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NFC South Preview 2016: Atlanta Falcons

In this series we take a look at the offseason moves made by the Saints' NFC South division rivals. Today we scout the Atlanta Falcons.

NFL: 2016 NFL Draft Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

In 2015, the Atlanta Falcons ended the season with an 8-8 record and a 2nd place finish in the NFC South. Atlanta finished 1-5 in division games including an 0-2 record vs. the New Orleans Saints last year. The Falcons had the 7th ranked offense and the 16th ranked defense (both in yards) in 2015. Head coach Dan Quinn enters his second season in Atlanta, while starting quarterback Matt Ryan returns for his ninth season.

Player acquisitions

WR - Mohamed Sanu

LB - Sean Weatherspoon

C - Alex Mack

DE - Derrick Shelby

LB - Courtney Upshaw


Players lost / not re-signed

WR - Roddy White

S - William Moore

TE - Tony Moeaki

T - Jake Long

DE - Kroy Biermann

LB - Nate Stupar


Draft selections

SS - Keanu Neal - Florida (Round 1)

LB - Deion Jones - LSU (Round 2)

TE - Austin Hooper - Stanford (Round 3)

LB - De'Vondre Campbell - Minnesota (Round 4)

G - Wes Schweitzer - San Jose State (Round 6)

WR - Devin Fuller - UCLA (Round 7)


Here's how graded Atlanta's draft:

Atlanta Falcons: C- Grade

Goals Entering the 2016 NFL Draft: Atlanta's defense was pathetic this past season, so the team needs to add help to every level of its stop unit. Additionally, Matt Ryan needs assistance. Better interior blocking and tight end play could help his red-zone woes.

2016 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Excluding the seventh-rounder, every single pick the Falcons made scored a C+ or worse in the individual grades, save for one: Austin Hooper in the third frame. The Stanford tight end is highly athletic and offers tons of upside, and he'll perhaps finally fill the void created by Tony Gonzalez's retirement several offseasons ago.

The rest of the draft, as you can tell by the individual grades, was just mediocre, at best. We heard some buzz about Keanu Neal perhaps being chosen at the end of the first round, but the rest of the league was shocked when Atlanta snatched him off the board at No. 17, passing on talented prospects like Shaq Lawson and Darron Lee in the process. Meanwhile, second-rounder Deion Jones was also taken early. A mid third-round prospect, Jones could've been obtained via trading down or simply being patient.

In terms of needs, the Falcons filled some, but failed to address the anemic pass rush and interior blocking. Thus, their draft class as a whole is pretty disappointing. I don't absolutely hate it, but it deserves a C- grade.

Here's how Lead Editor Dave Choate from The Falcoholic graded Atlanta's draft:

The Falcons added genuine talent to safety, tight end, and linebacker, and Fuller and Schweitzer are interesting reserves. In a relatively weak class, they got players I felt were strong fits for Atlanta and offered real upside more or less across the board, even if that's always dangerous because they may not achieve it. Unless Campbell and/or Jones are better than I think they are as pass rushers, though, the team left that perennial need largely untouched, and they've certainly put a lot of trust in the coaching staff to fix issues like Neal's missed tackles and Campbell's lack of quality instincts.

I think this is a better team than it was a week ago, for certain, but I don't expect anyone but Neal to be a massive upgrade in 2016, which means the class may not have quite the first-year impact we were hoping for. Over the long haul, though, I think this will prove to be a pivotal group for Quinn and a big part of the next quality Falcons team, whenever that may come.

Overall Grade: B


How this affects the Saints in 2016

The Falcons hired Dan Quinn last year primarily to turn around the NFL’s worst defense in 2014, and he did just that. In just one year, the Falcons surprisingly climbed from 32nd overall in defense to 16th overall, this was no small feat, giving Atlanta reason to be hopeful as they continue to field a top ten offense led by star WR Julio Jones.

Talent is there for the Falcons, as proven by their surprising 6-1 start to their 2015 season (the one loss coming at New Orleans). Of course, there is also much cause for alarm as well in Atlanta. After their hot 6-1 start, which came against teams from the NFL’s two worst divisions last season (NFC East and AFC South), they floundered in the second half, going 2-7 to end the season (with a surprising win against 14-0 Carolina). Atlanta played fast and opportunistic against lesser opponents early on, but seemed to lose confidence as the season continued on. We will see which Falcons team was the true one this season.

Just as they did last offseason, Atlanta focused on adding to their secondary and linebacking corps early in the draft in efforts to turn a terrible unit into a younger, faster one. Season one under Dan Quinn proved a defensive step forward and now Atlanta hopes to pair a top ten defense with a top ten offense in 2016. The difficulty for Atlanta though is having to face Doug Martin, Mike Evans, Greg Olson, Cam Newton, and of course, Drew Brees and the Saints twice a season. No small feat in the slightest.

Atlanta finished 0-2 against the Saints last year, and it wouldn't be surprising to see that happen again this year. I could easily see the Saints and Falcons splitting their matchups in 2016 but I’ll say the Saints will win both matchups again, but both games will be very close. Atlanta may face some struggles again this year and without the benefit of a white-hot start to the season, they will find themselves in 4th place in the NFC South in 2016.