The Atlanta Falcons now have 11 former first-round picks on the offensive side of the ball. Let’s discuss how historically great this offense can be.
These Atlanta Falcons go to 11, as in 11 former first-round picks on the offensive side of the ball.
It is a number we didn’t think was possible, but after a few moves in free agency, Atlanta can line up in 11 personnel and trot out an unthinkable 11 former first-round picks. Last season, the Falcons had eight former first-round picks on offense: Quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, as well as all five starters along the offensive line.
Ryan, Jones, Ridley, left tackle Jake Matthews, right guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary were all picks made by Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff since he left the New England Patriots organization in 2008. Center Alex Mack and left guard James Carpenter were acquired in free agency in recent years. Apparently, Dimitroff isn’t done collecting first-rounders.
After losing two-time Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper to the Cleveland Browns in his free agency, Dimitroff traded for former first-round tight end Hayden Hurst in a deal with the Baltimore Ravens. Hurst has two more years under contract, plus a fifth-year option Atlanta can exercise for the 2022 campaign. That brought the former first-rounder total to nine.
After being released by the Los Angeles Rams last Thursday, Dimitroff was able to sign former All-Pro running back Todd Gurley, who starred just up the road in college for the Georgia Bulldogs. Despite concerns over the health of his knees, Atlanta made a worthwhile risk and signed him to a one-year deal. Gurley effectively replaces two-time Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman.
Then over the weekend, Atlanta added former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver and Ole Miss Rebels legend Laquon Treadwell on a one-year deal. Though he has never proven to have an idea how to separate at the professional level, Treadwell will be the No. 3 wide receiver option in this high-octane Atlanta offense. He essentially replaces Mohamed Sanu as a possession receiver.
So Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has to be licking his chops knowing he can go to 11 personnel and have 11 former first-round picks lined up out there to star for him. Best of all, Atlanta can still add talent to this offense with any of their first five picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, all coming in the top-four rounds.
Atlanta will likely draft a pass rusher or a cornerback with the No. 16 overall pick, but they can add a running back in D’Andre Swift out of Georgia or Jonathan Taylor out of Wisconsin to make it 12 first-round picks on offense. In the second round, they could select J.K. Dobbins out of Ohio State. In the third round, they could take Clyde Edwards-Helaire out of LSU. They have plenty of options.
So how good can this 2020 Falcons offense be? It has the potential to be in the realm of the historic 2016 team that made it all the way to Super Bowl LI.
Jones and Ryan are future Pro Football Hall of Famers still in their prime. Mack is arguably in the discussion for Canton enshrinement as well. Matthews is one of the more underrated left tackles in football. Carpenter will have another year in Koetter’s system, as will Lindstrom and McGary, last year’s two first-rounders who dealt with injuries, but did play well down the stretch.
Ridley is on the precipice of being a Pro Bowler in his own right. Hurst will benefit from having Ryan throwing him the football and not having to fight for catches at the tight end position with Mark Andrews in Baltimore. He can be the next Hooper, Tony Gonzalez or Alge Crumpler in this offense. Ryan could very well approach 5,000 passing yards with this offensive arsenal.
By adding Gurley, Atlanta lands a superstar on the back-nine of his career, trying to prove his doubters wrong. He doesn’t have to be a 1,000-yard rusher to win over Dirty Bird Nation’s heart, he just has to play hard and be the great leader he is on and off the field. If Treadwell can be anything close to he was during his SEC days, Atlanta may have an underrated star in the slot.
Will this 2020 Falcons offense be as good as the 2016 unit under Kyle Shanahan? That might be a stretch, as that’s one of the 10 greatest offenses in NFL history, right up there with the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, the 1999 St. Louis Rams and the 2007 New England Patriots. But don’t kid yourself. This can be the best offense Koetter has ever had, and he’s had some good ones before.
As long as the offensive line stays healthy and Gurley gets a boost in a running back by committee situation, this unit should be strong enough to propel Atlanta back into the NFC playoffs, especially with the expanded field. The NFC South has tough rival teams in the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looking like contenders, but the Falcons can more than hold their own.
If the Falcons play defense like they did down the stretch last year under defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, this could be one of those great years for Falcons football, the type of seasons that come along once every Olympiad. They won the division in 2004, 2012 and 2016, as well as making the playoffs during Ryan’s rookie year in 2008. This could be Atlanta’s year for all we know.