The Falcons filled their 90-man offseason roster when they agreed to terms with linebacker Deone Bucannon on Thursday.
They wanted to add a kicker to provide competition for Younghoe Koo, but that will have to wait.
The Falcons have been stockpiling former first-round picks such as Bucannon this offseason, and to boost their anemic pass-rush, maybe they can add free-agent linebacker Clay Matthews, the cousin of left tackle Jake Matthews later this offseason.
In August 2016, the Falcons added pass-rusher Dwight Freeney late on a modest deal. He helped the young defense reach Super Bowl LI.
Clay Matthews, 34, who the Falcons passed on in the 2009 draft to select defensive tackle Peria Jerry, has been one of the league’s top pass rushers. The six-time Pro Bowl selection had eight sacks last season with the Rams.
He has 91.5 career sacks while playing for the Green Bay Packers (2009-18) and the Rams (2019).
Freeney played in 18 of 19 games and started twice. He played 415 snaps (37.4%) and had four sacks.
But with his presence, Vic Beasley had his career-best 15.5 sacks.
While most of the roster is set, there is room to make one more move.
“We had a series of goals and targets that we wanted to achieve for positions of need,” Falcons president Rich McKay said. “We accomplished those targets. We went in with a very clear list of players that we wanted.”
While McKay is back on the football side, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn ran the point on the offseason moves.
“Thomas rated (the free agents),” McKay said. “Coach checked them. We went through it over and over again. I thought free agency went very well for us. It kind of went as planned.”
The only known whiff is that they lost former Dallas defensive end Robert Quinn to the Bears on a figurative coin flip.
“Then the draft, the draft was a real challenge for GMs, especially GMs like Thomas that have been in it as long as they have been in it because it was just so different,” McKay said. “But I thought it worked very well. I thought it was very efficient.”
The Falcons brought owner Arthur Blank into a lot of the virtual meetings.
Whether the Falcons sign a kicker or Matthews, they believe the roster is much-improved.
“It’s been a good process for us,” McKay said. “We feel like we are a better football team, a much better football team than we were. We had to re-tool. We had some players we needed to add, and I think we’ve done that.”
Here’s a closer look at the 90-man roster:
Overview: Surprisingly, the Falcons didn’t do much with the offensive line that gave up 50 quarterback sacks and 135 quarterback hits. The team also couldn’t run the ball last season.
All of the preferred starters return. The Falcons are clearly counting right guard Chris Lindstorm and left guard James Carpenter to be healthy.
“Usually guys take a big jump in their second year,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said of Lindstrom.
They also are counting on right tackle Kaleb McGary to make a big jump from his rookie season to his second after he gave up a league-leading 13 sacks.
“Kaleb had a stronger season in the run game than he did in pass protection,” Koetter said.
McGary was given some techniques to work on this offseason.
“Now, that Kaleb has been through a regular season, (he) has a better feel for the guys he’s going against and what it’s going to take,” Koetter said. (The Falcons think) he’s going to take a big jump as well.”
Rookie Matt Hennessy was drafted in the third round and will compete to start at left guard. If Carpenter is healthy, the former first-round pick will be difficult to beat out.
Todd Gurley for Devonta Freeman should be an upgrade at running back, although he rushed for a career-low 857 yards last season.
Another key will be if Hayden Hurst, who cost the Falcons a second-round pick in a trade with the Ravens, can replace Austin Hooper at tight end.
“I think Hayden is going to be a real nice fit here,” Koetter said.
Key additions: Gurley, Hennessy, Hurst, WR Laquon Treadwell
Losses: Freeman, Hooper, OL Wes Schweitzer, WR Justin Hardy
Quarterbacks: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Kurt Benkert, Danny Etling
Running backs: Gurley, Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison, Brian Hill, Craig Reynolds
Fullbacks: Keith Smith, Mikey Daniel
Wide receivers: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Laquon Treadwell, Olamide Zaccheaus, Brandon Powell, Christian Blake, Devin Gray, Chris Rowland, Juwan Green and Jalen McCleskey.
Tight ends: Hurst, Khari Lee, Jaeden Graham, Carson Meier, Jared Pinkney, Caleb Repp
Offensive line: Tackles - Matthews, McGary, John Wetzel, Hunter Atkinson, Justin McCray, Scottie Dill, Evin Ksiezarczyk. Guards — Lindstrom, Hennessy, Carpenter, Jamon Brown, Matt Gono, Sean Harlow, Justin Gooseberry. Center — Alex Mack and Austin Capps.
Overview: Raheem Morris has taken over as the defensive coordinator and will oversee the replacement of two of their more productive defenders in left cornerback Desmond Trufant and strongside linebacker DeVondre Campbell, who led the team in tackles in each of the past two seasons.
The Falcons drafted former Clemson and Westlake High standout A.J. Terrell in the first round (16th overall) to replace Trufant, who signed with Detroit after the Falcons released him in free agency. The Falcons believe they have Campbell’s replacement on the roster in Foye Oluokun, who’s headed into his third season.
Oluokun impressed Quinn and linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich when he stepped after Deion Jones went down with a broken foot in 2018.
“I think that a lot of people don’t know how great of an athlete that he is,” cornerback Isaiah Oliver said. “He’s a bigger guy. He’s bigger than kind of like the linebackers that we’ve had on this team in the past. But he’s just a really good athlete and moves really well. I think that he can just use that to his advantage.”
One of Oluokun’s highlights from 2018 was his going 40 yards down the field in coverage against Green Bay tight end Jimmy Graham.
“He likes to always tell people, he was a DB in college when he first got there at Yale,” Oliver said. “That kind of shows up on the field a little bit when he’s covering tight ends and running backs.”
Morris was credited with the second-half-of-the-season revival in 2019. How fast can he get Terrell ready to play will be key.
“His coaching style, his passion and his energy that he brings to the defensive side of the ball was a big jump for us,” Oliver said. “I think that helped us a lot. So, we are looking forward to having him running the show, looking forward to getting after it with him.”
Key additions: DE Dante Fowler, Terrell, DT Marlon Davidson
Losses: Trufant, Campbell, DE Vic Beasley, DE Adrian Clayborn
Defensive line: Ends -- Fowler, Takk McKinley, Allen Bailey, Austin Larkin, Bryson Young, Steven Means, Charles Harris, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Austin Edwards. Tackles -- Grady Jarrett, John Cominsky, Hinwa Allieu, Tyeler Davison, Davidson, Deadrin Senat and Sailosi Latu.
Linebackers: Deion Jones, Oluokun, Bucannon, Mykal Walker, Edmond Robinson, Ahmad Thomas, Jordan Williams, LaRoy Reynolds and Ray Wilborn
Cornerbacks: Terrell, Oliver, Kendall Sheffield, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Josh Hawkins, C.J. Reavis, Delrick Abrams, Tyler Hall, Jordan Miller, Rojesterman Farris and Chris Cooper.
Safety: Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, Jaylinn Hawkins, Jamal Carter, Damontae Kazee and Sharrod Neasman.
Overview: The Falcons were the 30th ranked special-teams unit by Rick Gosselin’s 2019 rankings with 451 points. The longtime sportswriter and Pro Football Hall of Fame voter ranks teams in 22 categories from 32 (worst) to 1 (best).
This was the 41st year for Gosselin’s ratings. The top unit was New Orleans with 256. The Panthers (28) and Tampa Bay (32) were down in the same neighbor with the Falcons.
The Falcons, who were in the first-year under coordinator Ben Kotwica, were first in takeaways with five and second in points scored with 12.
“There were a lot of good things we did,” Kotwica said. “There’s definitely room for improvement. We were able to turn the football over on the opponent’s side a handful of times. We created some turnovers and field position for our football team.”
The Falcons used a draft pick to select Syracuse punter Sterling Hofrichter in the seventh round (228th overall) of the draft. He’ll battle Ryan Allen to essentially replace Matt Bosher, who ended last season on injured reserve. The Falcons also picked up linebacker Mykal Walker in the fourth-round (119th overall) and safety Jaylinn Hawkins (134th) in the draft and are counting on them to help on special teams.
“We feel that we’ve acquired some assets to move in the right direction and improve,” Kotwica said.
Also, the Falcons did not re-sign returner Kenjon Barner and will have a open competition. Wide receivers Brandon Powell, Olamide Zaccheaus and Chris Rowland are the main candidates.
Key additions: Hofrichter, Walker, Hawkins
Losses: Bosher, Barner
Specialists: Koo, Allen, Hofrichter and long snapper Josh Harris.
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