It has been just over four months since we all watched the Atlanta Falcons collapse in the Super Bowl when they surrendered a 28-3 lead to the Patriots. So, will there be a Super Bowl hangover? History says it is likely.
The Super Bowl loser has not returned the following year since the Buffalo Bills did it in 1994 (their fourth straight). There are many theories to spin as to why the Falcons will not make it back this year, but a decrease of talent on the roster is not one of them.
Many strange things can happen year to year in the NFL, but the reigning NFC champions only got better this offseason. Here are the Falcons’ positional breakdowns going into 2017.
The reigning MVP Matt Ryan will be beginning his 10th season as the Falcons’ starting quarterback when September comes. Now, maybe Ryan will not match his crazy stats from last season, but nothing from his long track record tells you he will stray far from them.
Ryan threw for nearly 5,000 yards in 2016 (4,944), but this was his sixth straight season of passing for over 4,000 yards. Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees are the only other active quarterbacks that have done the same.
The unit that kept Ryan standing a majority last year is looking strong once again. 2014 first-round pick Jake Matthews has still not quite entered his prime at left tackle, and Alex Mack is back off his second-team All-Pro season at center. Veteran guard Chris Chester is gone, but the Falcons took guard Sean Harlow from Oregon State in the draft.
Guards Ben Garland and Wes Schweitzer are both having “fantastic offseasons” as well, according to head coach Dan Quinn. Pro Football Focus rated the Falcons as the No. 6 offensive line in 2016 and without much turnover, you can expect them to be a solid group again.
This is crucial considering Matt Ryan had an astonishing passer rating of 128.9 when kept clean in 2016. That led the NFL.
There may be lots of talk about Devonta Freeman not reaching a new deal yet, but we know he will still be in Atlanta in 2017 as part of a dynamic duo also including Tevin Coleman.
The two backs combined for 1,599 rushing yards in 2016 while both being productive pass-catchers as well. One of the best backfields in the NFL will also add rookie Brian Hill from Wyoming, who was third in rushing yards in the FBS last year.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Is Julio Jones going anywhere? No, the best wide receiver in the game will still be in Atlanta in 2017. Jones made unbelievable plays throughout the regular season and postseason during the 2016 season, but it was the rest of the Atlanta receiving corps that surprised people.
The Falcons’ next two leading receivers also return, Mohammad Sanu and Taylor Gabriel. The two combined for 1,232 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. Tight end Austin Hooper looks to take a step forward after his rookie season which included three touchdowns.
No opposing teams had any success stopping this corps last season, as they reached at least 200 yards in all 19 games. Two of those games were without Julio Jones.
Here we see the group that is really going to make the difference for Atlanta in 2017. Quinn is a defensive guru, and three offseasons may have finally given him a dominant front. Grady Jarrett had his coming out party in the Super Bowl when he became only the second player ever to sack Tom Brady three times in a game.
They will stick two-time Pro-Bowler Dontari Poe next to he came over from Kansas City this offseason. On the ends will be last year’s sack leader Vic Beasley (15.5) and first-round pick from UCLA Takkarist McKinley.
This line also includes former starters, Adrian Clayborn and Derrick Shelby, who make Atlanta’s line the deepest its ever been.
Atlanta started two rookies at linebacker in 2016, and both showed out many times. Deion Jones and De’Vondre Cambell gave the Falcons speed at linebacker – something that had been severely lacking in recent years – while combining for 110 tackles. Both of those guys should progress in year-two, and they will be flying around with Jones’ former LSU teammate Duke Riley.
When Atlanta’s star corner Desmond Trufant went out for the season in week nine, it appeared to be in big trouble. The rest of the defensive backfield kept its head above water and still helped the team reach Houston. Trufant is back in 2017 and inked a new deal of five years for over $68 million.
Jalen Collins emerged after he was forced to play in Trufant’s absence, and Robert Alford has only continued to progress. Keanu Neal already made himself known as one of the NFL’s hardest hitters as a rookie, and Kemal Ishmael returns from injury to back him up at strong safety.
When it comes down to it, Atlanta was a very young team in 2017, especially defensively. The Falcons’ young players will only get better, while all of Atlanta’s star players return in 2017.
No other NFC team has a talented combination to the extent the Falcons do. Injuries can always play a part in determining things, but a Super Bowl hangover is nothing but talk. The Atlanta Falcons roster is absolutely loaded and on track for a second straight Super Bowl appearance.