So, we’re ten games in to the season. We’ve reached the bye week. The Falcons are 6 – 4 and sitting atop the NFC South, a game-and-a-half up on their closest competition (pending the results of NO-Car). Last season, the Falcons were 6–4 after ten games, but by all appearances, this year’s team is better. The offensive line is better, the pass rush is better, and Matt Ryan is way better.
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And yet, as I look at this team and think about what they need to do to get better for 2017, my opinion hasn’t changed since I had the same thoughts back in August. Here’s a position-by-position review, starting with the offense (I’ll cover the defense in a separate article):
QB – re-sign Matt Schaub. The Falcons have gotten in to the habit of only carrying two quarterbacks on the active roster for a few years now, but it wasn’t until this year that I was comfortable with the practice. That’s because before Schaub Matt Ryan’s only backups had been Sean Renfree or Dominique Davis. I’d much rather have a veteran QB with actual regular season game experience under his belt than a former 7th-round pick out of Duke or a former undrafted free agent out of East Carolina.
RB – get a bigger back. Devonta Freeman lists at 206lbs. Tevin Coleman lists at 212. Terron Ward at 201. I’d like to see a big banger on the roster for goalline and short yardage situations (4th-and-1, anyone?). Maybe that’s Stevan Ridley. Maybe that’s a veteran free agent. Maybe it’s a draft prospect like Kareem Hunt (Toledo), James Conner (Pitt), Corey Clement (Wisconsin), or De’Veon Smith (Michigan). It’s not a big need, so it doesn’t need big free agent money or a high draft pick spent on it, but it is a need, in my opinion.
FB – re-sign Patrick DiMarco. DiMarco might not be playing quite as well as he did last year, but he’s still arguably the best fullback in football, and he’s a great fit for this offense.
WR – re-sign the bottom half of the depth chart. Eric Weems hasn’t done much this year as a receiver, but he still brings value as a returner and special teams coverage guy. Taylor Gabriel is really blossoming as the year goes on. Aldrick Robinson was very impressive in the preseason. If Atlanta does lose one or more of these guys in the offseason, there’s still Nick Williams and JD McKissic on the practice squad and Devin Fuller on IR.
TE – rebuild around Austin Hooper. I’m guessing the plan behind drafting Hooper last April was to
Oct 2, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper (81) scores a touchdown against Carolina Panthers cornerback Bene
develop him for a year under Jacob Tamme and then let Tamme walk in free agency after the season. Levine Toilolo is also a free agent, and hasn’t done much to make a case for being brought back. Joshua Perkins and DJ Tialavea are in-house options to replace Tamme and Toilolo, but I wouldn’t be surprised if free agency and the draft were used to restock this position. In fact, depending upon what needs are filled (or created) in free agency, it wouldn’t shock me if a tight end was a possible target for the Falcons 1st-rounder. What if OJ Howard (Alabama) was still on the board? Or Jake Butt (Michigan)? Or Bucky Hodges (Va. Tech)?
OT – re-sign Schraeder. This is the top priority in regards to re-signing players, in my opinion. Schrader is possibly the best right tackle in football, under 30, and an excellent fit for the scheme. Tom Compton is also a free agent after the year, but hasn’t really done much to help or hurt his chances of returning.
OG – let Chris Chester go. He’s clearly the weak link of this offensive line, he’s a free agent after the end of the season, and he’s on the wrong side of 30. That said, I’m not necessarily sold on the idea of just plugging in Wes Schwietzer or Ben Garland (or Blake Muir?) next year. What about a free agent like Kevin Zeitler or TJ Lang? What about Dan Feeney (Indiana) with the first round pick?
C – no need here. Alex Mack has been a terrific signing, and Ben Garland appears to be a serviceable reserve.