There’s no doubt that the Falcons have the talent in many areas to be a playoff team year in and year out.
Yet, for the past two seasons, Atlanta has failed to make the postseason, begging the question of what’s gone wrong with such a skilled group of players.
While the Falcons claim some of the game’s best players such as Julio Jones at receiver, Deion Jones at linebacker and Grady Jarrett at defensive tackle, the weak links at other positions have held Atlanta back.
Here are three weaknesses that could prevent the Falcons from reaching their full potential once again in 2020.
Linebackers not named Deion Jones
After losing De’Vondre Campbell, the team’s leading tackler in 2019, to free agency, there is not a single linebacker on the Falcons’ roster this season with a proven track record of productivity in the NFL, besides Jones.
The front-runner as Campbell’s successor is Foyesade Oluokun, a former late round draft pick out of Yale who has contributed mostly as a backup and special teams player for the Falcons in his two seasons with the team.
Besides Oluokun, newcomer Deonne Bucannon joins the linebacker room this season. In 2015, Bucannon started 16 games for Arizona at linebacker after transitioning from safety, but since then has split time with the Giants and Buccaneers.
Both of these players have upside, but will be called upon to replace the Falcons’ leading tacklers from a season ago on a defense that already struggled in 2019.
The Atlanta defense was bad last season and has gotten worse at outside linebacker this offseason.
In 2019, the Falcons struggled to keep opposing teams from airing it out, allowing just under 4,000 passing yards on the year. Unfortunately, 2020 could be more of the same given the inexperience of the Atlanta corners.
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Desmond Trufant, the team’s lone reliable cornerback from last season, is now in Detroit, leaving Isisah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield and rookie A.J. Terrell with the responsibility to lock up opposing receivers like Mike Evans, Micahel Thomas and Chris Godwin.
Terrell, the former Clemson Tiger, shows promise, and the Falcons are obviously high on him after they selected him with the 16th overall pick in this year’s draft, but it remains to be seen whether he can make an immediate impact in the NFL. Oliver and Sheffield have steadily improved, but in all reality, it’s doubtful that either will earn “lockdown corner” status.
With a schedule featuring Aaron Rodger, Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, Falcons fans will quickly find out just how much the Atlanta corners have improved.
Specifically on the defensive side of the football, Atlanta can ill-afford to fall victim to the injury bug this season, or they’re in trouble.
If Deion Jones goes down, the situation at linebacker becomes dire. The same can be said about Dante Fowler--a few games without him means the Falcons will have trouble putting any sort of pressure on the quarterback.
Of course, most any team can point to a few players they need to stay healthy in order for it to succeed, but Atlanta is especially thin on defense. This is a team that finished 20th in scoring defense a year ago and added only one sure-fire starter through free agency in Fowler.
If the Atlanta defense is going to take a step forward this season, it will be because they stayed healthy.
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