On the Falcons’ offense — Who should stay or go?

Todd Gurley, Alex Mack among the dozen or so Atlanta Falcons 2020 free agents on offense.

The first order of business for new Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith is to evaluate the talent and make some important roster decisions.

We’re here to offer some help based on how things went over the 4-12 season in 2020.

This will be the franchise’s first step in returning from last place in the NFC South to respectability. A move that team owner Arthur Blank believes can be done swiftly in the NFL, which is built on parity.

“I think we’re as well-positioned, now, as we could be,” Blank said. “We were very thoughtful throughout the whole process. Lord knows how many people we interviewed on the coach side and the GM side. It was a very intense two-week period of time.”

ExploreRate the 2020 Falcons’ defense

Blank noted that Fontenot is 40 and Smith is 38, and they should have the energy for a turnaround.

“(They) both have had excellent backgrounds, both (are) very thoughtful, creative,” Blank said. “I think they will take a fresh look at our roster, which is what they will be doing or in the process of doing, and I think they will put us in a position where we can be very competitive again.”

After blowing Super Bowl LI in February 2017, the Falcons want to get back to the big game. But now, after slipping so far in the division, they just want to get back to the playoffs.

“So, the key is to get into the playoffs, to get into the tournament,” Blank said. “If you’re in the tournament, you have a chance, and then it depends on how you’re playing, what’s happening with injuries. The ball’s not round, does it bounce in you favor versus somebody else’s? There are an awful lot of things that come into play.

“Sometimes, usually, when you get to the playoffs, it’s normally just a small handful of plays that make a difference in a game. Sometimes there are things that you can’t always predict – turnovers and things of that nature.”

Here’s a look at every player on the Falcons’ offensive roster, with beat writer D. Orlando Ledbetter’s opinion on whether the player should stay or go:

QUARTERBACKS

Matt Ryan: Stay

Peyton Manning was with the Colts for 14 seasons and with the Broncos for four. Ryan is set to enter his 14th season with the Falcons.

Matt Schaub: He retired

Team must find his replacement.

Atlanta Falcons Matt Ryan hands off to running back Ito Smith against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Atlanta Falcons Matt Ryan hands off to running back Ito Smith against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

RUNNING BACKS

Todd Gurley (UFA): Go

The lead-back position must be upgraded.

Brian Hill (UFA): Go

A contributor on special teams, he hasn’t been able to carry even a partial load.

Qadree Ollison: Go

He’s been a disappointment. Couldn’t get on the field when the Falcons needed a running back last season.

Ito Smith: Stay

A good third-down back.

Keith Smith: Stay

Will be important to the run game as a blocker and showed he can catch passes. Excellent special-teams player.

Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) pulls in a pass over New Orleans Saints cornerback Janoris Jenkins (20) in the first half Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in New Orleans. (Brett Duke/AP)
Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) pulls in a pass over New Orleans Saints cornerback Janoris Jenkins (20) in the first half Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in New Orleans. (Brett Duke/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

WIDE RECEIVERS

Christian Blake: Go

Tough special-teams player, but replaceable.

Russell Gage: Stay

He made strides as the slot receiver, as he had career highs in catches (72), receiving yards (786) and touchdowns (four).

Julio Jones: Stay

Get him healthy. Future probably is more like Larry Fitzgerald’s career in Arizona. After Fitzgerald slowed from 2012-14, he bounced back with a 1,200-yard season in 2015.

Brandon Powell: Go

Coaches kept were raving about him, but he never produced.

Calvin Ridley: Stay

Without Jones to pull coverages away from him for most of the season, he caught 90 of 143 targets for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns. He had a catch-percentage of 62.9 percent.

Chris Rowland: Stay

He showed more as a return man.

Laquon Treadwell (UFA): Stay

Treadwell, a former first-round pick of the Vikings, was a dependable red-zone threat and possession receiver late in the season.

Olamide Zaccheaus: Stay

He was coming on as a deep threat before he suffered a season-ending toe injury.

Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst (81) lands out of bounds short of the end zone after completing a catch during the second half Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst (81) lands out of bounds short of the end zone after completing a catch during the second half Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

TIGHT ENDS

Jaeden Graham: Go

Position has to be upgraded with another blocker for the run game. He played in all 16 games, but had only 114 snaps from scrimmage.

Hayden Hurst: Stay

He caught 56 of 88 targets (63.6 catch percentage) for 571 yards and six touchdowns. Hurst was billed as a more athletic replacement with better speed than Austin Hooper. But he didn’t get open down the field much (pass blocking was a factor). He ran hard after the catch, as he averaged 4.8 yards after catch.

Luke Stocker (UFA): Go

He’s a blocking tight end, but the Falcons kept trying to throw to him.

Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle Matt Gono (73) and offensive guard Chris Lindstrom (63) line up against Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Ndamukong Suh (93) during the first half Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Buccaneers won 31-27. (Danny Karnik/AP)
Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle Matt Gono (73) and offensive guard Chris Lindstrom (63) line up against Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Ndamukong Suh (93) during the first half Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Buccaneers won 31-27. (Danny Karnik/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

OFFENSIVE LINE

James Carpenter: Go

He’s played well when healthy. Position must be upgraded.

Matt Gono: Stay

Started at guard and tackle last season. Should do well in an open competition.

Matt Hennessy: Stay

Was drafted to take over for Mack. The team hopes that with an offseason in the weight room after a couple of late-season starts in 2020, Hennessy becomes ready to be a full-time NFL starter.

Chris Lindstrom: Stay

After a broken foot marred his rookie season, he showed why he was selected in the first round. He played all of the offensive snaps and dominated at times.

Alex Mack (UFA): Go

Team can’t afford the veteran, who’s 35.

Jake Matthews: Stay

He has been solid.

Justin McCray (UFA): Go

He made a couple of starts, but couldn’t hold onto the left guard spot.

Kaleb McGary: Stay

If the Falcons draft Oregon tackle Penei Sewell fourth overall, McGary can be bumped to the backup swing tackle spot.

John Wetzel (UFA): Go

Veteran who has played in the league.

Falcons’ 2021 draft position:

In the Cincinnati Bengals media mock draft, writer Geoff Hobson pays tribute to former Yahoo Sports writer Terez Paylor, who died in his sleep Monday. D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution selected Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields for the Falcons with the fourth overall pick and Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the second round.

Top Five Picks

1. Jacksonville Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

2. New York Jets - Ja’ Marr Chase, WR, LSU

3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston) - DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

4. Falcons - Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

5. Cincinnati Bengals - Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

SECOND ROUND

35. Falcons - ILB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame

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