Saints training camp has been all the focus of WhoDat Nation, but in order to get a good feel on how the season might turn up, we have to take a look at what our divisional foes have been up to, after all, they account for 3/8ths of our regular season games. I've gone behind enemy lines and (though I may have lost a few IQ points) I made it back alive with some intel on our rivals... In the final edition, we take a peek at the Atlanta Falcons.
Who is Hot?
Leonard Hankerson WR – Drafted by the Washington Redskins in 2011, Hankerson came to the Falcons already familiar with new Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s system. That familiarity has allowed him to come in and hit the ground running. Hankerson has been looking good in camp so far, and questions have arisen about if he can take the second starting gig away from veteran Roddy White. Even if that doesn’t happen this year, Hankerson gives Atlanta and Matt Ryan a legit #3 receiving threat. Hankerson also looked good throughout OTA’s and minicamp, and some have called him the most impressive WR through camp on the entire Falcons roster... one that includes Julio Jones.
Ricardo Allen FS – Drafted as a cornerback in the 5th round a year ago, Allen spent all of the 2014 season on the practice squad. So far, it looks like that redshirt year, and change in position, has paid off. Playing with high energy, he’s been thriving in new head coach Dan Quinn’s system and up-tempo practices. By all accounts, he’s been the clear winner of the battle for the starting FS gig, over 7 year veteran Charles Godfrey. After ranking last in the league in both passing and total yards allowed, Falcons fans are rejoicing at the sound of any good news on that side of the ball.
Adrian Clayborn DE – After finishing the year ranked 30th in sacks, the Falcons were desperate to get someone who can generate pressure on the D-line. They signed Adrian Clayborn this offseason, to try to be that someone. The four year veteran has had troubles staying on the field, with two of his four NFL season ending with 3 or fewer games played. He’s looked strong and has been getting rave reviews in camp, so far; he is looking much better than anything the Falcons had at DE last season. Clayborn came onto the scene strong, with a 7.5 sack rookie campaign, but that’s a mark he has failed to reach since. Looking healthy, the Falcons are going to rely on Clayborn to return to that level and help improve on 2014’s woeful sack production.
Who is Not?
Starting RB Competition – Both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman came into camp vying for the starting job at running back. Freeman had the slight edge in the experience department (1 year vet vs rookie), but Coleman had the slight edge in investment (3rd round pick vs 4th round). Both men looked good at the beginning of camp, with neither separating himself from the other. Unfortunately, the competition was put on hold, when both RB’s got injured on back to back days of camp (Coleman on the 5th of August and Freeman on the 6th). Both men were diagnosed with strained hamstrings and are expected to miss around 2 weeks of action, meaning they will both be out for at least the first preseason game. With no clear starter at the time of the injuries, the winner of the gig could be who can get back on the practice field faster.
Jalen Collins CB – The 10th pick in the 2nd round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Collins was a fan hopeful to improve the league’s worst secondary. Having a rough camp so far, Collins is having some difficulties making the transition to the NFL level. 3rd Year player Robert Alford has taken the clear lead in the competition for the 2nd starting CB spot, opposite Desmond Trufant. In fact, some are questioning whether or not Collins will be even ready for the nickel role, by the beginning of the season. Collins will likely get a lot of looks in the preseason games, to prove whether or not he can keep his head above water in live NFL competition, but so far, it seems that he needs a year to develop.
Richard Smith Defensive Coordinator – This has nothing to do with the man, personally… but holy cow, this guy hasn’t even been mentioned in the whole "defensive overhaul" project in Atlanta. There have been ravings about Dan Quinn’s new defensive system and up-tempo practice style, but nothing about the man who runs the unit (well, according to his job title). It’s been funny reading some of the comments from Falcon fans saying, "I can’t even remember who our DC is, half the time." I hate to say it, Mr. Smith, but you are in a no-win situation. If the defense has a good year, the credit will go to Dan Quinn. If the defense has another disastrous year, well, I hope you’re ready to be a scapegoat.
Bonus Note: 3rd string RB Antone Smith has looked explosive during practice, while the Coleman and Freeman have been out. He’s still a long shot to be taking either of their spots, but he’s definitely put them on notice, should either suffer any sort of setback after coming back from injury.