Cover 9@9: 5 players the Falcons need to improve over the offseason

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

New Falcons head coach Arthur Smith comments on the status of rookies and the evaluation process going forward.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

1. The no spin zone. Here’s our list of five Falcons who must improve over the offseason:

Marlon Davidson, defensive tackle: He played 132 defensive snaps and had little impact after being selected in the second round of the draft.

Matt Hennessy, center: He showed some promise in two late-season starts. The former regime tried to play him at left guard. The interim regime let him develop and work in practice until Alex Mack missed the final two games.

Dante Fowler, defensive end: After signing a big deal in free agency, he didn’t produce last season. He was slowed after trying to play on a high ankle sprain.

Hayden Hurst, tight end: He looked good on a shovel pass for a touchdown. He has to get his catch-percentage (63.6%) up higher. With better blocking, the big plays should come.

Kaleb McGary, right tackle: Pass protection remained a problem last season. Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked for more than 40 times for the third consecutive season.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith was asked about the rookies Davidson and Hennessy.

“Both of those of guys will be given a clean slate,” Smith said Tuesday. “They were rookies.”

Smith was with Tennessee last season, and they had problems with their first-round pick, former Georgia offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson. He had some discipline issues, two run-ins with law enforcement and two stints on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

“I think it was a really challenging year for a lot of rookies,” Smith said. “That class, it was probably hardest for them when you look around the league. Obviously, some teams had more success than others, it’s so early to give you a stamp on what this guy is going to be in ‘Year 1’ as a rookie. Some of these guys improve.”

The Falcons need their 2020 rookies to improve, but if they get beat out, hopefully the new regime won’t keep them around just because they were draft picks.

“We certainly are excited about working with them,” Smith said. “I think they both will have the opportunity like everybody else. They’ll have a clean slate and (be able) to come earn a job.”

Cornerback A.J. Terrell (first round) and linebacker Mykal Walker (fourth round) had strong rookie seasons. Punter Sterling Hofrichter (sixth round) was near the bottom of the league in punting average, while fourth-round pick Jaylin Hawkins, the only safety currently on the roster, played only 74 snaps last season.

“Certainly, a rookie year doesn’t make or break a career,” Smith said.

2. Quarterbacks meeting room nearly empty: With the release of Kurt Benkert, the only quarterback on the roster is Matt Ryan.

The Falcons will sign at least two.

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot has studied how former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf, who was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015, amassed quarterbacks in the 1990s and used them as trade fodder.

In 1994, Brett Favre, Mark Brunell, Ty Detmer and Kurt Warner were the quarterbacks in Packers camp. Warner was cut and went to the Arena Football League. He resurfaced with the Rams and went on to have a Hall of Fame career.

With Favre already on the roster from the trade with the Falcons, Wolf drafted quarterbacks in 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999.

Detmer, despite winning the Heisman Trophy, was selected in the ninth round of the 1992 draft. At 6-foot, he was thought to be too short to succeed in the NFL.

Wolf took Washington’s Mark Brunell in the fifth round of the 1993 draft. He also selected Alabama’s Jay Barker (sixth round, 1995), USC’s Kyle Wachholtz (seventh round, 1996), Army’s Rod McAda (seventh round, 1997), Boston College’s Matt Hasselbeck (sixth round, Boston College) and Virginia’s Aaron Brooks (fourth round, 1999). Brunell, Hasselbeck and Brooks went on to become starters with other teams.

When Wolf hit on the quarterbacks, they later were traded for draft picks.

Brunell was traded to Jacksonville for third-round and fifth-round picks in 1994.

Hasselbeck was traded to Seattle along with a first-round pick (17th) to get a first-round pick (10th) and a third-round pick in 2000.

The Packers traded Brooks and tight end Lamont Hall to the Saints for linebacker K.D. Williams and a third-round pick in the 2001 draft.

Fontenot is looking to rebuild the position with the Falcons.

“That’s an exciting part of it because we are going to utilize all of the avenues, whether it’s in free agency, at any point in the draft and even after the draft,” Fontenot said. “I’ve been places where we’ve traded for quarterbacks.”

Some are projecting that the Falcons will take a quarterback with the fourth overall draft pick.

“We are always looking to bring in quarterbacks,” Fontenot said. “We have a real good (coaching situation) from Arthur Smith to (offensive coordinator) Dave Ragone. We have a really good offensive staff. I think it’s going to be attractive. I think quarterbacks are going to want to be here.”

3. Women’s Careers in Football Forum: Fontenot will serve on a panel for the NFL’s Women’s Careers in Football Forum at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Fontenot, Detroit general manager Brad Holmes and New York Jets coach Robert Saleh will serve on the Pathways to Leadership Positions in Football panel.

4. Unrestricted free agents: Here’s a look at the Falcons’ list of unrestricted free agents:

Darqueze Dennard, Todd Gurley, Charles Harris, Brian Hill, Damontae Kazee, Alex Mack, Justin McCray, Steven Means, Keanu Neal, Sharrod Neasman, LaRoy Reynolds, Edmond Robinson, Matt Schaub (retired), Luke Stocker, Laquon Treadwell, John Wetzel and Blidi Wreh-Wilson.

5. Restricted free agents: A player with three accrued years (at least six games) of service. The team can place three levels of tenders on these players for a non-guaranteed one-year deal. Other teams can sign to an offer-sheet, with the current team have a chance to match or they can allow them to leave and receiver draft compensation based on the tender level.

Here are the Falcons RFAs:

Matt Gono and Brandon Powell.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith discuss the state of the team heading into the new league business year, which starts March 17.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

6. Exclusive-rights free agents: They have three or fewer accrued seasons and can negotiate only with their current team ahead of the new year. If they are not tendered a contract, they become unrestricted free agents:

Here are the Falcons ERFAs:

Christian Blake, Jaeden Graham, Tyler Hall, Younghoe Koo and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner.

7. College Pro Days: The first key Pro Day for the Falcons is North Dakota State on March 12 to see quarterback Trey Lance. BYU quarterback Zach Wilson’s Pro Day is on March 26, and Ohio State’s Justin Fields is on March 30.

Boston College center Alec Lindstrom, the brother of Falcons right guard Chris Lindstrom, has his Pro Day on March 26.

We are waiting for Oregon to set their Pro Day. Penei Sewell is considered by some to be the best player likely to be available at No. 4.

Also, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons’ Pro Day is set for March 25, and Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley’s Pro Day is set for March 26.

Here’s an early list of the Pro Days:

March 5: Kansas

March 9: Kansas State

March 10: Arkansas

March 11: Clemson, Nevada

March 12: North Dakota State, Oklahoma

March 16: Georgia Tech

March 17: Georgia, Pittsburgh

March 18: Auburn, Buffalo, Louisiana Tech, West Virginia

March 19: Memphis, TCU

March 22: Colorado State, Florida State, Iowa, Toledo

March 23: Alabama, Central Michigan, Iowa State, Nebraska, Purdue

March 24: Michigan State, South Carolina

March 25: North Texas, Ole Miss, Penn State, San Diego State, SMU, Massachusetts, Western Michigan

March 26: Boston College, Brigham Young, Michigan, South Dakota, Virginia Tech

March 29: Duke, Louisiana-Lafayette, Miami, Miami (Ohio), North Carolina

March 30: Ohio State, Louisville, Washington

March 31: Boise State, Florida, Kentucky, Notre Dame

April 1: Charlotte, Oklahoma State, South Florida

April 7: Texas Tech

April 9: Houston

Falcons' top salary cap numbers entering the 2021 NFL season.

8. Falcons’ draft slots: The Falcons are expected to receive at least two compensatory picks in the NFL draft, which is set for April 29 through May 1. Here are the Falcons’ slots throughout the draft, though the list will change when the compensatory picks are announced.

Round 1, Pick No. 4

Round 2, Pick No. 35

Round 3, Pick No. 68

Round 4, Pick No. 98

Round 5, Pick No. 131

Round 6, Pick No. 162

9. Falcons’ 2021 draft position: Here are the pick’s in D. Led’s Mock Draft 1.0: Top five picks

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence (QB, Clemson)

2. New York Jets: Ja’Marr Chase, (WR, LSU)

3. Dolphins: Penei Sewell (OT, Oregon)

4. Falcons: Justin Fields (QB, Ohio State)

5. Cincinnati Bengals: Devonta Smith (WR, Alabama)

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