changes, the oddsmakers view betting on the birds to win Super Bowl LV a shot in the dark.
As we head into the NFL off-season, the Atlanta Falcons have a lot of question marks. However, they also have a talented core of stars who are only a couple of years removed from almost winning the NFL title. How Atlanta addresses the free agency period, and who they add during next June’s draft, will go a long way towards a return to prominence.