It’s hard to tell exactly how far the Falcons will rebound next season. Free Agency has been good to the Falcons, shoring up the depth and adding beef to the interior of both lines. But the draft is a month away, and having the 6th pick all but guarantees Thomas Dimitroff will do big things to bring in top tier players. So until the draft we won’t know the full picture. The Dirty Birds could be in the Super Bowl conversation, or we could just be hoping for a Wild Card spot. But I do expect a big turn-around for the Falcons in 2014. Let’s look at why:
Talent on the Roster
I was in the Dome last year for the Week 2 victory over the Rams, and I have never seen such a dead crowd after a loss. Losing six starters in one day will do that to a place. Kroy Biermann and Brady Ewing were lost for the season on that game. While Steven Jackson, Sean Weatherspoon, Sam Baker, and Asante Samuel were all dinged up too and had to miss several weeks of action. Losing so many contributors meant that rookies, several of them UDFAs, were thrown into the fire when they just weren’t ready.
Fast-forward a year, and the Falcons are looking to bring back Kroy, Spoon, Jackson, and Baker to be heavy contributors to the team. Add to this equation all of the rookies who saw so much extra playing time because of injured starters, particular Robert Alford and Paul Worrilow, and it looks like the Falcons have the talent to be much closer to 2012’s 13-3 record than last season’s 4-12 debacle
Of all the top 10 teams in this year’s draft, Atlanta has the best quarterback. We have all seen Matt Ryan’s high level, but under-the-radar play in Atlanta since his career began. Ryan really step up his game in 2013 putting together a good season while the walls were caving in around him during a catastrophe of a season. I know stats aren’t a complete picture, but I think that it is meaningful that Ryan was statistically the fourth best QB last season according to FootballOutsiders.com and their advanced metrics and ESPN’s QBR rating put Ryan at tenth. Matt made that happen without the league’s best duo of receivers, without power back Steven Jackson for long stretches, and behind an offensive line that looked more like Keystone cops than football players. Give Matt an upgraded front, a pass catcher to replace Tony Gonzalez’s missing receptions, and a homerun threat at running back, and he could be in for a monster 2014. And in the modern Passing-oriented NFL, as the quarterback goes, so goes the whole team.
Before a season-ending foot injury, Julio was on pace to have a monster 1,850 yard and 130 catch season. Again, those numbers through the first five games were produced despite a hobbled Roddy White on the other side of the field, a non-existent running threat, and poor offensive line play. A healthy Julio Jones will be the biggest off-season acquisition for the Falcons. Pair him with receiving threats and a running game to draw away defensive attention, as well as an offensive line that can give Matt time to get the ball down the field and I believe that Julio could have an unprecedented season.